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With all the advances in technology, most employers provide for employees to work remotely from home. HR experts often cite this as a benefit of great importance to millennials and younger professionals when evaluating a prospective employer. That said, I often hear many employers and managers in my age bracket cite this practice as detrimental to client service and productivity. We all know there are “pros” and “cons” to everything, so I thought it might be worthwhile to take a closer look at the topic of telecommuting.
According to a February 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review, many of the most-valued benefits for employees were ones that provided flexibility and enhanced work-life balance. Flexibility and work-life balance are of great importance to a large segment of today’s workforce: parents. Many younger workers value flexible hours and work-life balance above salary and health insurance in a potential job.
Offering the ability to work from home and flexible hours are affordable perks for companies that want to offer appealing benefits but can’t afford an expensive benefits package. These benefits typically cost the employer nothing — and often save money by lowering overhead costs. Other commonly cited benefits for employers include the following:
Working remotely can increase productivity. Employees do not encounter commuting time, they do not experience the distractions of water cooler gossip, unnecessary impromptu meetings, and the disruptive behaviors of colleagues.
Higher employee morale. Studies cite that remote workers are generally happier with their work and often miss less time away from work for sickness or personal reasons.
Providing remote work opportunities can lower employee turnover.
Companies can save overhead and facilities related costs.
Communication is more intentional and purposeful. Remote workers are often more engaged as their interactions with coworkers and colleagues are often better planned, more organized and outcome driven.
So, given all these benefits, why do some employers remain skeptic?
While employers see the benefits of working remotely and providing flexible work schedules, many choose not to provide these benefits because of the management and cultural challenges they can create. Among these challenges are the following:
The need for employee personal accountability. The most common employer concern is how to prevent the employee of taking advantage of the benefit.
Lack of workplace culture. Culture is important to building effective work groups and aligning employee behavior to advance a company’s mission and vision. Culture-building activities may not be effective without face-to-face interaction.
Some studies have shown remote employees are overlooked for promotion and salary increases due to the lack of “visibility” with managers and supervisors.
Dependence on technology. The ability to work remotely is totally dependent on the employees’ technology resources. Connectivity and stability of an employees’ internet service provider can adversely impact productivity when working from home.
Constantly connected. While true of their colleagues working in the office, remote workers may feel a greater need to “stay connected” resulting in less of a work-life balance due to constantly checking emails and their smart phones.
If working remotely is vital to our ability to attract and retain the best and the brightest, what are we to do as employers? Simply put, we need to set expectations with our remote workers that provides mutual benefits for them and us. Some examples:
The requirement to maintain an on-line presence for certain hours during the day.
Regularly scheduled communication with supervisors and managers.
Days when they are required to be in the office.
I’m certain there are many more. I am interested in hearing from all of you on how your company is balancing the need to provide employees the opportunity to work remotely with the needs of your organization?
Whose inspiration would you follow about the current Bitcoin windfall and frenzy? Do you think “A Change Will Do You Good” as Sheryl Crow’s music lyrics might suggest, or follow the recommendation of The Steve Miller Band to “Take the Money and Run?” Obviously there is a wide range of opinion based upon your individual viewpoint and the increased awareness regarding virtual currency (sometimes referred to as cryptocurrency).
Why are virtual currencies creating so much excitement? Interestingly, one reason could be a result of Wall Street recently receiving its initial exposure to Bitcoin with the first-ever futures contract going to market and making it more well known.
As a brief overview: virtual currency is a digital asset designed to convert goods and services using cryptography, and it is not backed by any government. The appeal of this medium of exchange varies and continues to be speculative at best.
Some feel it offers a greater degree of security than more typical cybersecurity measures in combatting identity theft and fraud for reasons such as:
Elimination of seizure by third parties by having multiple redundant copies of the transactions in a database.
Current inability of implementing a virtual currency tax system since third parties cannot intercept the transaction.
Reduction of chargebacks as transactions cannot be reversed.
Some skeptics about virtual currency provide the following reasons:
With virtual currency being unregulated, market manipulation could occur based on parties who have a large financial interest. This itself could promote fraudulent activity.
It’s too difficult to determine its valuation since they lack a benchmark and have no earnings.
As an alternative and dominating means of exchange, how do financial institutions exit the currency business?
This is a relatively new frontier and asset in the form of an exchange medium. To optimistic individuals, virtual currency may seem exciting and innovative. Others may dismiss it as a significant risk due to its volatility. Regardless of your perception, it is becoming increasingly more popular among individuals and businesses.
