Posts Tagged ‘managers’

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

The One-Firm-Firm – Sustaining It

davidheadTopThis week, I’ve focused most of my posts on the one-firm firm and featured the writings of David Maister in his book, Managing The Professional Service Firm. I want to add one more post to this weeks series and address the question: You’ve worked hard to develop a one-firm firm. How do you maintain it?

Maister refers to a list developed by Dr. Chip Bell. Think about how your firm measures up to these elements of a high performance firm:

  • Entrance requirements into the group are extremely difficult.
  • Acceptance into the group is followed by intensive job-related training, followed by team training.
  • Challenging and high-risk team assignments are given early in the individual’s career.
  • Individuals are consistently tested to ensure that they measure up to the elite standards of the firm.
  • Individuals and groups are given the autonomy to take risks normally not permissible at other firms.
  • Training is viewed as continuous and related to assignments.
  • Individual rewards are tied directly to collective results.
  • Managers are seen as experts, pacesetters, and mentors (rather than administrators).

I’ve bolded the ones that are especially key in a CPA firm.

Entrance requirements: Many problems can be avoided if you invest a significant amount of time and money in the hiring process. Senior professionals need to play a key role so that they feel a strong sense of ownership in the success of newly hired professionals whether the new hires are recent college grads or experienced accountants.

Challenging assignments: In too many CPA firms managers and partners cling to the more elite, the more challenging and difficult engagements. Beginning accountants want to be challenged, they want to be assigned to the firm’s most prestigious (and challenging) clients. However, managers have to be billable, too, so they keep these types of engagements for themselves. Rather than managing/supervising these engagements they are technicians performing the work.

Managers are seen as pacesetters…  In many CPA firms, managers are seen as roadblocks.

  • The purpose of a business is to create a customer who creates customers.
  • Shiv Singh

Monday, July 1st, 2013

CPAs – Look Around.

CPAs, you are (or should be) consultants.

As the AICPA continually reminds you, YOU are the trusted advisor. That means your clients not only trust you to be their accountant, they trust you to advise them on major decisions about their business. The AICPA PCPS even provides a Trusted Business Advisor 2.0 Toolbox.  Look around your partner group. Successful partner groups have evolved from number crunchers to consultants.

For partners to be advisors, they leave the hands-on, technical accounting work to the senior and staff accountants. Look around your office. Do you have skilled technicians at the staff level who provide you with the information you need to bring valuable advice to your clients?

In too many firms, managers do not manage. They are technicians doing a lot of the work that senior and staff accountants should be doing. Managers, if they want to be owners, should be bringing in business and inspiring staff. Look around your manager group. Are they managing or doing?

The best clients make your life a joy. The worst clients drag you down. Look around. Do you have clients who don’t pay you on a timely basis. Do you have clients that pay you just before the next years work is about to begin? Do you have clients who never seek your advice? Do you have clients that in some way mistreat your staff?

Enjoy this 4th of July week. Take some time off to simply enjoy summer. Then next Monday as you go into the office – look around (then take action).

  • You will become like the five people you associate with the most – this can be either a blessing or a curse.
  • Billy Cox

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Describe What You Are Trying To Achieve

Many CPA leaders will soon be gathering for the annual retreat, summit, planning meeting – whatever your firm calls it. The partners, key functional area leaders and accounting managers will gather and discuss and debate where the firm is going and what they all need to do this year to keep moving forward.

Once it is over, the group will return and tell the rest of the team what to do to help achieve the firm goals. This plays out in smaller ways by managers and partners telling the team what to do relating to their daily duties that involve serving clients.

While I believe in lots of communication with your team – – continual, brief conversations on how they are doing and if they need your help – – I don’t think you should tell them every single step in great detail. You should not expect them to do it exactly how YOU have always done it.

Give them some room to explore and to actually THINK about what they are trying to accomplish. There is a difference between active, hands on management and micro management. I think you get the picture – hands-on means you are available and helpful. Micro means you are breathing down their neck and hovering.

Yes, checklists are a good thing when you are training young, inexperienced accountants but don’t develop a culture where if it is not on the checklist we don’t do it.

Do you have a team of box-checkers or entrepreneurial thinkers?

Here’s a good story from HBR about sharing what you want to achieve versus telling someone exactly what to do. It’s titled, Stop Telling Your Employees What To Do.

  • Telling a teenager the facts of life is like giving a fish a bath.
  • Arnold Glasow

Monday, March 18th, 2013

It’s March Madness Again Inside Your CPA Firm

marchNo, I’m not talking about basketball.

By this time in March, everyone on the team has been working long and often stressful hours. They are moving from engagement to engagement, focusing on client service and responding to multiple priorities on a daily basis. Often they are eating dinner at the office and usually seeing way too little of their families.

Occasionally, tempers are short while expectations remain high and the managers and team are “mad” at someone up-the-line or down-the-line. Requests are flying around the office: “I forgot to tell you, we have a meeting with the client in 2 hours and we need the draft statements!” “Big Fred Client is leaving for Florida tomorrow, can we get his return done by noon today?” “Can we pull some of those people out of the field to help with tax?”

We certainly need less of this kind of March Madness! Here are some suggestions to stop the “madness:”

Think Positive 
Smile when you walk down the hall. Stop and briefly chat with the team, inquire how they are doing – give them lots of cheerfulness and a positive attitude.

