Archive for the ‘Process’ Category

Thursday, April 8th, 2021

Foster Creativity

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” – Steve Jobs

I wonder why the above quote is so foreign to CPA firms.

When you tie everything down so tightly, insisting that every work effort must conform to firm processes and procedures and every minute should be chargeable how will anyone have the time or desire to THINK and experiment. Maybe there is a better way but no one has the time or freedom to pursue it. Their entire work life is micro-managed.

Be that firm that has a culture of creativity, experimentation, and implementation of ideas. If the experiment doesn’t work out never be afraid to say, “Oh well, that didn’t work so well. Let’s try something else.”

Hopefully, you are hiring smart people. Encourage your smart people to bring their creative ideas to the table and allow them time to do so.

  • Micromanagement is the destroyer of momentum.
  • Miles Anthony Smith

Wednesday, April 7th, 2021

Goals

“The only criterion for what makes a good goal is that the person working towards it must set it for themselves, voluntarily.” – Marcus Buckingham

CPA firms, usually on an annual basis, have each team member establish goals for the coming year. This happens after the annual performance feedback exercise. Many firms have now moved beyond the annual tradition and are providing feedback much more frequently: Semi-annually, quarterly or monthly. Of course, the best firms provide feedback continually and have even discontinued the annual or periodic formal feedback session.

The current workforce wants to know how they are doing much more often than periodically. It makes me think of taking small children on a drive to a family outing or to a visit with grandparents. They ask, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” about every five minutes. That is how your employees feel; they want to know.

A friend of mine has an online job. They have never met their supervisor face-to-face. There are guidelines and parameters and lots of communication with their supervisor. At the end of each day they get a report on how they did that day. Are you anywhere close to that?

Some firms continue to assign goals to individuals based on their performance. Progressive firms involve individuals in setting goals. The person drafts their own goals and the supervisor advises and approves. Be sure you encourage people to have fewer goals and shorter timeframes. Something like two goals per quarter. I have observed that if a person has six or eight annual goals most of them never get accomplished.

CPA managers and partners need to give more frequent feedback and guidance and listen to where the individual wants to go with their career. They want to know, “Am I there yet? Am I there yet?”

  • Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
  • George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

Accountants Are Picky

“Invariably, micromanaging results in four problems: deceit, disloyalty, conflict, and communication problems.” – John Rosemond

First of all, I want you to know that I do believe in hands-on management. You can’t leave people in a void, wondering what your expectations are. It’s all about communication and how you go about communicating.

However, I have worked with accountants long enough to know that they tend to be perfectionists. Yes, the work produced by CPAs must be absolutely accurate. How you arrive at that state is another topic.

I remember my first days in a CPA firm. I was amazed at how thoroughly my work (simple typing projects) was proofed and reviewed. I came from an educational and training background where you did it right the first time. You proofed your own work. That seemed to be completely absent inside the CPA firm. I soon learned that it wasn’t just me being scrutinized, it was an important part of the process of achieving accuracy in financial matters.

The goal is still there and accuracy is a given. How you arrive at that point is through extensive training and responsible review of work. There is a fine line between supervision and micro-management. Beware. Micro-managing is not something to be proud of.

A recent article by Suzanne Lucas (@realevilHRLady) certainly made me smile. She featured a tweet that said: “Tell me you’ve worked for a micromanager without telling me you’ve worked for a micromanager.”

The replies would be hilarious if they weren’t so disturbing. They did make me smile because during those first years in the CPA profession I had to change many financial statements several times after each review step and I don’t mean the numbers – it was personal preference about phrasing and punctuation from multiple reviewers.

An example of the tweets featured in the article:

“Sorry, I forgot to tell you that I went to the bathroom.”

“We talked for over an hour about the 1 missing period in the 40 slide deck.”

Read the article – Here Is What Micromanagement Looks Like.

You might recognize some people in your own firm!

  • None of us should wait to be told what to do, or how to do it. Micromanagement kills initiative, judgment and creativity.
  • David H. Maister

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020

Attendance Policy

Do you have an attendance policy? I have observed that many CPA firms do not have a clearly defined policy and if they do have one, it is doubtful that they are enforcing it.

You need to have an attendance policy and enforce it, especially with so many employees now working remotely.” – Suzanne Lucas 

Suzanne Lucas, aka Evil HR Lady, gives us reasons why such a policy is important in a recent article.