The fact that Congress has introduced a bill known as The CryptoCurrency Tax Fairness Act tends to imply there is some legitimacy of these virtual currencies. Who would have thought virtual currency could now be a part of someone’s holiday wish list this year?
Having a certain amount of professional skepticism along with the openness to accept new beliefs is a necessary balance for us to remain unbiased trusted advisors. As CPAs, we have to begin understanding how to address the accounting, tax and auditing methodologies that need to be considered. What factors will you reflect upon when an individual or client asks your suggestions on virtual currency transactions?
Jody Grunden, CEO & Co-Founder of Summit CPA Group, shares his advice and secret sauce to making it work.
1. Schedule weekly team meetings with transparency
Weekly team meetings are crucial within a distributed company. Scheduling 30–60 minutes once a week—preferably Monday mornings—with the entire team is a great way to start off everyone’s week. It’s an opportunity for each team member to share a positive and a challenge about the past week, and what they are looking forward to the coming week. Weekly team meetings keep the whole team in the loop and connected and allows management to keep a pulse on what’s really happening. The same goes for weekly one-on-ones with direct reports.
2. Host company retreats
Corporate. Leadership. Retreat. Are you cringing? Do the words “trust fall” and “ropes course” come to mind? Are you having nightmares of a very cold (or very hot because someone is always complaining about the temperature) windowless hotel ballroom? Are you envisioning yourself staring at four walls for eight
hours every day while being talked at by a lifeless presenter clicking through Powerpoint decks? Wake up. It’s 2017. Corporate Retreats should incorporate compelling facilitators like Traci Barrett with Navigate the Journey (photo top right), interactive peer-to-peer learning, fun activities and relaxing downtime—all at a refreshingly unique venue in an unforgettable destination. If you’re not planning at least one of these for the entire team annually, you need to start. Hosting a retreat for your leadership team in Q1 will help set the tone and objectives for the entire year, and you can then build upon those lessons and outcomes with an entire company retreat later in the year.
3. Offer awesome benefits
The traditional benefits of wages, health insurance, and 401Ks are not going to cut it. You need to offer benefits beyond the cookie-cutter givens. If flexibility isn’t included in your benefits package, add it now, and make it number one on the list. The benefits of flexible days, flexible location, and flexible hours are absolutely imperative. Employees can work as needed to accomplish their job and goals in a timely manner. Flexibility allows your employees availability during the day to pick up kids, go to doctor appointments and allows them to work later at night if needed. And going back to the basic benefit of wages, be sure you’re paying your team based on the national average.
4. Implement communication platforms
This perhaps should be number one on this list. It’s vital. The key is to remember that it is not “us vs. them.” Everyone must be on the same playing field—whether you work in Hermosa Beach, California, or Charleston, South Carolina, or in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Everyone must use the same communication platform. If you do have a few employees who do work in the same building, it’s imperative they use the same platforms to communicate as the 40 people spread through the country. No one is “missing” anything by being distributed. Everyone is treated equal. Tools like Sococo video chat and Slack offer employees opportunities to “chat” both formally and informally.
5. Find the right partners
Flexible is the way of the future. Flexible works as long as you have the right communication platforms in place and have access to quality people who are looking for flexible work. Partnering up with companies like FlexJobs, Remote.co, Yonder, and Virtual Vocations will help with a more positive experience and allow companies to get ahead of the curve and reap the rewards of employing a talented, happy staff. FlexJobs can help eliminate one of the risks for growth: finding talented people. And we all know that sifting through hundreds of resumes is time-consuming. With FlexJobs, you’ll spend less time managing resumes. Remote.co is an excellent resource that provides expert insight, best practices, and valuable support for organizations exploring or already embracing the distributed model. Virtual Vocations is a great website where employers can post flexible jobs such as telecommuting, freelance, part-time, and flextime jobs. The Yonder podcast features interviews that discuss the advantages and also the challenges of distributed teams.
6. Set a cool company culture
When working with a distributed team, it may take an extra effort to keep people feeling like they are part of the team, and that they are valuable to the overall success of the team. Using the communication channels we noted, it’s important to include a non-work related communication channel. There’s no tangible “water cooler” when you’re distributed, therefore having a “water cooler” channel on Slack where employees can share the photo of their new kitty, or ask for recommendations for dining in Colorado Springs during their next holiday brings that “water cooler” feeling alive. It’s also important for management to share the vision of the company. There’s no better way to get employees excited than to share your vision and how they are all part of and contribute to that vision. Involve everyone on the team in important projects or events. Perhaps someone on the team is really interested in helping with the company retreat (see #2)—let that person liaise directly with your marketing events director. Develop a cool, unique, but meaningful way to recognize special occasions like birthdays and work anniversaries. It’s an easy (and fun) way to acknowledge employees, and goes a long way.
