Archive for the ‘Managers’ Category

Tuesday, October 12th, 2021

The Bonus Dilemma

“Whenever there is a hard job to be done I assign it to a lazy man; he is sure to find an easy way of doing It.” – – Walter Chrysler

You have heard me say it often: I’ve been around a while.

One thing that I have lived through during my 30+ years in CPA firm management is the bonus plan saga. It is like a nightmare that keeps repeating itself (like in the movie Groundhog Day):

  • As a firm grows, it begins to hire more people.
  • At first, there is no bonus plan. People get paid for their over-all performance.
  • Then, a partner has a great idea, “Let’s put in a bonus plan! It will inspire our people to do better.”
  • And then, the ones who don’t get a bonus become jealous.
  • And then, CPA firm leaders feel guilty because they are not being fair to everyone.
  • The ones who do get the bonus usually are the top performers, however, some others may get a bonus because they are creative, intelligent people who can figure out how to “work” any bonus system ever designed for a CPA firm.
  • Eventually, (and it doesn’t take too long) the plan begins to demotivate people.
  • Then, the bright idea becomes: “Let’s do away with our bonus plan and build it back into their salaries.  We’ll reward top performers with larger compensation increases.” Thus, everyone gets an unexpected raise.
  • Several years later, “Let’s put in a bonus plan!” – – – same thing all over again, eventually it is dropped again because it really doesn’t work very well and it creates a huge amount of administrative work in tracking, measuring and analyzing.

I’ve actually been through this saga about 4 times during my career.

I have very mixed emotions about bonus/incentive plans relating to basic job performance.  However, I am very much in favor of incentives for special efforts like bringing in a great new client or recruiting a top-notch, experienced CPA to the firm.

Many partners and managers resort to incentives because they think they’re smart enough to create the perfect carrot. Doesn’t usually work that way in CPA firms.

Here’s what often happens inside the firm.  If you provide incentives for billable time you will get lots of billable time. Also, every client engagement will be over budget. You want them to get billable hours, yet you want them to perform the engagement more efficiently in less time than last year. It sends mixed messages.  We don’t live in a single-variable world – especially inside a CPA firm.

Much of the challenge with developing a highly productive team does not depend on incentives.  It relates back to having skilled, effective managers.  Winning firms have managers (and partners) who continually communicate, coach, and train the younger people in the firm so that everyone understands their role and the importance of quality, timely client service.  That is what will earn them a bigger paycheck.

While some bonus plans can demotivate your people, good managers do not. Good managers motivate.  Embrace the challenging activity of continually interacting and communicating with your team members.

  • You know what Gordie Howe got for a signing bonus? A team jacket!
  • Ed Lauter

Monday, October 11th, 2021

The Best People Work Here

“Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” – Jim Collins

Hopefully, you have worked very diligently on building a brand that attracts and retains clients. You have testimonials that stress the fact that your firm is knowledgeable, progressive, and meets your client’s expectations for awesome service. You have experts in many disciplines and are also very active in community and charitable organizations. All of that builds a brand that attracts quality clients.

That brand also attracts quality people but with people, you need more. How prestigious is it to work at your firm? Is it prestigious at all? Bruce Tulgan calls it the prestige factor. Per Tulgan, “Prestigious organizations send two messages: ‘Not everyone gets to work here,’ and ‘It is a privilege and an honor to work here.’”

Much of this falls on the shoulders of your managers. How much have you invested in their people management skills? When managers set high expectations for themselves and those they manage you begin to build a prestigious workplace. It is up to managers (and partners also fill the role of manager), to weed out low performers. Your “all-stars” do not like working at a firm that tolerates “falling stars.

In this era of the great resignation, you need to take immediate steps to build your firm’s prestige factor. Read more from Tulgan here.

  • The one thing that organizations with prestigious cultures have in common is a reputation for shining a bright light of scrutiny on performance.
  • Bruce Tulgan

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021

Flexible Has Become Our Culture

“I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.” – Everett Dirksen

Even before the pandemic, accounting firms were figuring out how to offer employees more flexibility and still maintain the level of production to meet the needs of the firm and the clients. My question is, is there danger in becoming too flexible?

