The following, from Jon Gordon, says so much about life within a partner group in a CPA firm:
“Don’t get mad at the naysayers. Don’t hate the energy vampires. Instead, realize that without them you wouldn’t be as strong. If you never got sick you wouldn’t develop a strong immune system. Negative people make you more resilient, wiser and better.”
In your group, you probably have several positive, inspired, and passionate forward-thinkers, You also probably have a few of the naysayers. I hope that you do become stronger, as a firm, because you have developed a strong immune system.
I follow Jon Gordon on Twitter. I hope you do, too.
Inside CPA firms, we usually call the person holding the highest leadership position the Managing Partner. Have you considered if that title, in your firm, truly fits the position? Maybe you need to be a Leading Partner rather than a Managing Partner.
There is a big difference between managing and leading. When you think about your role at the firm, do you lead or manage? Maybe you don’t do a good job of either one.
Make sure your managers are managing and enlist all partners to be better leaders. Truthfully, most of your partners are managers or followers, not actually leaders.
Many CPA firm leaders become focused on doing what other firms are doing. Partners, COOs, firm administrators, IT managers and marketing directors go to conferences where they can learn something we call best practices. Then they return and try to convince the entire partner group to embrace these best practices.
The role of the Leader is not about copying from others. It is about identifying a direction for the firm, specific to your firm. That can’t happen if you are imitating someone else’s best practice. You are not leading, you are following.
Successful leaders create value and drive the firm toward something new. Many managing partners fall back on the usual solutions or quick fixes. They are reactive rather than proactive.
Leading Partners study their own firm, listen to everyone, and spend time simply thinking. They read extensively and not just tax and audit updates – they read current events and a wide variety of books and novels. Reading sparks ideas. So does listening to podcasts.
Leave the managing to your COO/Practice Manager. As of today, become the LP (leading partner) of your firm.
So many discussions have happened over the years on the topic of change for CPA firms. Most of these discussions have been focused on how to get partners, owners and/or shareholders to change. After all, if employees don’t see their leaders embracing change, why should they? Soon, the status quo becomes a way of life for many firms.
In the last couple of years, you have been saturated with articles, blog posts, webinars, tweets, and presentations stressing that you and your firm must change more rapidly than ever. Are you?
Change means discomfort and people fear discomfort. As leaders, you must push people through the discomfort until it becomes comfortable. And, it will.
Sean Glaze, of Great Results Teambuilding, tell us:
In fact, the first step in dealing with discomfort is fear.
People are first afraid of what makes them uncomfortable.
The second step is when people eventually become willing to experience discomfort.
The third step is when people become comfortable with the discomfort.
The final step is when people are excited by and crave discomfort. This is simply a sign that their zone lines have shifted, and they have established a much larger comfort zone than they previously enjoyed.
I’m not sure CPA partners will actually get excited and crave discomfort, but I do know that partners want what is best for their firm and just might realize that short term pain means long term gain.
Read this helpful article by Glaze, Why Discomfort is the Strongest Catalyst for Team Growth.
Have you heard the term “ear to the ground” lately? I haven’t heard it used much in recent times. I believe that it is something that managing partners and others inside a public accounting firm need to practice, keeping their ear to the ground.
It means: To be or try to be well informed about current trends and opinions.
Partners, managers and supervisors, you have to practice keeping your ear to the ground relating to both employees and clients. It is important for CPAs to develop the ability to skillfully listen and it has been written about numerous times. Yet a majority of CPAs in public practice will openly tell you that they have never had any sort of listening training.
Often, you want to impress a subordinate or a client with the high-level of knowledge you have developed over the years you have worked in the accounting profession. So, you talk and talk and at times almost brag.
You want employees to realize that you are knowledgeable and experienced so that they can trust your comments and opinions. You want clients to realize all the wonderful things you can do for them and how you and your firm are highly-trained accountants and very experienced business advisors. So, you talk more than you listen.
Try to listen more intently and always keep your ear to the ground.
Sometimes we make marketing and selling more difficult than it really is. According to the long-time consulting guru, David Maister, marketing and selling are about having conversations.
Here is an excerpt from his book, Strategy and the Fat Smoker:
Marketing (and/or selling) begins to work when a conversation moves away from being a role-to-role exchange of capabilities, contracts, and costs and becomes a person-to-person interactive dialogue about ideas, beliefs, and perspectives. Only then can it build the chemistry, confidence, and commitment that lead to new revenues.
Imagine a dinner party conversation. What makes a good conversationalist in such a setting? He or she:
- Has a fresh point of view, but does not try to thrust it upon everyone else
- Speaks politely and respectfully
- Tells good stories to illustrate key points
- Is good at drawing other people’s views out and drawing them into the conversation
- Speaks intelligently on a variety of subjects, but is not afraid to admit areas of ignorance
- Avoids trotting out well-worn arguments or cliches.
