Archive for the ‘Retreats’ Category

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

Look Ahead

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Successful business people always look ahead.

As leaders of CPA firms you should not be thinking about 2016, you should be thinking of 2017 (and beyond).  Many CPAs, in 2016, are thinking about 2015! Or, they are thinking of the last six months.

  • How did the firm do from January through April?
  • Are we ahead of last year?

CPA firm leaders should also be READING. Not just accounting, audit and tax materials, newsletters and magazines. You should always be paying attention to the economy and national and international news. You have people relying on you (your clients and your people) for their financial well-being.

Don’t settle for average. The worst danger of mediocre leaders is they bring out mediocrity in others.

Look ahead, plan now and position the firm and your clients in the best possible position for 2017. Don’t make your partner planning retreat something that reflects back or even something that investigates a current snapshot of your firm – make it a rallying point for the future.

  • You are the best author of your own future. So, the next time you sit down to write your own story, remember that you are the creator of the best chapters that could ever be written.
  • Catherine Pulsifer

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Effective Retreats – Don’t Leave Without A Wrap-Up Session

“If you don’t know where you are going, you are certain to end up somewhere else.” – Yogi Berra

You have spent the last day and one-half with your fellow partners focusing on the future of the firm. Before the group departs, be sure to do some wrap-up steps.

Decisions were made, action items were assigned. Be sure to go over these points during the retreat recap so that everyone is on the same page and clear about the expectations. Everyone leaves the retreat with an understanding of the action steps and is clear about who “owns” each step.

As often occurs with partner retreats, when partners return to the office, managers and staff members ask what happened at the retreat. Everyone wants to know what decisions were made. To effectively handle the onslaught of questions, be sure everyone leaves the meeting with “talking points.” List the key points on a flip-chart. Some items are confidential and should not be shared but most items are not. Once everyone is in agreement, appoint a person to capture the points digitally and send them to the attendees. Once back at the office (immediately) the MP should send out an email including the key points so that everyone gets the message at the same time, in the same manner.

I always urge partners to have a “state of the firm” meeting as soon as possible after the retreat so that the key points and any new strategic direction for the firm can be shared with all.

Finally, ask the attendees what they liked about the meeting and what they did not like. Do this, on-site, while things are fresh in their minds. What bugged you? What did you really like? What could we do better next time? Use the KSS method – For our retreat, what should we Keep doing, what should we Stop doing and what should we Start doing?

Retreats are like other routine office happenings (such as performance evaluations). If you don’t refresh them and do things differently, everyone soon gets bored with the entire experience.


  • The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.
  • Mark Zukerberg

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Another Meeting? Oh, The Horror!

IMG_2515“To get something done a committee should consist of no more than three people, two of whom are absent.” – Robert Copeland

Meetings, and the need for them, are on my mind currently.

During the last two weeks of April and into early May, I hear from many CPAs and their people. They save a lot up over busy season!

It is also the beginning of conference season. The time when CPAs and their people attend various conferences and gather some valuable and insightful information to help make their firm a better place to work and a better resource for their clients.

Some of these conversations and topics come back to an age old issue. We have too many meetings!!

CPA leaders really do want to include people. Retention of top talent demands that you have an inclusive culture. Younger generations want to be “in the know.” Yes, they want to be heard but they also want to simply listen. But, be aware, they do not want to attend a meeting that turns out to be a big waste of time.

There was a good article recently o the HBR site, “A Step-by-Step Guide to Structuring Better Meetings.”

Frequently, teams fail to link the structure (content, frequency, and duration) of their meetings with the job that needs to be accomplished. A one-size-fits-all meeting doesn’t work.

Here are some steps to follow (read the entire article to learn more about each step).

  1. Define the work of the team
  2. Parse the items into different categories so meetings can be tailored to the content
  3. Determine the frequency with which you need to discuss each category
  4. Set the length of the different meetings
  5. Plan for overflow

Get away from the “general” type meetings where you try to cover too many things and include too many people.

This also applies to partner retreats. Don’t try to cover too many topics. Focus on the most important (one or two) and work at getting something accomplished rather than sending people home with the feeling they wasted two days.

  • Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything.
  • John Kenneth Galbraith

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

CPA Partners, Are You Talking?

There is an old 60s song titled, You Talk Too Much. Here are the lyrics:

You talk too much, you worry me to death
You talk too much, you even worry my pet
You just talk, you talk too much

You talk about people that you don’t know
You talk about people wherever you go
You just talk, you talk too much

You talk about people that you’ve never seen
You talk about people, you can make me scream
You just talk, you talk too much

CPA partner groups DO NOT talk too much, about the right things.

Much like the lyrics of the song, they will casually chat with each other and often talk about people that they don’t really know – 2nd hand gossip.

Much like the lyrics of the song, they will critique people and each other about things they have actually “never seen”. Again, 2nd hand or even third-hand information.