6.5. Have fun!
Yep! You read that correctly. The last tip is to have fun. Life’s too short to not enjoy it. And besides, if your employees are having fun, they are going to work harder and smarter. They are going to stay at the company longer and help promote the awesomeness that sets your company apart from all the rest. Your best advertising is happy employees.
INCPAS Scholar and his business partners establish first ever Terre Haute-based food truck business
It’s 11:30 p.m. on a warm Friday night in downtown Terre Haute. Hungry, college students line up by the dozens, each waiting to get their first mouth-watering bite of Twisted Fry’s increasingly-notorious selection of unique french fry creations. Little do these folks know, this pint-sized food truck is saving them from more than just an empty stomach. It’s preventing them from getting in their cars and taking the late-night snack quest into their own, (potentially) intoxicated hands.
This is the mission of Twisted Fry, Terre Haute’s first-ever food truck business,co-founded by ISU graduates Devyn Mikell (and INCPAS Scholars program graduate), DeSean Prentice, and Jess Harris. Their mission for Twisted Fry is to “prevent drinking and driving by providing late night eaters with delicious food at the perfect place and time.”
Twisted Fry was inspired by two key observations: an immediate need for late night food options and the lack of a food truck service in Terre Haute. While Mikell and his partners knew that a food truck on its own would be fine, they believed it needed to stand for something. After conducting extensive research on the drinking and driving habits of Terre Haute students, Mikell and his team found that 45 percent of respondents admitted they’d driven to get food after a night out drinking. With this key insight, they had both an idea, and a mission. However, nothing could have prepared them for the next step in his plan: dealing with the law.
“The Indiana CPA Society gave me so much exposure to a world that I was honestly unaware of. I saw some of the coolest things about accounting. I see so much value in accounting and I’ve made connections through the Scholars program that will last for the rest of my career.”
The inception of the Twisted Fry food truck was now faced with its first fundamental roadblock: it was not legal to operate food trucks on Terre Haute city streets. Thus began a three month campaign of lobbying and meeting with officials to move the case forward, in the hope of changing the law. Quietly brewing in the midst of the campaign was the development of a business plan, securing of funds, and the sourcing of a trailer to operate. Finally, in July 2016, their wish was granted. The law was changed, and now food trucks were free to roam the streets of Terre Haute. However, it would take another two months and securing a little under $50,000 before they would make their first sale on a city street.
According to Mikell, the challenges of being a student entrepreneur were twofold.
“The obvious answer is time,” he said. “Businesses will take your time when you really don’t want to give it. The not so obvious answer is decision making. There have been so many times where a ‘no’ was the right answer but my desire was to say ‘yes.’”
The temptation to give up the business and go back to normal student life was constant as well.
“Being a student entrepreneur puts you right in the hot seat of all these stressful decisions because everyone expects you to do the ‘safe’ thing, and they’ll praise you for it,” he said. “Safe often sounds like the right path. The challenge is fighting through that fear, doubt, and anxiety and just jumping off the cliff.”
Mikell believes that while it is sometimes scary to take such a big risk, the payoff is more than worth it.
“I’ve learned more in almost a year than I’ve ever learned anywhere else, just by taking a calculated leap of faith,” he shared.
Mikell is a graduate of the Society’s INCPAS Scholars program where he learned about the CPA profession and its impact on business.
“The Indiana CPA Society gave me so much exposure to a world that I was honestly unaware of,” he said. “I saw some of the coolest things about accounting. I see so much value in accounting and I’ve made connections through the Scholars program that will last for the rest of my career.”
Mikell credits his and his business partner’s accounting backgrounds with much of Twisted Fry’s success.
“I could spend hours telling you all how valuable my partner DeSean Prentice, Director of Finance & Legal, is for our business,” Mikell said. “If numbers are king then he is their conqueror for Twisted Fry. I honestly don’t think we’d be near as far if we weren’t obsessed with the numbers as an organization.”
“While they may not be innovations on a massive scale like other big brands, we feel like we’re creating a culture of innovation for our business.”
Analyzing the numbers has allowed them to see where they were spending far too much or maybe not enough. The power to project where Twisted Fry has been heading as a business has been invaluable to them.