Stop Whining and Complaining
It is so easy to get caught up in the rumor mill; you get sucked in before you know it. So, STOP it! Be aware of your words and immediately think STOP IT! If you are coming across negatively. Try wearing a rubber band on your arm and if you catch yourself complaining – snap it!

Use Positive Self-Talk
When you do something really dumb what do you call yourself? (Idiot, jerk, Dumbo). If you say it or think it often enough you might become it. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Don’t Walk Away From Negative People
RUN away from them!! Stay away from them physically and mentally.

Learn to Praise and Compliment Others Freely and Often
Some of us may have grown up with parents who were just naturally critical, so we may tend to be very critical of others, too. Do you think praise is too fake or hokey? There are two rules: Praise must be true. Praise must be specific.

  • You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one.
  • John Wooden

Monday, September 24th, 2012

What Are They Thinking?

Ever wonder what your people are thinking?

In my conversations with various groups of people who work in public accounting firms, I hear all kinds of stories.

Inside some firms they still use the Baby Boomer method of training new hires. I am talking about the way Baby Boomers were trained. It goes something like this….. a Baby Boomer joined a CPA firm in the late 70s or in the 80s. On his second or third day a partner (another “he”) walked up to his desk, dropped a legal size, thick file on the desk and casually said, “Follow what’s in this file and do what we did last year.”

Funny thing is, the Baby Boomers did just that and basically learned from trial and error. Maybe I should describe it as “try to do the work, receive extensive review notes addressing all your errors and then try again.” – – repeat, repeat, repeat.

What has evolved is that we have partners and managers who grew-up in public accounting this way and now they are attempting to manage Millennials who respond differently.

I find most of it is just poor communication. It is compounded by the fact that for years CPAs have spent lots of money on technical training for the people who are now partners and managers and very little on providing education on how to manage, coach and mentor people.

What can you do about this? Find out what your people think. Begin now to build an environment that builds trust between managers/partners and the team. Many experts tell us that to begin building this culture of trust you should begin with the people who know most – the ones being managed – and only then seek feedback from the leaders downward.

Here are some of the disturbing excuses (stories) I hear from people working in firms:

  • The partners refuse to do an upward survey – they don’t care what the people think.
  • Our partners are afraid of what will be said.
  • Our partners really don’t want to change so they don’t see the need for an upward survey.
  • Our managers really got upset when we once discussed asking for upward feedback about them and the partners backed off.

I firmly believe that we get better by a constant stream of helpful information from the people who are part of our accounting firm team. That is why I am pleased to be co-founder of a new survey company, along with Gary Adamson of Adamson Advisory, formed to help CPA firms with the PEOPLE side of the business. Take a look at SurveyCPA and consider if it is time for the PEOPLE managing your PEOPLE to obtain some feedback that can help them improve their performance.

  • A telephone survey says that 51 percent of college students drink until they pass out at least once a month. The other 49 percent didn't answer the phone.
  • Craig Kilborn

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Accounting Firm Managers – Really Managing

Today’s topic is one I write about often. I also speak about it often . “Helping CPA Firm Managers Really Manage” is also one of my most requested presentations for accountants.

In public accounting, when I talk about “managers” it doesn’t mean just the people with the manager title. It means owners, managers, seniors and internal managers such as firm administrators, HR directors, marketing directors, etc. It means everyone in the firm responsible for inspiring, motivating and engaging people in the firm to put forward their best efforts.

Much of my inspiration over the years has come from David Maister’s writings and speeches on managing the professional service firm.

The following is from Maister:

What a Good Manager Does

The only management worthy of the name is one-on-one. Everything else is window dressing. You don’t excite people by giving speeches or posting mission statements on the wall. Again, Practice What You Preach provided some statistically-validated answers. To achieve superior financial returns, managers must:

  • Act as if not trying is the only sin.
  • Act as if they want everyone to succeed.
  • Actively help people with their personal development.
  • Always do what they say they are going to do.
  • Believe in, and keep the faith with, what they are doing.
  • Do what is right, over the long term, for clients and for their people.
  • Facilitate, not dictate.
  • Give credit where credit is due.
  • Manage people in the way that works for each individual, not just in they way they want to manage. Good managers don’t have to be chameleons, just adaptable.
  • Deliver bad news in a nonthreatening, nonupsetting way.
  • Remember what people tell them.
  • Understand what drives individual people.
  • Respect confidences.
  • Show enthusiasm and drive.
  • Take work seriously—not themselves seriously.
  • Walk the halls and know all the people.
  • Let people know them as human beings, not just as managers.

A common reply I hear to lists like this is: “But they didn’t teach us this in professional school!” No, they didn’t, and—perhaps surprisingly—they don’t teach it in business school either. But that’s no excuse, for any of us, for not working at developing these skills.

I urge you, as a leader in your firm, to be observing your managers/partners right now when everyone is working very hard to serve the firm’s clients. Make notes on what you observe about their performance and about their management skills. Then, after mid-April, decide what you are going to do with the information you have collected. How will you give feedback to your partners? How will you give feedback to your managers? How will you give feedback to your peers?

Are you going to let another teaching opportunity pass by, stay silent and keep hoping people will get better on their own or will you personally commit to the actions above and become a better manager?

  • Change before you have to.
  • Jack Welch