EC50CC8658If things are not going so well at a firm, if the partner group is not on the same page and there are under-currents of discord, it is usually a lapse in communication. The partners have skipped or cancelled their partner meetings. They go into a partner retreat unprepared and shy away from the more difficult conversations and topics.

Simply talking more with each other and staying on topic not only helps communication, it builds teamwork among the partner group. Partners that meet regularly and talk about agenda items that are important in a very open and honest manner have fewer problems, challenges and issues.

Larger partner groups: Have a formal quarterly meeting for 2 to 3 hours, or more. On the months you do not meet, go to lunch together at least once during those months. In multi-office firms, of course the lunches are by office.

Smaller partner groups: Have a formal monthly meeting for 2 to 3 hours, or more. It’s much easier to schedule in a smaller firm but smaller firms seem to get out of the habit more often.

For all firms, this should be a priority meeting. One of the most important responsibilities of a partner is to speak-up in meetings. Everyone MUST be heard. Often, more dominant personalities monopolize the conversations and discussions – managing partners should not let this happen, nor should the MP dominate every discussion. All concerns should be aired in the meeting NOT in the hallway or over a beer at the end of the day by partner cliques.

For all firms, deal with factual information. Have a documented agenda (your firm administrator can assist with that) and don’t “table” the tough decisions until the next meeting.

Be sure you “talk too much”.


  • Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools talk because they have to say something.
  • Plato

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Planning Your 2015 Partner Retreat – What’s Really Important?

About this time of year, many CPA firm leaders make some decisions about when to have your annual retreat, where to have your annual retreat and who should facilitate your annual retreat. That’s all well and good – do that.

Here’s my advice:

  • Keep it simple
  • Focus on fewer initiatives and shorter timeframes.

It is better to identify one important item and get it done in 6 months than to make a list of 6 or 8 important items and not do any of them well.

All partners have “pet” projects, things they would like to see accomplished or implemented. Most of them are important. But, as firm leaders, it is your job to pick the most important and then get it done!

As Michael Porter has said, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

  • Take time to deliverate, but when the time for action comes, stop thinking and go in.
  • Napoleon Bonaparte

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Answer Your Own Questions

There are so many nagging questions going on inside the minds of CPA firm owners (partners).

  • Where are we taking this firm?
  • If we did this or that, would our people be upset?
  • Are our competitors actively trying to steal our people?
  • Are our competitors stepping-up their efforts to steal our clients?
  • Why can’t we be more united on our vision?
  • Other firms seem to be way ahead of us with social media. How can we catch-up?
  • Is this the year we will explore being acquired?
  • Is this the year we will finally go through with acquiring that smaller firm across town?
  • Denise, our long-time, all-star manager keeps threatening to leave. Is this the year she will do it?
  • We keep complaining about how Ted is our wild-card partner and never gets on-board with our procedures and initiatives. Are we going to do anything more than complain and ignore him?
  • Bill is our only real rainmaker. He’s 63. What are we going to do?
  • Who are we really? Are we the prominent, progressive firm we describe to applicants and potential clients?

Notice, at the beginning, I said “nagging questions going on inside the minds….”. The major challenge inside many firms is getting these questions out of the partners’ minds and verbalizing them.  Partners tend to THINK about many questions and WONDER about outcomes but they hesitate to actually SPEAK-UP.

If you are a partner in a CPA firm, it is your responsibility to ASK QUESTIONS, to say what’s on your mind, to be completely open and honest with your partners and be willing to listen to their honesty in return.

hoodIn the current issue of Accounting Today, Dan Hood takes a light-hearted look at “Which Firm Are You?” as compared to a TV show. Are you The Walking Dead, Downton Abbey, The Big Bang Theory and so on?   This might be a good exercise at your next partner retreat. Better yet, ask you team to compare your firm to a TV show (and be prepared for honesty).


  • When there's an elephant in the room introduce him.
  • Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

To Keep Top Talent At Your CPA Firm, Ask Them To Stretch

You arrive at the office on Friday morning and immediately you hear the news from one of your partners, your firm administrator or the HR director….. “Sally gave her notice late yesterday afternoon!”

Sally has become a key person on your team. She had just been promoted to Supervisor and was not only building some strong client relationships, the younger team members were requesting to be assigned to her jobs.

Yes, she got a great offer from another firm, an offer that was almost too good to be true. And, yes, you have been stalling on promoting her to manager because you already have 12 managers and are not sure what the future truly holds for her at the firm. You have delayed talking to her about all this and even though she has been asking questions about her career path.

How do you replace her? You are thinking about the recruiter fees you will be paying to get someone with her experience. WAIT…. don’t you have an internal mobility plan?  If not, you should begin one now.

