Archive for the ‘Leadership’ 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

Thursday, October 7th, 2021

Who Cares!

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” – Albert Einstein

I recently read the following quote by Deke Bridges. To me, it brought to mind the old “What, me worry?” saying.

The greatest fear that holds most people back is the fear of what other people think. Your creative works far outweigh their doubting words. Have the courage to stand up and grow.” — Deke Bridges

Inside accounting firms, people worry way too much about what other people think.

Be brave and always keep moving forward.

  • If you have an over-preoccupation with perception and trying to please people’s expectations, then you can go mad.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch

Friday, October 1st, 2021

What, Me Worry? – Flashback Friday

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” – Leo Buscaglia

It’s October 1st already! It’s Friday, time for a helpful flashback post.

Advice from Jim Rohn about not letting your worries turn into fears.

  • People become attached to their burdens sometimes more than the burdens are attached to them.
  • George Bernard Shaw

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

Wednesday, September 15th, 2021

A Jerk Free Firm

“In my opinion, we don’t devote nearly enough scientific research to finding a cure for jerks.” – Bill Watterson

Recently, a comment from Allan Koltin caused me to give some thought to what a jerk-free firm might be. Koltin noted that if you had a jerk-free firm, the firm would be more likely to have appeal as a merger candidate.

I have observed that most CPA firms have at least one jerk at the leadership level. It could be a partner, a manager, a male, or a female but their jerkdom is well-known and dreaded. Sometimes they are even ridiculed among the team members. Usually, interns can identify the jerk within a week or so and can often do a great job of doing a comic imitation of that person.

Here is a link to where you can read about jerks in the workplace. But how do you define a jerk personality in an accounting firm?

Someone who:

  • Talks excessively but never listens.
  • Takes credit for other people’s ideas.
  • Is always last minute causing chaos close to due dates.
  • Doesn’t respect other people’s time.
  • Leaves a mess in the lunch room for admin to clean up.
  • Ignores the FIFO method for processing work and puts their jobs first.
  • Seems to have no understanding that you have a personal life.
  • Rarely express appreciation or gives recognition for a job well done.
  • Openly makes fun of other people (staff/clients) and gets involved in the grapevine.
  • Dodges client calls when they know there is a problem and delegates it to someone else.

I could go on but you can add to this list if you want.

I suggest you strive to develop a jerk-free culture by establishing some guidelines and goals. Be sure you have identified the firm’s core values and expect all partners to live by them and set a good example

Here is an example of some values that help make a jerk-free workplace;

  • Client focused – Always striving to provide awesome client service
  • Focused on excellence pertainig to hiring, establishing processes and working environment.
  • Keeping our word – I always think of something Sam Allred said at a retreat many years ago as it applies to partners: “I will do what I say I will do, on time, without reminders.”
  • Team oriented – Everyone at all levels are expected to give and receive feedback to help themselves and the entire team to continually improve.
  • Self-sufficient – I will be a problem solver; not one who creates problems for others to solve.

Be able to say without hesitation, “We are a jerk-free firm!”

  • Of the billionaires I have known, money just brings out the basic traits in them. If they were jerks before they had money, they are simply jerks with a billion dollars.
  • Warren Buffett

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

Wednesday, August 25th, 2021

Punctuality

“Lots of professional jobs require punctuality.” – Suzanne Lucas (@RealEvilHRLady)

Punctuality still matters. Even if you are working a flexible schedule or a hybrid culture, professionals are judged on their punctuality. You ARE a professional.

I’ve blogged about it SO many times:

January 8, 2020 – – – January 18, 2019 – – – March 11, 2021. Do a search on the right side of this webpage to find more of my blogs about punctuality.

Adopt the marching band member commitment, “If you are on time, you are late. If you are early, you are on time.”

Read Suzanne Lucas’ article: Why punctuality Absolutely Still Matters–Even For Remote Jobs.

  • Life's tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.
  • Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, August 24th, 2021

Your Value Proposition

“When you bring your best to the table, no matter where you are or what you are doing, you bring out the best in others. And soon, you start to realize, that, in turn, helps them bring out the best in you.” – Bruce Tulgan

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I admire Bruce Tulgan. Tulgan is an American writer specializing in management training and generational diversity in the workforce. He is a dynamic and informative speaker. When I first read his book It’s Okay To Be The Boss, I was hooked and have read and followed his books and articles for years.

I was fortunate to hear him speak live and got to meet him and have him sign my copy of It’s Okay.

In a recent article Tulgan addresses the topic of an employer value proposition. If you want to have an advantage as an employer, begin with defining a clear value proposition for potential new hires.

Keep in mind that not one value proposition fits every role. Tulgan lists many questions an employer must ask themselves before they can define a purposeful staffing strategy.

Be sure to read the article to learn more and to learn about the eight Dream Job Factors.

  • Leverage your uniqueness.
  • Bruce Tulgan