“Ninety to ninety-five percent of restaurants fail within their first year,” said Mikell. “I believe this is because they don’t watch their numbers. The accounting knowledge that we apply to the business is what I believe will ultimately lead to our continuous success.”
Twisted Fry’s success has come in phases, notes Mikell. Phase one was simply getting off the ground and surviving the first full year, a milestone nearing completion. Phase two will entail continuing to operate in Terre Haute and expand to a new location.
“When we accomplish this task I will be extremely excited, but much work is to be done until then. However, it’s hard for me to deny that Twisted Fry is a successful venture,” says Mikell.
While the restaurant industry is full of risk, Mikell is still a firm believer that it’s full of rewarding experiences.
“It’s pretty special and I love it,” he says. “I think we have a pretty awesome concept that people will come to know and love as time goes by. We want to be closely connected to college campuses and continue to stand for something as growing business owners. Twisted Fry is always looking for new ways to innovate. We call ourselves the six sigma owners because we are always trying to improve a process within our business,” he jokes. “We’re innovative in that way. While they may not be innovations on a massive scale like other big brands, we feel like we’re creating a culture of innovation for our business.”
Ultimately, Mikell wants Twisted Fry to innovate for the customer. By creating these habits within the culture of Twisted Fry, he believes the company is being set up to go pretty far. All in all, the Twisted Fry food truck has been able to pave its own road to success, and shows no signs of slowing down.
He wrote on how the leaders of accounting firms must give their younger employees what they want – more feedback, more mentoring, more manager involvement, more flexibility and more empowerment. He said this will pay off dividends in better staff and a stronger firm.
I couldn’t agree more with all those points
Further, it’s true that most of the Baby Boomer leaders of today’s accounting firms didn’t get that type of training themselves. It just wasn’t “a thing” when they came up, so subsequently it “isn’t fair” that it’s wanted or expected by Millennials and Generation Z. But as Hood says, just because it isn’t fair doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do it.
It’s easy to see today’s world is not the same one many firm partners trained in. With globalization, automation and the overload of choices and information business owners face today, accounting is moving from a transactional profession to the more amorphous world of consulting and trusted business advising. This requires a different firm culture and a different skill set at a younger age. We’re talking more strategy, analysis and leadership, and less validation, data management and task-oriented processes.
Frankly, if you don’t get on board now — you will have no firm to worry about in the future.
But we recognize this is a mighty shift. If you are one of the leaders of these firms – where do you start?
Take advice from the sage Robert Matthew Van Winkle (aka Vanilla Ice): Stop, collaborate and listen. Then critique. Evaluate and forgive yourself along the way.
Make the effort to schedule a time on your calendar to meet with your staff.
Then this is hard part … really listen to what they have to say. Often, this young generation will tell you exactly what they need to succeed. You just need to ask! Don’t make assumptions based on only your experience. Be open to trying something a different way.
Think about how your staff is currently trained. Do they know what it takes to be partner someday? Do they know how to properly run a client meeting? Do they know what skills they need to advance? Has anyone ever written this down for them? Often, new employees don’t know what you want them to do when you say, “you need to improve your leadership skills.”
Instead of just telling, show them what you mean. Define the types of leadership skills you want to see by talking about the actions a good leader takes. This can apply to any type of hard-to-define soft skill like communicating, running a meeting or bringing in new clients. If you don’t know how to define these skills, look for a resource that can help you do it.
True collaboration takes a willingness to admit you don’t have all of the answers – a scary proposition for some leaders. Have you ever noticed that if you share a little more about yourself, the person you’re talking to is more willing to share something as well? That dynamic also works when trying to solve a problem. If you’re implementing a culture change at your firm, it will take everyone working together. Don’t be afraid to ask your staff how they think this change is going. Reach out to other CPA peers and ask them what changes they are making in their firms. And if you receive negative feedback, treat it as useful input or data and try not to take it personally. With practice, it’s possible!
When I say “critique,” I picture an art school roundtable in my head – where you take a piece of work and look at it objectively, offering feedback because you want this person to be successful. This is different from being critical and speaking negatively to someone because you want them to know they are wrong. The more successful your employees are, the more successful you are. Critiquing is primarily about showing a way to a new solution. Bonus — your younger employees asking for feedback are begging for this type of input. Want to create valuable employees who will stick around? Make them feel a part of something by truly contributing to their career development with your years of expertise.
