Archive for the ‘Mentoring’ Category

Thursday, April 14th, 2022

Virtual Mentoring

“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” — Steven Spielberg

A Gallup survey last fall revealed that working from home — including various hybrid arrangements — is trending permanently. Last September, 45% of U.S. employees were working partly or fully remotely, and 91% of them planned to continue some level of remote work post-pandemic; in fact, 58% would consider leaving their current jobs if access to remote arrangements vanished.

By now, you have learned that remote/virtual training can be accomplished. You had no choice. I want to encourage you to continue your mentoring program that embraces a method of having a virtual mentor/mentee, someone you do not see face-to-face every working day. It can be done and while you have not been forced to do it, as with training, it can be done successfully.

Many people assume that mentoring relies on being physically together at least from time to time. However, that is not true. I will offer myself as an example.

I have successfully mentored, coached and guided CPA firm managing partners, HR directors, firm administrators, and even marketing directors for many years, most of them I have never met in person. Sometimes we use Zoom or Teams for our sessions but mostly it is simply via phone conversations. Of course, there is some structure to our conversations and action steps that are identified and achieved just like it is with in-person mentoring.

My advice to you, if you cannot be a mentor or mentee in person you can, just simply talk to each other. Often, it is easier to talk to a person via phone (not seeing their face). Think about helplines for people with various troubles and challenges. They do to see the person they are talking to but they soon learn that the person on the other end of the conversation cares, can be trusted, and has sound advice.

Don’t exclude your virtual employees from the benefit of mentoring. It is a fundamental part of building a career in public accounting – a more experienced person guides a less experienced person to help them achieve career success.

  • Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, March 5th, 2022

More Than One Mentor

“The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.” – Plutarch

Never feel guilty about moving on when you feel like a mentoring relationship has run its course. If a certain mentor isn’t providing the advice you need find another. I also recommend having more than one mentor.

Long-term mentoring relationships that continually enrich both parties are rare and should be treasured. They are gold.

However, always be open to exploring new experiences. I usually recommend to my clients that they should collect mentors like seashells.

Let me explain. I’ve told you this story before but it has been a long time ago.

I am definitely a people watcher and I enjoy watching people stroll along the beach (usually on Hilton Head Island). Most of the shells that end up on the shore are broken so when a person finds a whole one they can’t resist picking it up, even though they already have several “whole” ones.

The same thing applies to finding mentors. When you meet someone who, like an undamaged seashell, is whole, meaning they have it all together – latch onto them. In my early years in the CPA world, I called these people my heroes. I would meet someone at a conference or business meeting and realize they really knew what they were doing. I introduced myself and eventually became very close friends with many. Many experienced, competent, professionals helped me along my career path.

Eventually, some mentoring situations seem to simply wear out. That’s okay – don’t draw it out, be honest, disengage with gratitude and be direct. Both of you will be happier. Always keep the door open for the future.

Steve Jobs said, “My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better.” While I agree with that sentiment, my way is not quite so pushy – – I apply constant, gentle pressure and eventually they lean in the right direction. Constant is the keyword.

  • Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, November 16th, 2021

Give Them A Chance

“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” – Pelé, Brazilian football legend.

Performing all the services that a CPA firm offers is not something that is learned overnight.

How many times have you heard a new recruit say, “I never learned this in college!”? Many new hires struggle for a while with what seems like fairly easy activities to a more experienced CPA.

With inexperienced new hires and with administrative employees, I believe that it takes a full year cycle for them to begin to grasp the intricacies of their job. In a CPA firm, there are three seasons – busy season, summer, and fall. Each season has varying duties that you sometimes don’t perform except once a year. That is why giving them a year to experience the duties expected of them seems to make sense. Then, I always recommend that you give them two years to determine if they are going to fail or succeed.

If a person is not a good fit for public accounting, it is not fair to string them along, hoping that they will eventually “get it”. You are not doing them, or the firm, a favor.

Comments I have heard from practitioners during some of my presentations: “We don’t give them two years, we usually give them eight years before we face reality and let them go.” “If someone is not a good fit, we seem to keep them forever.”