- Listens with genuine interest
- Is light-hearted in style, but always respectful of others’ views
All of these conversational skills also apply to effective marketing and selling.
I read this recently via Harvey Mackay. Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times #1 bestsellers Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive and Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt. Both books are among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times.
I am inspired by Elbert Hubbard, a very successful soap salesperson who retired in 1894 at age 35. He lived by this credo:
“I believe in myself. I believe in the goods I sell. I believe in the firm for whom I work. I believe in my colleagues and helpers. I believe in American business methods. I believe in producers, creators, manufacturers, distributors, and in all industrial workers of the world who have a job and hold it down. I believe that truth is an asset. I believe in good cheer and good health, and I recognize the fact that the first requisite in success is not to achieve the dollar or to confer a benefit, but that the reward will come automatically and usually as a matter of course. I believe in sunshine, fresh air, spinach, applesauce, laughter, buttermilk, babies, and chiffon, always remembering that the greatest word in the English language is sufficiency. I believe that when I make a sale, I make a friend. And I believe that when I part with a person, I must do it in such a way that when they see me again, they will be glad and so will I. I believe in the hands that work, in the brains that think, and in the hearts that love.”
This is an important area when a partner retires, and it is the one that pays the bills. The annuity revenue stream that we enjoy from our clients is critical and it is the currency that most firms use to pay the unfunded retirement benefits to the retiring partner. You really do have to get this right.
The client transition plan needs to be orchestrated over at least two years, it needs to be written and it needs to be supervised and managed by the firm’s managing partner. More and more firms are requiring a minimum notice period for early exits, mandatory retirement ages and that the retiring partner work through a specific client transition process with the firm. There is also a trend toward penalties (reduction in retirement benefits) for the retiring partner if clients are lost because of inadequate notice and/or the client transition process developed by the firm is not completed.
Beyond the above broad parameters, what should the process look like? First, separate the clients into groups based on their ease of transition. This really comes down to two or three factors: the closeness of the retiring partner’s relationship with the client decision maker, the degree of involvement of other people in the firm with that decision maker and the size of the client. The 1040s and small business clients may be as easy as a phone call or a letter introducing the new person. Perhaps personal introductions are all that you will need for others. The larger business clients are more likely to have other staff and partners involved and sometimes may actually be easier than accounts where the partner has been the primary contact. For the close personal relationships, which are always the toughest to transition, you should plan on shadowing through at least two year-end cycles.
During extensive research for the HBR Leadership Handbook, they discovered that the best leaders with the most outsize impact almost always deploy these six classic, fundamental practices:
- uniting people around an exciting, aspirational vision;
- building a strategy for achieving the vision by making choices about what to do and what not to do;
- attracting and developing the best possible talent to implement the strategy;
- relentlessly focusing on results in the context of the strategy;
- creating ongoing innovation that will help reinvent the vision and strategy; and
- “leading yourself”: knowing and growing yourself so that you can most effectively lead others and carry out these practices.
While the leadership development industry is thriving, they found, in its fundamentals, leadership has not changed over the years. It is still about mobilizing people in an organization around common goals to achieve impact, at scale.
Read the article: The Fundamentals of Leadership Still Haven’t Changed.
Summer flew by. Fall was so busy with extended returns. Now it is November.
Fall is prime time for your competitors to approach your valuable clients about switching accounting firms. Hopefully, you are also doing the same. Year-end is approaching and it is the time of year when clients are most likely to make the move to another firm.
How many times have you touched base with your best clients throughout summer and fall? Have you sent them articles relating to their industry? Have you helped educate them about the new tax bill? Have you scheduled their year-end tax planning appointment?
Now is the time to give them a call. Even better, drop by their place of business just to see how they are doing. Every conversation with a current client usually leads to opportunities to provide additional services.
“Steady as she goes” is something you might have heard growing up. We don’t hear the term used much any longer. Steady as she goes is an order for a helmsman to keep a ship’s current course.
I think it also applies to CPA firm leadership. During my many years inside a CPA firm and consulting with many other CPA firms, I have seen many interesting styles of leadership from managing partners.
Some managing partners are dictators, benevolent dictators, collaborators, delegators, know-it-alls, consensus builders, and even radicals. Some are very strong and some are wimps.
When it is time to appoint a new managing partner, beware of inconsistency and go with steady and dependable. I remember one firm that had a choice of two partners to take the role of managing partner as the current managing partner moved into retirement.
One was a great rainmaker, very involved in the community and great at client service. He was always quick to take action; however, he could be described as hot and cold. You never knew which personality you would be dealing with on any given day.
The other candidate had similar positive characteristics but he was steady, consistent and dependable. He was always easy to talk to and sought out feedback from everyone in the firm. He was confident but careful. He demonstrated the same demeanor day in and day out.
I guess you know which one was selected to be the firm’s next managing partner.