Archive for the ‘Managers’ Category

Monday, February 28th, 2022

Are They Succeeding?

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

You have scrambled to hire enough qualified people to help the firm make it through tax season. Now that you have them, will you be able to keep them?

Workers want to know how they are doing. Are they making progress quickly enough? What does their career path look like? What more can they do?

Sad to say, CPA firm partners and managers don’t often communicate continually, with clarity, about a person’s job performance. Some tend to save their comments until it is time for a more formal feedback session. That doesn’t work any longer.

This topic came in recently in a discussion with one of my clients. The topic was scheduling. Were they doing enough to keep everyone busy? Some staff members didn’t speak up when they didn’t have enough work. The firm does have a person in charge of coordinating the scheduling function, that’s the first step.

Here’s what I tell young people working in a CPA firm. If you don’t have enough work on your schedule, you should be worried. Here’s how it goes:

Tony Partner informs the scheduler that John Jones Excavating Company’s work has arrived and he needs a Senior to do the work. He would like Betsy but don’t give it to Terry. Others often say they don’t want their work assigned to Terry. No communication has been directed to Terry. It is the simple fact that word has spread throughout the firm that Terry’s work is sub-standard yet, no one has told Terry.

If someone is not performing well, CPAs tend to shun them. Definition of shun: “to avoid deliberately and especially habitually.”

Managers and partners – be very honest and tell them exactly what you tell each other about them. Give them guidance on what to do about it, mentor them and if that doesn’t work – deal with it.

  • Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don't wish it were easier; wish you were better.
  • Jim Rohn

Tuesday, February 15th, 2022

Role Models

“Parents are the ultimate role models for children. Every word, movement, and action has an effect. No other person or outside force has a greater influence on a child than the parent.” – Bob Keeshan

In a public accounting firm, there are a lot of young people, new college graduates, just beginning their work life.

“Partners are the ultimate role models for new college accounting graduates just entering the workforce. Every word, movement, and action has an effect. No other people or outside force has a greater influence on a new hire than the partners.” – Rita Keller

You can see what came to mind when I read the quote by Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo).

It is true. I have observed that interns, within two weeks, can tell you the way this partner wants something and the way that partner wants something. I have seen, first-hand, how skilled interns are at doing personal imitations of certain partners for the entertainment of their peers.

When in discussions with CPA firm team members, talking about the importance of clearly defined policies and procedures, I always ask, “Who doesn’t follow the firm’s procedures?” The immediate answer is always the same, “The partners!”

If you are a partner, a manager or other leader in a firm never forget that you are being watched with a magnifying glass. Yes, you are the ultimate role model.

  • Each person must live their life as a role model for others.
  • Rosa Parks

Thursday, January 27th, 2022

Are You Meeting Their Needs?

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Be sure you are aware of what your employees really need. Firms are trying all kinds of creative and unique ways to attract people and to keep the talented people they already employ. Some of these ways are not so creative and unique, nor do they have to be.

You might think that more money will solve the hiring and retention dilemma. I agree that it will certainly help. I have observed that many firms are offering new recruits nearly the same salary that my firm offered about twelve years ago! For small to medium-size firms, beginning salaries are still not very competitive. Owners make the excuse that they are small and that they are located in areas where the cost of living is less than major cities. Location isn’t an excuse any longer. You are competing with every CPA firm everywhere.

In a recent article, Suzanne Lucas (@realevilhrlady) notes that 77% of employees say they would prefer to work for a company that gives them flexibility rather than work for a company with a fancy corporate headquarters.

Flexibility has been discussed extensively in the CPA profession but it is still a challenge for managers and for those being managed. Managers are uneasy about having people work from home. How do they know they are working? Well, trust is the answer but that is a topic for another day.

It is true that some managers micro-manage and want to track time on the employees’ computers (keystrokes) and want them to have their cameras on all the time so they can be seen working. Thankfully, I don’t see those extremes in very many accounting firms.

Read Lucas’ article and learn how ER (employee relations) can help managers focus on results and outcomes, rather than availability when a manager reaches out to them.

  • The man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.
  • Max Lucado

Friday, January 21st, 2022

Silence Often Helps – Flashback Friday

This week’s Flashback comes from 2018. Asking questions is VERY important but do you ask too many, too often?


“Sometimes you don’t have to say anything. Silence speaks it all.” – Disha Patani

During each day, you get an enormous amount of questions.

You are the firm administrator. It seems like people are lined up outside your office door continually as the day evolves.