She gives the example of an employee who called in to say that they had 40 hours in as of Thursday and they were taking Friday off and not counting it as PTO. Lucas’ advice: “Say no. Honestly, it’s that simple.”

Per this HR expert: “You are within your rights as an employer to set an absentee policy that makes sense for your business. You need work done, and that’s why you hire employees. This does not mean that your employees should devote their entire lives to your business, nor does it mean you let them walk all over you. When you’re talking about attendance, you need a good policy.”

I have observed similar situations within accounting firms and it seems to always cause indecisiveness and even confusion about how to handle these situations. In these times of being almost desperate to retain skilled people, CPA leaders are often simply afraid to say “No” to anything.

The article contains a sample attendance policy and a lot of other good information. Read it here.

  • Be kind and flexible, but make sure your employees know they need to work every day.
  • Suzanne Lucas

Wednesday, September 30th, 2020

CPA Exam Benefits

“I’m forever testing myself. As a person and as an actor, I have no sense of competition.” – Michael Caine

I often receive inquiries about the benefits package a public accounting firm should offer. My advice? Be generous!

For example, firms approach paying for the CPA Exam and for the pre-exam study course in varying manners. Of course, some firms are more generous than others.

You are a CPA firm. You need CPAs. Communicate this fact to all your new accounting graduates (and others who have not yet passed the Exam).

Here’s an example of an Exam policy:

John Doe & Company CPA Exam Policy

(Name of firm) is first and foremost a CPA firm. The expectation has always been that, as soon as possible, each of us will sit for and pass the CPA exam. Including our college education, it is the completion of the basics and the foundation that each of us need to practice the profession of public accounting.

Effectively immediately, the firm’s policy on passing the exam is as follows:

  1. For new college graduates joining the firm, the expectation is that you will complete the exam by your two year anniversary with the firm.
  2. For the existing team, the expectation is that you will have it completed within two years of today’s date.
  3. As you will see in the firm’s goal-setting process, if you have not passed the exam your number one goal will be to do so. The achievement of this goal will have a significant impact on your compensation.
  4. Although we do not want to focus on the negative, if the exam is not completed within the above time frames it will be a serious impediment to your career with the firm. We will evaluate each situation on an individual basis.   

We are disassociating the passing of the exam to staff levels within the firm. In other words, you no longer have to have the exam passed to be promoted to senior. The level at which you are performing will be the only factor that determines your title.

We are enhancing our benefits related to the CPA exam as follows:

  • We will pay for 100% of Becker, Surgent, or another review course approved by the firm. This will be paid upfront and will be refundable to the firm if you do not complete the review course.
  • We will now pay the 50% reimbursement of exam fees upfront with no maximum.
  • The firm will pay a $1,000 bonus upon certification from the state licensing agency and will also have your certificate professionally framed.

To summarize, passing the exam is your top priority. The firm will do everything that we can to help you and to accommodate the process. We hope that the enhancements above will make a difference. But, you have to take it and pass it. Please give it the importance that it deserves in your career. 

Again, my message to all firms is to be generous.

  • Everything you want is out there waiting for you to ask. Everything you want also wants you. But you have to take action to get it.
  • Jack Canfield

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

A Zoom Agreement

“I don’t do meetings.” – Karl Lagerfeld

Here’s a post from Seth Godin that I just had to share. Zoom meetings are an important communication tool but I bet you have been on some that are disorganized and tiresome. Maybe this will help guide your meetings:

TOWARD A ZOOM AGREEEMNT

If you promise not to check your email while we’re talking, we promise to not waste your time.

If you agree to look me in the eye and try to absorb the gist of what I’m saying, I agree to be crisp, cogent and on point.

If you are clear about which meetings are a waste of time for you to attend, we can be sure to have them without you.

If you can egg me on and bring enthusiasm to the interaction, I can lean into the work and reflect back even more energy than you’re contributing.

The purpose of a meeting is not to fill the allocated slot on the Google calendar invite. The purpose is to communicate an idea and the emotions that go with it, and to find out what’s missing via engaged conversation.

If we can’t do that, let’s not meet.

Multi-tasking isn’t productive, respectful or healthy.

  • If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings.'
  • Dave Barry

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

Rejection Letters

“To the old, the new is usually bad news.” – Eric Hofer

I often get requests from my clients (and others) for samples of various types of letters. I have observed that CPAs are much more open to new ideas, processes, etc. if they can see samples.