So many firms are desperate for people right now. Don’t lower your standards. That’s never what a CPA should do.

  • The greater the difficulty the more the glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.
  • Epictetus

Monday, June 7th, 2021

Fixing People

“Spend more time encouraging high performers. Most leaders spend too much time trying to fix low performers.” – Dan Rockwell (@Leadershipfreak)

The above comment certainly made me think about all the time many CPA firms spend trying to fix people, meaning poor performers.

How many poor performers do you have inside your firm? I bet you can name more than one!

The comment I always hear from firm administrators, HR managers, etc. is “the partners won’t let her/him go. He/She has been here for 15 years.”

If you have a poor performer, they are taking up space that could be allotted to a bright, ambitious, up-and-comer. They are a faulty cog in the wheel of efficiency.

It is not being mean or hurtful to a person. It is about clearly defining expectations and monitoring a person’s progress toward meeting those expectations. This has become even more important with the enhanced need to be technologically savvy when working in the accounting world.

I hear the story over and over again. We need a development plan for Sally. Do you have a sample? I ask, “How long has she been with the firm?” The answer, “Ten years.”

The bright spot I am hearing is that, because of working remotely, many firms have increased the responsibility of their managers. Managers must provide feedback AT LEAST twice a month or even weekly. A person who is not meeting expectations should know that fact before they have been with the firm for years.

  • Leaders set high standards. Refuse to tolerate mediocrity or poor performance
  • Brian Tracy

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

Be An Encourager

“We can improve our relationships with others by leaps and bounds if we become encouragers rather than critics.” Joyce Meyer

Young accountants coming into the world of public accounting might be surprised at the number of critics they encounter.

It seems, in many firms, the experienced CPAs have fallen into the habit of teaching by criticism. Too often, their expectations are not adequately communicated and yet they become critical when new college recruits struggle with the tasks they are assigned.

I have heard many new recruits say, “I never learned any of this in college.” I suppose that is the case with many new graduates entering any profession.

The next time you are writing review notes for a new hire, be sure to consider if you communicated your expectations, clearly and concisely, at the beginning of the assignment. Actually discuss the review notes verbally with the team member and be sure to offer words of encouragement.

When a new hire receives seemingly harsh, written review notes without any personal communication or encouragement, it can be very demotivating and disheartening.

Encouragement builds relationships that can result in long-term career progress. Encouragement keeps people at your firm and prevents them from seeking job satisfaction elsewhere. Read the above quote again.

  • Your talent determines what you can do. Your motivation determines how much you’re willing to do. Your attitude determines how well you do it.
  • Lou Holtz

Monday, November 16th, 2020

Real Skills (Success Skills)

“Some people call these, “soft skills.” That’s because they’re not easy to measure. But for me, they’re real skills. The skills that actually determine how far we’ll go and how it will feel to work with us as we move forward.” – Seth Godin

For many years, in public accounting, we took note of the fact that many accountants dutifully achieved the expert category when it came to technical expertise.

Also, for many years we complained that we employed some very skilled managers but nearly all of them lacked “soft skills.” I like to call them “success skills” because to reach the level of partnership in the firm a candidate had to demonstrate the ability to network in the business community, be a great conversationalist, build relationships, be an adept speaker, manage people and develop personal leadership attributes. I like Godin’s term: Real Skills.

These skills, along with the technical skills, enable a CPA to bring in business to the firm. Some current partners have even developed these skills.

My friend, Guy Gage, @PartnersCoach, has developed the Partner-Pipeline® to assist firm partners to develop the “success skills” necessary to become true firm leaders.

From Guy Gage:

There are five “Contributions” that comprise high-performing partners: strong technical capability; client experience/client relations; new business development; capacity building (talent development), and leadership capability. While no one can be exceptional in all five areas, partner-candidates should be excellent in two and competent in the other three. Since firms have addressed the technical capability, I’ve developed a program that addresses the other four areas.

To learn more about the Partner Pipeline and to download a matrix outlining the program steps that are appropriate for each level in the firm. – Associate, Senior, Supervisor, Manager, and Senior Manager, click here.

