Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

How To Say It

“Bad news isn’t wine. It doesn’t improve with age.” – Colin Powell

In accounting firms, you spend lots of time and money teaching and training younger, less experienced accountants the technical aspects of their job.

You give them extensive training on how to prepare tax returns, how to perform the various steps in an audit and how to make QBO hum.

How much time and money do you spend on helping them learn how to talk to a client? How do they learn to inform a client that they still owe $65,000 in tax and it is due next week? How do they learn how to convince a client that a new software package would make them more profitable when they love their old, often outdated software?

One of the most important steps in growing your team’s success skills is to give them first-hand experience. It is simple but something that is often forgotten by partners and managers. Partners rush off to lunch with a client and they go alone. Partners and managers speak to the board of directors of a non-profit client and they go alone.

Less experienced people learn from listening and observing. Involve them, include them and take them along.

Here’s a good article via the Journal of Accountancy on how to deliver bad news to a client.

  • More information is always better than less. When people know the reason things are happening, even if it's bad news, they can adjust their expectations and react accordingly. Keeping people in the dark only serves to stir negative emotions.
  • Simon Sinek

Monday, October 14th, 2019

A Shadow Board

“Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.” ~Erica Jong,

Are you aware of the term “shadow board?” I have been a proponent of the concept for many years but had never heard it called a shadow board.

Per an informative article via Harvard Business Review by Jennifer Jordan and Michael Sorell:

A lot of companies struggle with two apparently unrelated problems: disengaged younger workers and a weak response to changing market conditions. A few companies have tackled both problems at the same time by creating a “shadow board” — a group of non-executive employees that works with senior executives on strategic initiatives. The purpose? To leverage the younger groups’ insights and to diversify the perspectives that executives are exposed to.

Read the success stories in the article about major companies that have had great success with shadow boards.

One of your major tools for engaging your younger team members should be, what I call, a Staff Advisory Board (or Team Advisory Board, TAB). Invite a small group of younger employees to meet with the managing partner or executive committee on a regular basis to provide feedback and ideas about issues facing the firm.

Another idea, to make it more accessible, is to select the participants from an open application process. It might surprise you who applies. Rotate members of the TAB over time, maybe having them serve two-year terms. It depends on the size of your firm.

Provide the TAB with meaningful issues such as how to improve the firm’s scheduling system, or what additional employee benefits might be appropriate. Adjust your Team Advisory Board program as it matures and you learn what works and what doesn’t.

Long-time partners often forget what it’s like to be a 3-year staff person. Plus, times have changed. It’s not the “good old days” any longer.

  • The true secret of giving advice is, after you have honestly given it, to be perfectly indifferent whether it is taken or not, and never persist in trying to set people right.
  • Hannah Whitall Smith

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

The Person Fits The Job

“All good performance starts with clear goals.” – Ken Blanchard

It has always amazed me how some CPA firm leaders go to great lengths to avoid firing a person.

Francine, a bookkeeper, has been with the firm 15 years but she has never really embraced the technology that is currently needed for her role.

Fred, a 3-year staff person, has struggled to understand and prepare tax returns.

Bobbi, the administrative assistant focused on the tax area, performs the final processing of tax returns before they leave the firm. Her work has to be continually reviewed “just in case.”

The partners are aware of the shortcomings but rather than be completely honest with the employee, they agree that they should create a different role where Francine, Fred or Bobbi might fit.

Rather than looking at a specific, important role in the firm and finding the appropriate person to fill it, partners struggle to establish a role that a poor performing employee might be able to fill. This way they won’t have to outplace someone.

Are you really doing them a favor?

  • The highest levels of performance come to people who are centered, intuitive, creative, and reflective - people who know to see a problem as an opportunity.
  • Deepak Chopra

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019

Immediate Feedback

“Make feedback normal. Not a performance review.” – Ed Batista

I have been recommending it for years. Many firms seem to have difficulty implementing it (doing what they say they will do). I’m talking about immediate feedback.

Our younger generation of workers wants immediate feedback at the push of a button. They do not want to wait for an annual performance feedback session or even a quarterly feedback session.

That’s why I loved a recent post by Ed Mendlowitz – Uberize Staff Evaluations:

Uber passengers are asked to evaluate their ride as soon as they get out of the car, and the drivers are also asked to evaluate the riders immediately. This seems like it would be a good idea for accounting firms.

Bruce Tulgan calls it “hands-on management.” Managers touch base with those they manage on a daily basis. Accounting firm managers need to improve and be more proactive with their people-management skills. Read Tulgan’s book, It’s Okay to Be the Boss.

As Mendlowitz and Tulgan (and I) suggest, keep it simple. I still hear stories of beginners preparing a tax return and hearing back from a manager or partner three (or more) weeks later that they did something wrong.

  • To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.
  • Elbert Hubbard

Friday, October 4th, 2019

Life On A Plateau

“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth.” – Dan Rather

Plateau meaning: to reach a state or level of little or no growth or decline, especially to stop increasing or progressing; remain at a stable level of achievement; level off.

The firm has plateaued. It was once growing steadily, and maybe even rapidly. Firm rainmakers retired and the next generation of owners don’t seem to be as skilled or experienced at bringing in new business. They have been making an extremely comfortable living for the past several years (often many years). So life is good at the top.

