Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Wednesday, December 16th, 2020

Who Challenges You?

“I don’t run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run towards it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your foot.” – Nadia Comaneci

You are a leader in your firm. You may be new to the role or perhaps you have been in a position of power for quite a while. Especially, if you are the managing partner, you need a challenging cheerleader.

This person cares enough about you to tell you the truth and not just what you want to hear.

If you are a team leader (head of tax, audit, or operations), you need someone for the same reason. As you move up the leadership ladder it becomes difficult and even awkward for your team members to be brutally honest with you. Find your challenging cheerleader.

In many firms, this person for the managing partner is the firm administrator, practice manager or chief operating officer. They know enough about the firm and the profession to give you valuable feedback. Plus, they will usually have a different approach to some of the problems you face. They will keep you grounded and take the risk of telling you exactly where you may be wrong.

I know many CPA firm CEOs and COOs who have worked this relationship well over many years. The bottom-line is that the firm has benefitted from their collaboration.

Many firms are now welcoming new managing partners. The baby boomers are retiring and passing the torch. If you are a new leader, find that person who will challenge you, be brutally honest and do it because they care about you and the firm.

Good article on this topic here.

  • The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.
  • Chinese Proverb

Friday, December 11th, 2020

Losing Sight

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

You are working remotely most of the time. You see others and interact through technology like Zoom and Teams but it just isn’t the same.

You might be feeling rather isolated whether you are a new hire, an intern or even a partner.

Don’t let acceptance and procrastination get you in their grip.

As a team member, keep focused on your career progression. How are you going to get to the next level? How can you be more visible to firm leaders? Are you volunteering for challenging assignments? Are you helping others when the opportunity arises? Do you speak up in video meetings? Are you asking questions that will further your knowledge and move your career forward?

As a leader, have you lost sight of the firm’s strategic plan? Have you put many important initiatives on hold until “all of this is over”? Have you become too comfortable with the more laid-back culture that has overtaken your firm? Have you been so focused on the work and your direct reports that you have ignored relationships with your other partners?

It is easy to lose sight of your important goals when things change so rapidly. Renew your energy, passion and engagement and encourage others to do the same.

  • It can take years to mold a dream. It takes only a fraction of a second for it to be shattered.
  • Mary E. Pearson

Tuesday, December 1st, 2020

The Source of Truth

“How to give people feedback is one of the hottest topics in business today.” – Marcus Buckingham 

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post about giving and receiving feedback. It is an excerpt from the article, The Feedback Fallacy, via HBR, written by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall.

Just in case you didn’t read the entire article, here is a segment that speaks volumes.

The Source of Truth

The first problem with feedback is that humans are unreliable raters of other humans. Over the past 40 years psychometricians have shown in study after study that people don’t have the objectivity to hold in their heads a stable definition of an abstract quality, such as business acumen or assertiveness, and then accurately evaluate someone else on it. Our evaluations are deeply colored by our own understanding of what we’re rating others on, our own sense of what good looks like for a particular competency, our harshness or leniency as raters, and our own inherent and unconscious biases. This phenomenon is called the idiosyncratic rater effect, and it’s large (more than half of your rating of someone else reflects your characteristics, not hers) and resilient (no training can lessen it). In other words, the research shows that feedback is more distortion than truth.

This is why, despite all the training available on how to receive feedback, it’s such hard work: Recipients have to struggle through this forest of distortion in search of something that they recognize as themselves.

Next summer, when all the unique and unusual circumstances surrounding work has calmed down. Your firm should be ready to give feedback in a new and refreshing way. Do the homework and begin now. Maybe even some new behaviors surrounding feedback should begin happening much sooner than next summer. How about starting January 1st?

  • Just as your doctor doesn’t know the truth of your pain, we don’t know the truth about our colleagues, at least not in any objective way.
  • Marcus Buckingham

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

Too Long

“Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.” – Barbara Johnson

When you graduated from college and began working at a CPA firm you probably thought you would work your way up to partner someday.

The years went by and you worked your way up the ladder. You became a Senior, a Supervisor, a manager and perhaps, a Senior Manager. Maybe then you were offered something called Non-Equity Partner and you could actually use the title “Partner” on your business card. But, you were not really a partner.

How long did that take? I am guessing way too long!

Starting with the millennials (they are 39 years old now!) and continuing with Gen Z, young people want to become successful much more quickly than the culture of many CPA firms allow.

All this is prompted by some CPA firm websites I have visited recently. “John Doe joined the firm in 1996 and became a partner in 2018.” “Betty Smith joined the firm in 1994 and became a partner in 2017.”

Doesn’t that seem like a long time to you? And, are they equity partners or just the non-equity type? I am not a fan of the non-equity partner slot. It seems like a holding pattern to me.

Becoming a firm owner is not for everyone, of course. But, for those who have the ambition, the dedication and the skills to become a partner, twelve or thirteen years seems like a long time.