EVALUATE AND FORGIVE YOURSELF
This is going to be hard but valuable. It takes time. When you participate in a cycle of collaboration and critique, you’ll know what’s working and what isn’t. Change the things that aren’t working and keep the things that are. No one is saying you have to get it perfect the first time.
DON’T DO THIS ALONE
Change is one of the hardest thing we can do. And we don’t want you to go it alone. That’s why we’ve developed the CPA Excellence Quick Start Guide with practical charts, templates and examples to keep your talented staff. Download a sample of our CPA core competency (soft skill) descriptors, which lay out exactly what it means to be a good critical thinker at different stages in your career. Six other core competencies are included in the book.
Meet the innovative virtual CFO firm that’s disrupting the profession
Summit CPA Group was founded in 2002 as a firm that wanted to change the way people think about accounting. Co-founders Jody Grunden, CPA, and Adam Hale, CPA, didn’t want to just do accounting work. They wanted to make a difference in business owners’ lives.
“Traditional accountants generally focus on the past way too much in my opinion,” Grunden said. “We wanted to be more of an influencer for those clients. We wanted to talk strategy. We wanted to be proactive instead of being reactive. So, we turned a traditional financial statement review meeting into a strategic meeting focusing on forecasting and the metrics that are used to build it. Only about a quarter of the meeting talks about the past. The remainder of the meeting is strategic in nature focusing on the past influencing the future.”
Summit CPA Group wanted to educate business owners and teach them to build and manage a profitable business. This “want” eventually evolved into what is now their primary service and cornerstone of their company. In 2004, they named the offering “Virtual CFO Services.” “We help small business owners make informed decisions that generally translate to increased profits and cash accumulation. That is why I think we’ve had such high retention with our clients,” Grunden said. “For me, that has been the most rewarding part of being a business owner—helping other business owners.”
Summit CPA Group prides themselves on offering completely different CPA services. They’re not competing against other CPA firms in the traditional sense. They are competing against a position of value. They take over the role of the CFO.
“We didn’t want to deliver a product that everyone else delivered—that’s boring. We wanted to give them a service that offered a greater value than what they could get even by adding an employee to their team. It came from the idea that we wanted to do something different, give them more value, and then it developed from there.
“What we’re doing is providing a similar service and ‘feeling’ as what’s innate at the big companies. That’s something that most small businesses have never had the chance to experience. Most small business owners feel isolated because they have no one to talk to. As a Virtual CFO, we can talk to them as a peer and give them a straight, candid answer. That’s what they really want. They want confirmation. They want to be able to bounce ideas off a peer. The entire experience is pretty eye opening for most of them.”
Like most great innovators, Grunden and Hale wanted to find a solution to a problem and make life better for themselves and those around them. Grunden says the idea for Virtual CFO Services was a selfish thing at first. He was his kids’ hockey coach and had to be present at all of the events. Hockey season, as you may know, falls at the exact time as the traditional tax season.
“We didn’t want to deliver a product that everyone else delivered—that’s boring. We wanted to give them a service that offered a greater value than what they could get even by adding an employee to their team. It came from the idea that we wanted to do something different, give them more value, and then it developed from there.
“I knew I was taking weeks off at a time to go on a hockey trip and it wasn’t fair to the other employees,” Grunden said. “It wasn’t fair to ask my team to work hard while I was traveling around the U.S. or Canada for a hockey tournament. It didn’t feel right to me.” Grunden found a solution to his problem by looking for ways to change the way typical CPA firms do business. His answer was taking a traditional tax client that they would meet with once a year and looking at how they could really help their client, and in the same process help Summit CPA Group and the culture the duo wanted for their firm.
The process developed into taking that annual tax client and turning them into a monthly client. Then when it came time for their tax return, it didn’t take as much time. That approach was so successful that clients started asking for weekly meetings. Clients were so excited about the level of service they were receiving from Summit that they started referring clients to them.
Summit CPA Group is headquartered in Fort Wayne, but their team is distributed and works primarily from home. Their virtual office consists of 40 employees, all but four whom work remotely. Employees are located in 10 states and their client base is represented in over 40 cities across the country.
Summit CPA Group initially performed their Virtual CFO Services communicating over the phone and during in-person meetings. It wasn’t until 2009 that they started transitioning the service to 100 percent remote. In order to give the client the feeling that they are part of their team, they utilize the latest technology through video chat and screen sharing with tools like Sococo and GoTo Meeting. This is Summit CPA Group’s primary means of communication with clients. Because they can service clients anywhere, they have expanded their service across the United States.