The “let’s just get the tax returns out the door” mentality has filtered down to the managers and seniors. The firm is paperless, well almost. The firm is doing so may nice things for the team, but haven’t added anything new lately. We’re not a sweatshop firm, so all is well.

We wonder why several of our new hires have left already. Oh, well.

How boring!! If your firm is not growing, it’s shrinking. Get off of that plateau.

  • I'm always improving and I want to get better and never hit a plateau. I find it an amazing adventure.
  • Nigel Kennedy

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

Expand Your Phrases

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou

Do you use the same, stale phrases to attempt to motivate people? One of the standards is, “Just do your best.” When you say that it seems like you really don’t expect much and you are abandoning them.

Suzanne Lucas, @RealEvilHRLady, gives us Ten Things to Say Instead of “Do Your Best” in a recent post for Inc.

If you want to motivate people to do the right kind of work, here are ten phrases you should use instead.

  1. I know you’ll do a great job.
  2. Let me know what resources you need to accomplish this.
  3. We have a strict deadline for X. It will be impossible to do this perfectly in this amount of time. I trust your judgment on which corners to cut.
  4. Let me know what help you need to get this project done. I’m happy to help.
  5. I know you’re concerned that you lack the skills to do this, but I know you can figure it out. I’m here as support.
  6. This project is critical, and it needs your top attention. Make it your priority and let me know what you need to drop.
  7. This is new, and we’re not quite sure how to accomplish it, but I know you have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to figure it out. 
  8. This isn’t a huge priority. It does need to get done, but don’t stress out over it.
  9. Give it your best shot, and we’ll correct any errors later.
  10. I just need a rough draft/estimate/outline/whatever.

The reality inside CPA firms is that you do expect a lot from them AND you are not abandoning them. You are there to advise and train.

  • It's not enough to just do your best. You must continue to improve your best."
  • Kenneth Wayne Wood

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

Men Mentoring Women

“Colleagues are a wonderful thing – but mentors, that’s where the real work gets done.” — Junot Diaz

If you have followed me for a while, or know me personally, you know that I have been a loud voice on the topic of mentoring inside a CPA firm.

I believe it is the foundation of the CPA profession – an older, more experienced person advises and teaches a younger, less experienced person (a new college graduate). That’s the way most CPAs learned their trade.

I attribute all I know and have achieved to having other people mentor, advise, coach and teach me. Almost all of my mentors were men.

In light of the MeToo era, men are becoming hesitant and even confused about how to appropriately mentor younger (or even not-so-young) females.

It is important to initially establish comfort levels and establish boundaries. Here’s an excerpt from a recent post by @leadershipfreak  (How men overcome discomfort mentoring women) as he interviews Joan Kuhl:

Joan Kuhl, author of Dig Your Heels In, offers three practical suggestions for men who feel uncomfortable mentoring women.

  1. You can’t have different rules for men and women. You might prefer public spaces or coffee shops for mentoring conversations. If you take male mentees to sporting events, you must include female mentees.
  2. Establish trust from the start. Be willing to listen to hard feedback about company culture.
  3. Focus on goals and skills. Make the relationship development specific to the business.

Be sure to read the entire post and also watch the video of the interview. It can be used for education/training inside your own firm. Mentoring matters! You don’t want to lose mentoring opportunities just because people are wondering how to proceed.

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

Friday, September 20th, 2019

Flashback Friday – John Wooden’s Methods

You can learn a lot from John Wooden. Check out some of his methods in this Friday Flashback post.

Click here.

  • If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?
  • John Wooden

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

Dominate Your Suffering!

A due date has passed and another looms on the horizon. Then there is so much to focus on relating to firm management and then year-end tax planning…… and then, and then….. along comes tax season.

To me, most of it was not suffering. I actually enjoyed busy season because everyone was focused on serving the client and they didn’t have time to whine and complain – they were enjoying it, too!

Voltaire wrote:

“Men are thrown into the world to suffer and to dominate their suffering. Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats; life is a desert, but we can transform our corner into a garden.”

Can you see how this might apply to your CPA firm? Start singing more!

  • A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
  • Winston Churchill

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

Become a Chief Retention Officer

“People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers.” – Marcus Buckingham

One way to solve the problem of finding and hiring top talent is to be sure you don’t lose the top talent you already have.

You are well aware of the time, effort and dollars you spend trying to find and hire a qualified candidate. That is why it just makes sense to focus on making all partners and managers Chief Retention Officers.

How do you do that? Have them all read First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. The authors contend that employees leave managers, not companies. I strongly believe that this is the case in CPA firms. Buckingham and Coffman offer 12 questions that can be used to measure the core elements needed to attract, develop and retain the next generation of CPA firm leaders.

The questions are:

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6. Is there someone at work who encourages both my personal and my career development?
7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
10. Do I have a best friend at work?
11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

After this fall busy season is over, equip your leaders with these questions and have them meet and talk with the people they supervise. In addition to the questions, be sure your partners/managers can describe what a talented professional’s career path looks like.

  • Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, your will be successful.
  • Albert Schweitzer