Although promoting from within is a common practice inside of firms, I often hear, “we don’t have anyone ready to handle her accounts, no one is experienced enough.”

Before you go outside to hire, consider asking your Seniors to stretch a little and fill the role of Supervisor. Ask your associates to stretch a little and fill the role of Senior. You get the idea.

Your best performers (at whatever level) are looking for career advancement and career development. They will step-up and go above and beyond if you present the opportunity. They are waiting for you to ask and they don’t want you to bring a stranger in from the outside.

Besides, your own internal candidates already know your culture, procedures and quirks. Give them a chance. You might be surprised at how eager they are to stretch…. if you give them the opportunity.



  • Success is due to our stretching to the challenges of life. Failure comes when we shrink from them.
  • John C. Maxwell

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Effectively Using Your CPA Management Consultant

Old School:

The traditional way a CPA firm finds and uses a management consultant is to ask around and find out who other firms are using or identify someone they have heard speak at a management conference then hire them to facilitate the partner retreat.

The firm has budgeted a certain amount for the retreat facilitation and after the retreat, the consultant moves on to other engagements and the firm often does not want to spend the money to have them do follow-up work or assist with implementation and accountability

New School:

Find a consultant that you think fits your firm, based on size, service lines, people needs, partner problems, etc. You find these people by hearing them speak but also by assessing them in relation to their writings, use of social media, and ability to keep pace with current trends in business.

Initially, they will facilitate your retreat or conduct a planning day or two with your partners or management leaders. Then they attend your monthly partner meetings or executive committee meetings (60 to 90 minutes per month via Skype or other virtual resource) to continually contribute and to hold you accountable. The firm budgets an amount for the 2-day planning session and another amount for the 12-month on-going involvement.  Result: You have a much better shot at actually getting things done, at moving your firm ahead, at recruiting and retaining top talent and developing a culture within your firm of continual change and improvement. That’s the culture the new workforce wants to experience.

  • Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.
  • Albert Einstein

Monday, April 7th, 2014

CPAs – Stick To Your Plan

Soon Busy Season will be over, one more week.

It will be followed by Coma Season, the 2 or 3 weeks following Busy Season when CPAs and their team members go into a walking/talking coma.  Their eyes seem glazed and they have a distant stare indicating that they are exhausted from Busy Season. For some serious cases, Coma Season can last a full month or more.

Next comes Retreat Season, the time when CPA firm owners gather at an off-site, lovely facility or location to plan what they need to do to become a more successful, profitable, well-known, talent magnet and client magnet firm.

Then comes the longest season of all, Procrastination Season, where anything and everything can get in the way of carrying-out the plans that everyone agreed upon and committed to during Retreat Season.

andrewIn a recent post by Andrew Argue on The Bean Counter site, he explained that he has been listening to an audiobook titled, The Ultimate Sales Machine. The author notes that the #1 factor in successful selling is “pig headed discipline”.  Check out his blog post and look at the picture depicting the path to achieving your plan and the reality of achieving your plan.

At your management retreat this year, identify ONE OR TWO initiatives (don’t try to fool yourselves into believing you will accomplish half-a-dozen things or more). Then agree to and commit to….. even pinky swear to the fact that this year you will use pig headed discipline to carry out the action steps needed to implement your initiatives.

  • It will not do to leave a live dragon out of your plans if you live near one.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Millennials, Innovation and CPA Firms – Strange Bedfellows

When I read a recent article (Fast Company) about the current beliefs of Millennials the phrase, “strange bedfellows” came to mind. Although these days…. strange bedfellows probably means something completely different than my thought process. According to the dictionary it means unlikely companions or allies.

Some interesting thoughts were divulged according to Deloitte’s 2013 Global Millennial Survey. They sought comments about how business can innovate and impact society from those born after January 1982.

65% of respondents, who were located in 16 markets around the world, believe that their company conducts activities that benefit society. Is this just wishful thinking?

Millennials around the world don’t agree on exactly what societal changes are most pressing. Brazilians believe resource scarcity will be the biggest issue. In the U.S. and India they are most concerned about inflation. South African and many Western European millennials are worried about unemployment.

The majority of millennials believe they’re innovative people and they want to work for innovative companies. This is where the strange bedfellows thought entered my mind. Businesses (including CPA firms) that want to attract millennials need to emphasize their innovative ways (and positive societal impact).

I find that inside many CPA firms, leaders simply want to know what other firms are doing and then follow the herd. CPA partners have told me that they discuss the same things year after year at their partner retreat. Some firms have the same retreat facilitator for 10 or 15 years.

Of course, many progressive, forward-thinking firms actually are embracing change and leading the pack. I believe the simple reason is that they are able to implement. As we always said at my former firm… we want to be on the leading edge, not the bleeding edge. How about your firm?

Are your millennials innovative? Do you even ask for their input?  Please don’t squelch their innovative ideas!