Hiring at Summit CPA Group is all done virtually as well. It’s pretty eye-opening for new hires. Grunden says 99 percent of the new hires have never worked virtually before. So, employee onboarding is an extremely important process and key to Summit’s high employee retention. New hires receive a “care package” in the mail which includes a laptop, big screen TV (four monitors), headsets and a technology stipend which they can use for various home office needs throughout the year.
The onboarding process includes being buddied up with a seasoned employee. For example, Tom is a new hire who has been with the firm for 90 days. He is buddied up with Angie who is the senior team member on the account. They hang out in a virtual room all day with video and headsets on. They can have casual conversations as they work through the day.
When nearly all of your employees work virtually, staying on top of technology is imperative. “You have to be adaptive and make changes quickly. That has never been an issue with me, really, in anything I do,” Grunden said, “which is atypical for accountants.”
Grunden and Hale are constantly looking for the newest and greatest thing. Five years ago, Hale was looking for a second revenue stream that could take advantage of the distributed model. He determined that 401K audits could be that avenue. He did his due diligence and sought out an expert in the field. They were able to bring in Kim Moore to run this new opportunity. Since 2012, Moore and her team have been able to grow the 401K audit department from an experiment to currently performing in excess of 120 audits a year. They were able to take full advantage of the distributed model working virtually with their clients.
“We’re always looking for better ways of doing things,” Grunden said. “We’re never stuck on one way being the only way. It comes from identifying a weakness in an area and coming up with a solution to make it better.
“We take what other people are doing well and make it better. We view the world in a different way, always thinking outside of the box. Or, better yet, what box? That’s the mindset that we built the company.”
Summit CPA Group was recognized for their innovative accomplishments in 2017 with the inaugural Indiana CPA Society Innovation Award.
Today’s world is increasingly one of change. This is especially true in the CPA profession, where new technologies and strategies are changing the very role of the CPA itself. Because of all this constant change, the need for CPAs to innovate has never been greater. We posed some questions to five CPAs who have been at the forefront of innovation in their careers.
Why Do You Innovate?
Meghan Applegate, CPA, Applegate & Company, CPAs: A better question is why NOT innovate? When you go to a business to purchase services or even a product, you have expectations in your mind of what you should receive. More likely than not, your expectations are very high. As innovators in the industry, we are working hard to exceed our client’s expectations of the services they believe they deserve. Innovation would include not only cost savings, but efficiencies in how we work as well as how they work in their business, meeting their financial and strategic needs, etc. From a client’s perspective, we have been put on this earth to make their life easier. Innovation is key in fulfilling this expectation.
Kent Williams, CPA, Professor, Indiana Wesleyan University: I enjoy it! A proper balance is to keep one foot in the reality of the present and one in the possibilities of the future. As professionals we have an obligation to our clients, employees and in my case to my students to remain innovative.
Stephen Lukinovich, CPA, CVA, PFS, Mountjoy Chilton Medley, LLP: In order to meet a need the market is not filling. Further, it means CPAs are viewed as thought leaders in our field. Developing innovative solutions means spending a significant amount of time building consensus, structure, formalities, and interest. Sometimes it’s trial and error. Failure is ok—although, it’s often hard to isolate why the idea did not fully succeed. Was the failure due to lack of firm participation, inability to fill a need, failure to implement, or inability to market the proposed solution?
How do you create an innovative culture?
Kent: I believe that in order to facilitate an innovative culture, leaders must provide an environment that is free from fear, builds trust, looks to encourage, hires for innovation, celebrates and learns from failure. Start small so that employees can get their “innovative legs.” If innovative experience is good, they will want to do it again. If we want innovation to permeate the culture then we need to hire for that characteristic.
Rick Dennen, CPA, Oak Street Funding LLC: Oak Street Funding is deliberate in our attention to innovation. In addition to working quickly and effectively to meet the needs of our clients, we also meet the needs of our team by giving them the tools necessary to bring ingenuity, creativity and value to the organization. Our focus on the employee experience produces job satisfaction and pride that translates to a consultative, knowledgeable and caring approach with our clients and a distinctive client experience. We continuously ask the questions “Are we doing what is right to meet the needs of our clients as well as our employees?” and “Is there a better approach?” If there is a better way, we implement it. In addition, we are focused on working collaboratively across all departments and business lines, resulting in cross functional buy-in, operational excellence, and, of course, innovation. Finally, we embrace the latest technology and the utilization of data and analytics to help us best serve our current and potential clients.