It is important to begin the success skills training early in a person’s career so that the firm always has a vibrant and healthy partner pipeline.

  • Firms can only do so much, then it's up to the individual to choose to engage. Teach them HOW with programs and coaching.
  • Guy Gage

Wednesday, November 4th, 2020

Bringing In Business

“Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.” – Sir Richard Branson

For years now, firm leaders have been worrying about what happens when the firm’s best rainmakers retire. Often, firms have depended on one major rainmaker. The ones worrying the most are the partners who have not been rainmakers themselves.

The fact is, the baby boomer rainmakers are retiring now, on a regular basis.

To complicate the situation, how can an experienced business development partner “take along” a young person when talking with clients, attorneys, and/or bankers during COVID? I have always advised experienced partners to take a young person along. Times have changed.

Are your partners involving younger accountants in Zoom meetings with clients and others?

Let the client see the face of the person who will actually be doing the work associated with their engagement. Make that next video (or conference) call your client a 3-way or 4-way meeting.

If you are a partner or manager and about to make a quick video call to a client, stop and think! Who else should be seen by your client? Young people learn by example and now being an example involves a little more thought and effort than it has in past years.

  • You only have to do a few things right in our life so long as you don't do too many things wrong.
  • Warren Buffett

Thursday, July 23rd, 2020

Helping

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” – Maya Angelou

The above quote is another one that immediately reminded me of CPAs.

When you are a recent college graduate with an accounting degree you just want to get hired and begin to explore your career in public accounting. It is an exciting time, a stressful time. You work hard, and often long hours, to become more knowledgeable and to gain skills in dealing with clients, peers and bosses. It takes both hands… and a lot more.

Helping is a word to keep in mind as you advance in your career. When you began, you soon discovered that you were needed to help others. You became the person that new hires came to with questions and depended on for guidance.

When you became a manager and then, perhaps, a partner, you found that you had matured and began to think more like the above quote. You do not sell something to clients, you help them become more successful. You still use one hand to advance your own success but you never forget to use the other hand to mentor and coach your team and to advise and guide your clients.

  • No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.
  • Charles Dickens

Friday, June 5th, 2020

Your Mentor – Flashback Friday

“Do your little bit of good where you are. It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

If you are working in the CPA profession, you should seek out a mentor. I don’t care if you are a 50-something partner (or 60-something), find someone who will tell you the truth and work on improving yourself.

Don’t rely on your mentor. You should be proactive and seek out their help if you need it. I love this story from Stephen R. Covey:

“When I was just 20 years old, I served as an assistant to the president of an organization. One time I asked him, “Why don’t you ever give me any feedback? You never tell me if you like my speeches.” And he said, “Do you want to be dependent upon me? You know within yourself what’s happening. If you want some help, you just ask me. I’m here. “From then on, I was free of the president. I didn’t have to worry about his reaction. He never praised me or blamed me, but if I wanted help, he’d give it. So I would ask him, “What do you think of this.” He served me as a source of help.”

  • The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
  • Gandhi

Thursday, June 4th, 2020

Evaluate Using Words

“Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.” -Pearl Strachan Hurd

Early in my career, I remember my firm’s partners providing feedback to me in the form of words. Yes, simple words. I have always remembered those words and I still think that keeping feedback simple is the best policy.

That is why I like the Keep Stop Start method of feedback.

The “Words” feedback method used on me was not quite that simple but it gave me more information about how I was viewed. It was a one-sheet form with many descriptive words under the categories of: Planner, Problem Solver, Communicator, Leader, Decision Maker, Trainer, Team Member and Job Expertise.

The people providing feedback would simply circle the words that described me (relating to a Planner, Problem Solver, etc.) and then indicate where I ranked (1 to 5) as a Planner, etc.

I think it is simple and powerful. I believe it must have originally came from the AICPA MAP Handbook, but I am not sure.

If you want to see a copy, you can download it here.

Keep your feedback system simple and remember the power of words!

  • Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don't mean much to you, may stick with someone else for a lifetime.
  • Rachel Wolchin