As I have observed, it goes back to my favorite topic – communication. It also involves accountability.

As your people begin to come back to the office, you will be negotiating with each one individually as to what they want their works hours and locations to be like.

Managing people is not an easy task and if you are trying to manage people on-site and people in the virtual world it becomes even murkier. Managing people, for CPAs, has not been a highly-developed skill.

Whether managing people in person or remotely, too much flexibility and independence can set a low-performance bar if not paired with strong accountability.

Expecting people to do what they say they will do, on time, without reminders sets the stage for expectations. If people have proved they cannot do this, then they need more of your supervisory time.

Set clear expectations – This is another area where partners and managers often fail. The new generation of workers wants you to be very clear about what you expect. Most are very willing to do the work required and put in the hours necessary if they clearly understand what you expect.

Accountability – Here’s one recommendation that might work well for your remote and even your in-house workers. Check-in with your direct reports at the beginning of the week, let them work for a week in their own individual style (it might not be 8 to 5 hours), and then regroup the following week.

Closing thought: Too much flexibility and lack of communication can create a culture of poor performance if there is a lack of accountability.

  • The pandemic has definitely forced companies and leaders to look at how we treat people—what are people’s needs? I also think it’s been a real eye-opener.”
  • Nicole Lipkin

Friday, September 3rd, 2021

Check-Ins – Flashback Friday

“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” –Zig Ziglar

Now that you don’t actually see many of your employees every day, it is more important than ever to have frequent check-ins to find how they are doing and how they are progressing on their goals.

Read more in this Friday flashback post.

I HOPE you will enjoy this 3-day holiday weekend although I know that probably isn’t the case for many of you with the September due date just around the corner.

  • Never quit. It is the easiest cop-out in the world. Set a goal and don’t quit until you attain it. When you do attain it, set another goal, and don’t quit until you reach it. Never quit.
  • Bear Bryant

Thursday, September 2nd, 2021

Dementors

“You control your own life. Your own will is extremely powerful.” – J. K. Rowling

I am assuming you are familiar with Harry Potter. I read all the books and watched all the movies. J. K. Rowling created a fascinating world. Let’s take a somewhat light-hearted look at how Dementors might apply inside your firm.

When you read the following meaning of Dementors, I wonder what it brings to mind.

Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. … If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself – soulless and evil.

I know I am weird, but it brings to my mind, some managers in CPA firms who seem to “suck the life out of people.” Thankfully, it doesn’t apply to all managers.

Some Managers are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the accounting firms that are stuck in the past and glory in the status quo. They drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. If they can, the Manager will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like themselves – uncaring and demanding.

J. K. Rowling has revealed that the inspiration for Dementors came from her bout with severe depression before her phenomenal success. She described the feeling as an “absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope.”

I have said all of that to remind you that, as firm owners, you must invest in the non-technical training and education of your managers. Managers need to be people developers. In some firms, they are simply highly-trained technicians charged with getting the most work out of subordinates. They don’t know how to build strong relationships and engage with the people they supervise.

I’ve been working in public accounting for decades. I have heard many stories about inadequate managers. And yes, they have been described as “sucking the life out of people.” I have also heard the same about some partners.

  • We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.
  • J. K. Rowling

Friday, August 20th, 2021

Things Are Not Always Easy – Flashback Friday

“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” – Brian Tracy

Sometimes you just have to do things that make you uncomfortable. Read this Friday Flashback post – Uncomfortable Things Will Often Make You More Successful. I think we can all relate to most of them.

Have a great weekend”

  • The more you seek the uncomfortable, the more you will become comfortable.
  • Conor McGregor

Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

Focus On Your Remote Culture

“In teamwork, silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly.” – Mark Sanborn

It is pretty much a given now that many accounting firms will continue to have remote workers. Some will be completely remote and some will be hybrid. Hybrid is what seems to be favored by most firms. Be sure to define what hybrid means for each individual.

The old firm culture seems to have disappeared. So, how do you reignite your culture and keep it healthy and vibrant with many remote workers?