Where do you think the profession is heading and how can innovation get us there?
Tom Gabbert, CPA, mAccounting, LLC: The CPA profession is at a unique time in history. Technology changes are streamlining accounting processes and removing geographic and service delivery barriers. As a firm, we are spending much less time getting information into the accounting system and far more time working with our clients to analyze their information and helping them make informed business decisions. I believe this will only accelerate in the next few years as new technologies are developed. I also believe that by leveraging new technologies, firms will no longer be subject to geographic limitations in the clients they serve.
Rick: While there will continue to be regulatory and reporting changes in the profession, I believe the areas in which innovation will make the biggest impacts are technology, data, and the utilization of that data. With regard to technology, it is increasingly important to utilize all of the ever-evolving smart and sophisticated technologies—for both effectively managing compliance, risk and communications, as well as connecting with current and potential clients quickly, accurately and in their preferred medium. There will continue to be less emphasis on the traditional, quarterly face-to-face meetings and more on a relationship in which the client can text, email, Skype or call at any time.
What skills do you think will be important for CPAs in the future, particularly as their roles are changing?
Tom: The CPA has always been a trusted advisor, but I believe this role will take on even greater importance in the years to come. The CPA of the future will need excellent analytical, communication and interpersonal skills. They will spend less time getting the numbers right and more time analyzing the results and working with clients to make informed business decisions.
Meghan: Communication and interpersonal skills are not only required now, but will continue to be imperative as the profession changes. No longer are CPAs able to sit behind a desk and crank out a ton of tax returns/financial statements. The clients want to see you, hear from you, and see what they’re getting for the money they’re paying you. They want that additional business/data analysis and consulting to help them in their businesses.
Stephen: Ability to identify problems that exist outside compliance. Then, the ability to develop enthusiasm surrounding innovative ideas—the risk of failure and the energy required to get it off the ground normally stymies pursuing extraordinary offerings.
MacGyver was my hero. I was 10 years old and feeling like a bit of an outcast. Big plastic glasses, a propensity to use new words I read in books out on the playground, and seriously confused by the other girls in my class. They talked so much at recess instead of doing anything interesting.
But MacGyver was a guy who was the hero because he was the outcast. He was the weirdo who used the things he learned from books to SAVE. THE. WORLD. He entered a situation and solved it with his brain (and whatever tools he had with him, like duct tape, which does fix everything). I didn’t have a crush on MacGyver, I wanted to BE MacGyver.
Part of me knew I should be true to myself, with all that nerdy reading and the anti-establishment streak I had. But still, I was a “good girl” who also wanted to never get in trouble and to be accepted by all the other kids in my class. My insides were in a bit of a conflict, even in the 4th grade.
So I must say thank you to my parents, because they didn’t ask why MacGyver was so important to me, instead they just went with it. I begged for a Swiss Army Knife for Christmas that year – and they got it for me. It’s good to be validated.
I’ve since developed an aversion to explosions and would rather be home with my family than chasing after the bad guys. Recently when staff began talking about how to communicate what we’ve done on our INCPAS Innovation Task Force, someone made a joke about MacGyver and I started realizing how this silly ‘80s TV show actually did influence my life and work.
My role is Strategist for the CPA Center of Excellence® – which is a great title, but how I usually describe my job is “to do whatever needs done.” I imagine there’s one of these at every start-up organization, and this type of role has always been where I’ve thrived. While I’m absolutely not the only person who works on this project, I touch all the parts at some point.
Sure, I do quite a bit of strategy and planning for the Center, but I also do sales, work with the marketing team, post on social, shoot video, deliver content marketing, meet wonderful people and talk with them, develop partnerships, spend a lot of time in meetings, build online courses, tech troubleshoot, manage and build the website(s), product development, research, and run the table at events. As a part of the INCPAS management team, I also have responsibilities for the larger organization from time-to-time.
While I don’t carry duct tape with me, it certainly feels like I enter a lot of “duct tape situations” in this role. I put together what works with whatever resources are available at the moment, then later I get feedback from users on how to improve the product or process. Once I’ve gotten the resources we need to improve on version two, we cycle through the process all over again.
What’s the training for this sort of gig? It’s lifelong learning. It’s challenging yourself. It’s trying something even though you might fail. It’s being willing to stick it all together with duct tape for now, knowing you’ll do something better next time. It’s looking into your bag of tricks to see what you can make work.
This mindset is what I idolized every day at an age where I was trying to figure out myself in the world. And while I don’t really know how I got here, I’m glad I did. The gumption to follow your gut can pay you back tremendously.
