Posts Tagged ‘boss’

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

First-Line Boss In A CPA Firm

Who is really the first-line boss in your CPA firm?

Unless you are an absolute solo (sole proprietor, no employees), then I hope you have a manager, and in most firms you have many, who are responsible for the growth and well-being of your employees.

In many firms the firm administrator plays this key role on the “well-being” side and your audit and tax managers fill the role on the “growth” topic. If you are a partner in a CPA firm, you often act as the “first-line boss.”

I continually find managers (the people with the title manager) inside CPA firms who do not manage. Sure, they manage the work fairly well but they really don’t know how to manage and inspire people BECAUSE the owners of the firm have not spent enough money on how educating them about management.

Firms are almost always generous with CPE dollars when it relates to tax, accounting and audit but no budget for learning the best and most progressive ways to help people achieve career success.

Tom Peters’ shares a weekly quote. This week it was as follows:

“Do you absolutely understand and act upon the fact that the first-line boss is the … KEY LEADERSHIP ROLE … in the organization?”

This comes from the Gallup organization:

“People leave managers not companies … in the end, turnover is mostly a manager issue.”

Rally your partner group, your executive committee, your management team and establish a plan and budget for helping managers learn what they are really suppose to be doing.  This will solve your succession issues if you can pull it off…. Can you pull it off?

  • Start with the end in mind.
  • Stephen R. Covey

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Are You Managing Your Boss?

If you are working as part of a team inside a CPA firm, I wonder if you are skilled at managing your boss?

There has been a lot written about this topic lately and I agree that it is just as important to manage upwards as it is to manage downwards.

See what your think of this quote from a classic article from HBR:

“To many people, the phrase ‘managing your boss’ may sound unusual or suspicious. Because of the traditional top-down emphasis in most organizations, it is not obvious why you need to manage relationships upward – unless, of course, you would do so for personal or political reasons. But we are not referring to political maneuvering or to apple polishing. We are using the term to mean the process of consciously working with your superior to obtain the best possible results for you, your boss, and the company.”        – – John J. Gabarro & John P. Kotter, “Best of HBR 1980: Managing Your Boss” – Harvard Business Review, January 2005

I often talk about the need for better communication inside CPA firms. But, it is not always about downward communication. In most organizations communication goes in many directions – up, down and sideways!

While I believe partners and managers could certainly improve in the communication area, I also think it is important for the employee to take responsibility for learning how to communicate effectively with their boss.

I learned this very early on in my carrer inside a CPA firm – – different bosses (partners) like communication in different ways. Different partners respond in different ways to certain actions you take and even to certain verbal comments you make.

Investing the time in learning how to “manage upwards” would be a good career exercise.

  • The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate you away from those who are still undecided.
  • Casey Stengel

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

It’s Often Better For Both of You

I have talked with many CPAs over the years who went through a break-up. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it doesn’t. One of the best scenarios is when both “sides” go on to be successful, with no hard feelings.

My advice is that when you have a problem face it, talk it through – – no talking behind each others backs.

As Stephen Covey told us years ago with his Habit #4, Think Win-Win. Thinking Win-Win isn’t about being nice, nor is it a quick-fix technique. It is a character-based code for human interaction and collaboration. As Covey describes, win-win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win-win means agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying.

All this came about because of a great article by Jen Wilson of ConvergenceCoaching titled, You ARE Better Off Without Them! Wilson urges you to be sure everyone has a chance to be successful by:

  1. Defining expected behaviors in writing.
  2. Documenting roles, responsibilities and measures of success in writing.
  3. Holding regular check-in meetings to provide guidance and feedback to your people.
  4. Delivering annual feedback formally and paying for the performance you are experiencing.

“One of the reasons why many of us allow poor performers and bad behavior to persist is that we feel we haven’t done all that we can to support the success of the person,” says Wilson. The four steps above help you ensure people’s success. Read Wilson’s entire article, it is right on target.

Keep in mind, top performers want a boss who gets poor performers out of the way.

  • Drop the anchor from your team.
  • Jennifer Wilson

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Being A Good Manager

Inside CPA firms, the word “manager” is not very clearly defined.

For many firms it is a name they give a person who has developed solid technical accounting, auditing or tax skills over a period of time. I believe the term “manager” applies to partners, managers, supervisors and even seniors inside an accounting firm. After all, they are expected to manage the client engagement and the work of people who are more junior than themselves. They are the boss in many situations.

Google, inside their own organization, decided to explore the question, “What makes a good boss?” and called the the study Project Oxygen.

They discovered that what you might think would be the top characteristic, the ability to write computer code in your sleep, came in last. I imagine that inside an accounting firm, being a great tax mind or having extremely advanced auditing skills would also come in last as an indicator of being a great boss.

Here’s Project Oxygen‘s findings, Google’s “Eight Good Behaviors” of top managers, ranked in order of importance:

  1. Be a good coach. Provide specific, constructive feedback, balancing the negative and the positive. Have regular one-on-ones, presenting solutions to problems tailored to your employees’ specific strengths.
  2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage. Balance giving freedom to your employees, while still being available for advice. Make “stretch” assignments to help the team tackle big problems.
  3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being. Get to know your employees as people, with lives outside of work. Make new members of your team feel welcome and help ease their transition.
  4. Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented. Focus on what employees want the team to achieve and how they can help achieve it. Help the team prioritize work and use seniority to remove roadblocks.
  5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team. Communication is two-way: you both listen and share information. Hold all-hands meetings and be straightforward about the messages and goals of the team. Help the team connect the dots. Encourage open dialogue and listen to the issues and concerns of your employees.
  6. Help your employees with career development.
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team. Even in the midst of turmoil, keep the team focused on goals and strategy. Involve the team in setting and evolving the team’s vision and making progress toward it.
  8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team. Roll up your sleeves and conduct work side by side with the team, when needed. Understand the specific challenges of the work.

CPA firms focus so much time and so many dollars on training their youngest team members. They are sent to Level I, II, III and maybe more for audit training. The firm funds their education in “beginning tax,” “advanced tax” and more. Managers and partners review their work and critique their skills in tax preparation, auditing and accounting. Why not invest in helping accountants become better bosses?

An idea:  Firm owners, why not consider devoting this year’s partner retreat to the topic of how you are going to spend dollars and time training yourselves, your managers and even your seniors on how to be better managers of people? Develop an action plan outlining steps you need to take to become better leaders, as partners, and how you will develop future leaders inside your firm. Some call it succession planning; I call it running a good firm.

In public accounting firms, true leadership training rarely happens. I strongly urge you, plead with you, even beg you – begin leadership training from Day One – just like you do with tax and accounting training.  Contact me if you need help.


  • No man goes before his time; unless the boss leaves early.
  • Groucho Marx