There is one factor to consider. The Baby Boomers are retiring at a rapid rate. If they actually retire, then you don’t have to depend so much on firm growth.

As the old saying goes, if you want to become a partner you have to make yourself too valuable to lose. Make yourself valuable more quickly!

  • I am patient with stupidity but not with those who are proud of it.
  • Edith Sitwell

Tuesday, November 24th, 2020

Build On Strengths

“When virtues are pointed out first, flaws seem less insurmountable.” – Judith Martin

Recently, I read a tweet posted by Dan Rockwell (@Leadershipfreak). He said, “Why take the wind out of someone’s sails with unnecessary corrections and criticisms? Using criticism to motivate is futile.”

In accounting firms, there is a history of criticizing people, especially beginners. More experienced CPAs believed that people learned from their mistakes and it was up to them to frequently and directly point out those mistakes. They were/are called Review Notes.

Keep in mind, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

Horror stories exist where the newbies at the firm compare experiences about how many review notes, on a single engagement, they received from Old Frank the seasoned tax partner. They were received in writing and without any human connection or conversation.

Yes, people learn from their mistakes but do you talk to them? Do you mention any of the things they did right?

I also hear stories where this is no longer the case. Progressive firms work with team members to identify their strengths and focus on building them up in those areas.

Have a face-to-face (via video) conversation about their challenges and concerns. Listen to their questions and comments.

No one can be good at everything. That’s why you have a team. If everyone was alike you would have a firm that has plateaued.

  • The trouble with most of us is that we'd rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.
  • Norman Vincent Peale

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

Stealing Your People

“Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal.” – T. S. Eliot

It’s been going on for decades. There are people who get paid to help you steal people from your competitors.

Most of them are incentivized recruiters who use all types of methods to find experienced accountants who might be dissatisfied with their current employment status.

Recently, I heard a discussion among practice managers (firm administrators), that one firm did not feature their team members on their website because it made it easier for head-hunters to find people to contact and entice them away. Others agreed that it was a good idea.

I do not agree. I believe there are more benefits to featuring your team on your website than dangers. Featuring them is saying that you are proud of them and that they are qualified professionals taking care of your clients. It is also a boost for your administrative team. Your new hires (recent college graduates) are thrilled to be able to tell their relatives and friends that they should check out your website and see their picture.

If you are losing people to recruiters, it is your fault.

  • Maybe your culture isn’t clearly defined and protected.
  • Maybe you have an abusive partner/manager or two.
  • Maybe everyone is not living up to the firm’s published core values.
  • Maybe you aren’t keeping pace with salaries for your different levels of experience.
  • Maybe the communication within your firm is poor. It’s the one I hear the most about!
  • And maybe, as leaders, you simply are not saying, “Thank you for your efforts,” enough.

If you are losing good people, look in the mirror.

  • He who steals a little steals with the same wish as he who steals much, but with less power.
  • Plato

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

Friday, November 13th, 2020

Difficult Clients

“Respect is for those who deserve not for those who demand it.” – Paulo Coelho

In CPA management circles, we have talked and talked about how to deal with difficult clients. Here is a flashback post for this Friday that will give you some solutions.

Upfront, be sure to train your clients. Of course, you know what the final solution is – help them find another accounting firm!

Your team members are way too valuable to be harassed and degraded by rude and unnecessarily demanding clients.

  • I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.
  • Albert Einstein

Monday, November 9th, 2020

Don’t Be So Cheap

“Spend at least 10% of your budget on the best professional advice available before you spend a nickel on anything.” – Harvey Mackay

Accountants are often known for being frugal. Your employees might think you (as a group of owners) are actually very cheap.

Here’s the difference – – Cheap people are driven by saving money regardless of the cost; frugal people are driven by maximizing total value, including the value of their time. … Being cheap is about spending less; being frugal is about prioritizing your spending so that you can have more of the things you really care about.

I don’t know how many times I have heard an experienced, competent firm administrator, practice manager, HR director, or marketing director say, “I won’t be able to attend the conference (event, webinar, meeting) because the partners won’t spend the money.”

On the other hand, I have heard those same people, the ones who did attend the conference (event, webinar, meeting) say, “I learned so much and brought so many great ideas back to the firm that the partners said I should attend every year.”

That’s why Harvey Mackay’s quote, above, is so appropriate for those leading CPA firms.

  • Never have a partner retreat without a paid facilitator – someone very familiar with the CPA profession.
  • Don’t hesitate to hire outside mentors and coaches for your partners, firm administrators, marketing directors, etc. Hire them for your partners, too.

Just last week, a client said to me after a fairly brief phone session, “You have given us several valuable nuggets during our conversation! We will act upon them!”

How much are you budgeting for outside, professional advisors?

  • If the price is very cheap then it's almost certainly a fake.
  • David Russell

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