You are the managing partner. A client calls and expects an answer on the spot. A partner stops you in the hall and asks a question. Your firm administrator needs an answer right away!

Partners and managers get questions from staff. Staff members get questions from each other. It seems everyone asking questions thinks YOU must have an easy and quick answer.

Try a little silence. In appropriate situations, just remain silent and the person asking the question just might answer it themselves.

If you are stopped in the hallway and asked a question say: “Let me think about that and I’ll get back to you.” Often, people catch you off guard and it is much safer to deflect, think and then reply.

Delay doesn’t mean days or weeks, it means minutes or hours.

One of the main insights I receive from staff is that they often wait on answers from partners (mostly regarding client work) for days, weeks, and sometimes months.

  • He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words.
  • Elbert Hubbard

Wednesday, January 12th, 2022

Three Rules For Networking

“The single greatest people skill is a highly developed and authentic interest in the other person.” – Bob Burg

#1 – You must be committed

An effective network is built over time. It’s not immediate gratification. Engage people in conversation. What are common interests? Do your children go to the same school? The magic phrase “tell me about yourself.”

#2 – Develop a relationship

Scanning in biz cards or adding contacts to Outlook isn’t it. Sending your contact a firm brochure or calling to ask for an appointment won’t work. If you find out something you have in common (love of dogs) send them an article.

#3 – Give, give, give

The magic phrase #2: How can I help you? Better to give than receive applies. Perhaps you can make an Introduction. Maybe they need an answer to a question. Become a go-to person.

My story:  How many things did I give away before I ever got paid for consulting?  Hundreds, maybe thousands. It does not happen over night.  It doesn’t have to if you start your young people on the networking trail immediately.

  • Networking is a lot like nutrition and fitness: we know what to do, the hard part is making it a top priority.
  • Herminia Ibarra

Monday, December 13th, 2021


“People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.”- John C. Maxwell

Marcus Buckingham said it years ago in his book First Break All The Rules in 2016 and it is still being repeated almost daily in the business world:

“People leave managers, not companies” – Marcus Buckingham, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently

In my version for CPA firms, it goes like this: “People don’t leave firms, they leave people.”

If you are experiencing the new trend called, “The Great Resignation,” don’t be surprised if you discover that some of your talented people leave because they have not experienced an involved, focused, qualified and caring manager.

Do you have people who are driving other people away? You better fix it.

Instead of managers being worker bees, they should adhere to the description of a manager: A manager gets things done through other people. They don’t do the work themselves. Leaders must allow managers to be managers of people and not production units who must hit certain chargeable hour goals themselves.

I’ll leave you with another quote from the same book by Buckingham:

“The talented employee may join a company because of its charismatic leaders, its generous benefits, and its world-class training programs, but how long that employee stays and how productive he is while he is there is determined by his relationship with his immediate supervisor.”

  • To lead people, walk behind them.
  • Lao Tzu

Friday, December 10th, 2021

Finding More Time – Flashback Friday

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward

Ask yourself, what am I doing that someone with a lower billing rate can easily do? You need to enhance your delegation skills. Read this flashback post.

  • If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.
  • John Maxwell

Thursday, October 21st, 2021

Don’t Hesitate to Say Goodbye

“When I go to a party, nobody says hello. But when I leave, everybody says goodbye.” – George Gobel

In working with CPA firms, I have observed that so many CPAs like to cling to work. You can’t keep growing and expanding your skillset if you keep doing the same things while still doing the familiar things.

When you become a Senior, you have to leave much of your staff work behind. When you become a Manager, you have to say goodbye to some of the clients and the type of work you still love to do. You have to say hello to some new skills. The same thing applies when you become a partner. At that point in your career, you have to definitely say goodbye to doing the work and embrace the role of partner. Partners need to be bringing in business, enriching client relationships, and mentoring young people.

Occasionally, I read a post by Seth Godin that says so much to me about CPAs. The following is one of those posts.


Twenty years from now, you will have new skills. New customers. A new title and a new kind of leverage.

All of this forward motion requires a less celebrated element–all the things you’re not doing any longer.

To get a new job, you’ll need to leave the old job behind.

When you have a child, you’ve initiated a process that leads to an adult…

Often, we try to pretend that growth comes with no goodbyes, but it does.

Perhaps we can go in with our eyes open, understanding that what we begin will likely end. And when we plan for it, we’ll do it better.

  • That money talks, I'll not deny. I heard it once it said, 'Goodbye.'
  • Richard Armoour

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