That’s why a recent article via HBR seemed an important one to share. It is titled, Writing a Rejection Letter (with Samples).

I am sure there are many instances where you must turn someone down. You know, let them down gently. I believe it is the proper thing to to when you have interviewed a job candidate and decided they were not the best fit for the job. It can often be an unpleansant task so do not put it off!

Keep in mind that you don’t have write a long or detailed explanation. The article suggests four steps:

  1. Say thanks.
  2. Deliver the news.
  3. Give the main reason.
  4. Offer hope.

Read the entire article. The samples are very helpful.

  • Bad news isn't wine. It doesn't improve with age.
  • Colin Powell

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

Billing Clients

“Never take your eyes off the cash flow because it’s the life blood of business.” – Richard Branson

Billing clients should be routine. It should be a well- established habit. It’s not difficult so don’t make it so.

Document your billing guidelines and then live by them. Much of the task of billing clients can be automated now. Your admin team can assist in making the process easier.

Billing clients was a recent discussion on the CPAFMA discussion board. If you are not a member, the discussion board by itself is worth the annual dues.

Victoria LeStrange, is the firm administrator for Heymann, Suissa & Stone P.C. of Rockville, MD. The process she shared is very similar to what I recommend. Teach your partners how to use the software! In this day and age, partners must be computer proficient.

Here’s Ms. LeStrange’s firm’s process:

Each partner does their own billing from soup to nuts.   It’s all done onscreen with CCH AXCESS…we typically bill business clients on the 16th of each month and most all bills are done and emailed by the end of the day. Individual tax returns are often billed upon completion.

Many firms bill weekly, especially during busy season. Again, the software and the admin team facilitate the process. Individual tax returns should be billed immediately upon delivery.

An efficient billing and collection process speeds up cash flow. That should be very important to your partner group.

  • Entrepreneurs believe that profit is what matters most in a new enterprise. But profit is secondary. Cash flow matters most.
  • Peter Drucker

Thursday, July 9th, 2020

A Strong Foundation

“In order to achieve great results, you first need to do the deep inner work to build a solid foundation that can support your success.” – Chris McClure

Building a strong foundation, personally, is very important. It will be the guiding light that supports your success and leads you to even greater heights. As mentioned in the quote above, you have to do deep inner work.

This same theory applies to your busy accounting firm. You let yourself get so busy that the firm just molds itself around you (and your partners).

For over one-half of this year, you have been busy, busy, busy. You have quickly reacted to build a remote work environment to serve clients and to get you through the pandemic. It didn’t matter if the foundation was solid or shaky, you had to get the work done – you are essential.

Soon it will be July 15th, that new magical due date. Hopefully, you will have some time to really contemplate the foundation of your firm. Your processes and procedures are the foundation of your firm. You must be prepared to inform current staff and new staff “How we do it here.”

Perhaps you had some well-developed processes but they all went by the wayside during the last few hectic months. Refocus. Seek input from your people and your clients. Shore-up your foundation so you are prepared to move forward into the new normal.

Foundational pieces of an accounting firm, in addition to how your complete engagements and handle workflow, are: HR policies, internal accounting (billing and collection, monthly firm financial statements, etc.), technology processes, training, and marketing/sales activities.

Remember, from the quote above, “In order to achieve great results, you first need to do the deep inner work to build a solid foundation.”

  • Successful people begin where failures leave off. Never settle for 'just getting the job done.'" Excel!
  • Tom Hopkins

Monday, June 29th, 2020

Things That Don’t Matter

“It’s frustrating to keep doing things that don’t matter anymore.” – Dan Rockwell

It is amazing how many things have changed just during the last four months. March, April, May and June 2020.

You went into March just as you do for any March in tax season. Then things changed. Schools closed, universities moved all classes to online. Businesses and restaurants closed yet, work continued for accounting firms. They are essential.

You also sent your employees home and asked them to work remotely. You did it quickly and for many firms it was efficient and easy.

Now you are moving your team, in stages, back into the office. Not all will come back, they will continue to work remotely.

You have learned that it doesn’t matter anymore where people sit to do their work.

A big question you need to contemplate now is what have you always done that you no longer need to keep doing? Don’t force people back into behaviors, processes, and/or procedures that no longer seem logical.

  • I still catch myself feeling sad about things that don't matter anymore.
  • Kurt Vonnegut