The next time you think you “can’t” do something, or you don’t have the resources, or maybe it’s impossible, I challenge you to find what you can do. Go with your gut, escape today’s latest explosion, patch it up with the best duct tape and paperclips you have, learn more, do your research, and come back and fix it on version two.
To dig into innovation and what it means for the CPA profession, keep coming back to cpacoe.com. We’ll be featuring new thoughts on innovation for the next year, centering around the themes the Changing Role of the CPA, Talent and the Changing Workforce, Globalization and the Marketplace and Disruptive Technology and Innovation. Start here by reading why we know innovation is an important topic for CPAs.
As a college educator who spent over 30 years in the business workplace, I commonly hear discussions about how to improve recent college graduates or new staff’s critical thinking skills. A quick Google search of “Employer Critical Thinking” yields well over a millions hits on this topic. A quick survey of the results yields two certainties: 1) Many employers do not think new graduates have proper critical thinking skills, and 2) “Critical Thinking” is tough to define. Revealing articles include the following:
The third and fourth articles discuss a study in students at over 200 colleges and universities who participated in a Collegiate Learning Assessment, which evaluated critical thinking and other analytic “higher level” skills. Disturbingly, the results found that over four years of collegiate study, more than 33% of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning.” According to the Wall Street article, “at least a third of seniors were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table.”
Within the accounting world, the quest for critical thinking has filtered into the newly revised CPA exam. In its Exposure Draft: Maintaining the Relevance of the Uniform CPA Examination, the AICPA states that “newly licensed CPAs must also possess high-order cognitive skills, including critical thinking, problem solving and analytical ability.” The Exposure Draft later states that new CPAs will require “higher order skills such as critical thinking” due to technology changing the nature of the work and that newly licensed CPAs will be “responsible for more complex tasks earlier in their careers.”
According to Michael Decker, AICPA vice-president, “Remembering and understanding fact patterns isn’t enough.” Decker adds that these new CPAs “have to be able to assess situations and apply professional judgement.” Gone are the days from my CPA youth, where as a staff auditor, we would “foot” ledgers for accuracy and seemingly spend endless hours on the copy machine. Now, CPA firms and other employer thrust new staff into a technological maze where many times the proficiency on the technology outweighs the basic accounting/tax concepts, which many times are assumed knowledge.
Thus, based on the many comments from employers desiring higher levels of critical thinking in new hires that currently college professors and employers are in a transitory period where the teaching done at the collegiate level does not clearly align with future employer expectations of how recruits should be trained, especially in critical thinking. To try to drive home the importance of critical thinking and “soft skill” development, at Trine University, last academic year, we started a program for business and engineering majors called P2 (P-squared) which stands for Professional Paradigms, where on a weekly basis, business and engineering faculty engage students in workshops that develop dealt with “soft skills” – how to network, working as a team, telephone etiquette, managing stress, etc. However, in addition to these terrific programs (in my humble opinion), as educators we need to ask more of our students in the classroom regarding critical thinking.
Before my full-time plunge into academia almost exactly one year ago, I surveyed many different professors at different colleges/universities mostly from business, but also from a few other disciplines into teaching tips and guidance. From these different meeting, I believe the number one guidance given to me was to incorporate the “Think, Pair, Share” format where students are first given a question/problem to review, we put them into a group and have them discuss, then we can call on the different groups for their answers. I enjoy trying to teach in this style, since it normally keeps discussions lively and students are willing to offer their group answers, which avoids the Ferris Bueller “Anyone?… Anyone?…” syndrome; but it rarely offers students a chance to make a mistake on their own.
In pondering on this current perceived disconnect between collegiate teachings and employer expectation on critical thinking and my own experience, I am reminded that many of the best lessons I learned were from the many mistakes that I made (and still make) throughout my career, both technical and “soft.” So then, how can we incorporate a “safe to fail” atmosphere in the classroom that is engaging and useful? I also wonder what the 50-somethings of my youth said about our generation (tail end of baby boomers) and what areas of knowledge they earnestly wished we had when entering the workplace. Honestly I cannot remember what they said about us 20-somethings back then, but now as a 50-something, I imagine the 20-somethings of today have read/heard of their supposed lack of critical thinking.
Based on the number of Google hits pertaining to critical thinking, I believe we have a long way to go in understanding what it is and training how to do it. But I would surely welcome any insight into my quandary of how to effectively teach critical thinking to our future accountants. Anyone?… Anyone?…