The most important activity is communication. In almost every firm I encounter, feedback from staff indicates that communication is one of the firm’s biggest issues. It will be an even bigger challenge when you have permanent remote workers.

Your managers are key in building and maintaining a vibrant culture whether you have remote workers or not. Managers must be truly managing other people, something that wasn’t happening prior to COVID. Firm owners must help their managers by providing more training and ongoing encouragement from owners.

Some tips for managers:

  • Clearly set expectations when assigning work.
  • Be flexible about when the remote person does the work as long as the engagements get completed on time and accurately.
  • Communicate frequently and keep staff informed of deadlines. Use email, texts, phone calls, video chats and determine which form of communication is more comforable for the individual.
  • Managers must be good listeners. Inquire but don’t micromanage.
  • Provide opportunities for staff to engage with each other in an informal way so that they get to know each other on a personal level and realize they are part of a team.
  • Celebrate small successes and develop ways to continually show staff that they are trusted and appreciated.
  • People are more productive working at home than people would have expected. Some people thought that everything was just going to fall apart, and it hasn’t. And a lot of people are actually saying that they’re more productive now.
  • Mark Zuckerberg

Tuesday, August 17th, 2021

SALY

“Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.” – Brady Paisley

This term has been used by CPA firms for decades. SALY – Same As Last Year.

Do you remember when a new team member was assigned a routine individual tax return and the partner or manager would send the client’s file with a note simply stating SALY? Everyone knew what that meant. You just had to follow what notes were in the file and draft this year’s return similarly to last year’s return. Simple.

SALY became a way to train new recruits and I’m sure it was very boring for those newbies.

The point of this is that you can no longer sidestep your responsibility for training by simply indicating SALY. The workforce has evolved and young people are more curious and demanding.

Besides that, you are still working through a pandemic. It seems it just won’t go away. You are also constantly dealing with new technology. Going forward nothing will ever be the “same as last year” again.

  • We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.
  • W. Somerset Maugham

Wednesday, July 28th, 2021

Managers Must Give Honest Feedback

“Dealing with employee issues can be difficult but not dealing with them can be worse.” – Paul Foster

A person should be promoted to Manager when they are beginning to manage other people. Then, they must hone their skills on exactly how to manage other people.

I find that in CPA firms, people are promoted to manager because:

  • They have longevity with the firm.
  • They are great technicians and producers.
  • The partners are afraid that if they don’t promote them to Manager they will quit.

One of the most important things a Manager does is provide HONEST and timely feedback. Today’s workforce is demanding that they DO receive feedback on a continual basis – you can’t save it up for an annual performance review or even semi-annual or quarterly.  

Here is something I learned long ago when I was promoted and became the boss of my peers. Because of poor performance, we had to fire an administrative person. The MP always did the firing back then. He asked me to sit in. The person became angry and it was not an easy session. (My first firing and I remember it well.)  After it was over, he said to me, “You will never be an effective boss until you have had to fire someone.”

That first “firing” inspired me to never let anyone be surprised about being outplaced. One of the last outplacements I did, the young man came into my office and said, “I know why I’m here. I’m being let go, right?” 

If your managers are struggling with giving meaningful feedback, have them read, It’s Okay To Be The Boss by Bruce Tulgan. Get them each a copy, make reading it an assignment, and then meet with them for a discussion about what they read.

  • The day firing becomes easy is the day to fire yourself.
  • Tom Peters

Wednesday, July 21st, 2021

Steady On

“Frantic work is never your best work.” – Dan Rockwell

I enjoy reading tweets and blog posts by @LeadershipFreak (Dan Rockwell). His recent one, A Dairy Farmer’s Path to Success, has many good lessons for accountants. I especially liked the following excerpt:

Steady on:

I asked a farmer how he was doing and he said, “Steady on.”

You never see a farmer running around like a chicken with its head cut off. (Apologies to chickens.)

Days are long on the farm, so you pace yourself. Medium speed allows you to work all day.

Frantic work is never your best work.

Read the blog post from Dan to learn more success tips from dairy farmers.

  • The future isn’t predictable. Instead, it’s created by informed decisions, bold action, and agile responses.
  • Dan Rockwell