#10: Never Stop Learning

January 17, 2017By Jess Halverson BowyerBlog, Future of Work and Change Management, Learning and Career Development

Resolve to be a lifelong learner

Books are my great love, and my great compulsion. I browse bookstores and libraries to relax, clinging to the little shots of adrenaline I get discovering new stories and new ideas from the thoughtfully crafted end caps and table displays. Each new volume represents hope – optimism – unlimited possibility – delivered by new ideas from the words on the page.

Discovering new ideas brings depth and meaning to my life. This passion for learning has also been a great benefit to me professionally – and this is what we hope you get from our resolution blog series: 10 ideas or goals for the new year to bolster your career.

Luckily, I win. Everything we’ve written about this week can be tied to the resolution I chose to write about: Never Stop Learning.

No matter what you choose to focus on this year, the act of career improvement is lifelong learning. Changing your organization’s annual performance review policy requires you to learn. Improving your leadership, decision-making, communication and other non-technical skills is a form of learning that also requires you to think differently and be willing to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. To make this type of learning happen, you must plan for it. To improve your interactions with other generations you must learn about them. Being open to a new method of working, like collaboration, allows you to learn from others. Lastly, innovation takes everything you’ve learned and feeds it into the basis of new ideas.

If you sincerely commit (or recommit) yourself to lifelong learning, there are no losses. No matter what you do, from first year public accounting to acting CFO of an international company, learning goes with you, it grows with you, and it will always give you an advantage — especially in today’s increasingly complex and global environment.

In a knowledge economy, your competitive edge comes from what you know or your ability and willingness to learn.

Now, I realize that some of you may be thinking, yea no kidding. It’s not a revelation that you must learn and adapt to be successful. Yet, this doesn’t mean we do our best — willingly or less so — to make time for deep learning. Day-to-day tasks, urgencies, emails, meetings and everything else involved with actually doing the work required for your career often pushes active learning aside. Truly becoming a lifelong learner requires incorporating the act of learning into your routines, your daily schedule, your calendar and your priorities. But often we don’t take the action to plan learning, as most of us operate under some modicum of curiosity and assume absorbing the knowledge we need is something that will just happen.

To truly be competitive in this knowledge economy, we must take an active, not passive, role in our own learning and develop a practice of learning.

That is my challenge to you this year – if you do nothing else, take an active role in your own learning, no matter what it is you need to know. And please forgive me for ending on an overused quote, because there is no better way to say it: knowledge is power.

If you need me, I’ll be over here, with the pile of books made from real paper.

Jess Halverson Bowyer is the strategist at the CPA Center of Excellence® and has worked for the Indiana CPA Society for six years. With a background in communications, design and visual thinking as well as a passion for learning, she has a hand in all things CPA Center of Excellence®, from strategic planning to learning design to hosting presentations and webinars.

#9: Innovate

January 14, 2017By Gary Bolinger, CAEBlog, Future of Work and Change Management, Innovation

Relish change and embrace the opportunity

I am sure that many, or most of you reading this, have heard the famous Jack Welch quote “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” Well, that isn’t the exact quote. Actually, the concept was published in the GE’s Annual Report 2000 in the section on “Relishing Change.”

“We’ve long believed that when the rate of change inside an institution becomes slower than the rate of change outside, the end is in sight. The only question is when.”

Change is difficult. Change is frequently a source of significant discomfort. Change is complex. And today, the rate of change — the velocity of change — is accelerating. Much of the increasing velocity of change is attributed to technology. But there are other factors. Increased entrepreneurship is driving change. Ever evolving demographics drives change. And geopolitical influences on our global economy certainly drives change.

All of these influences on change (and more) are driving a mandate. We must learn to embrace change. Or, as the GE annual report said in 2000, we must relish change. We need to encourage our colleagues to view change as opportunity. There’s really no alternative. Change must be embedded in our cultures. Change needs to be positioned as the energy to create the new.

When you, your organization and /or everyone within your organization gets over the feelings that fuel the discomfort of change, you can move on to framing change as a primary source of innovation.

Innovation is probably the primary driver of growth in our businesses today. The engine driving positive economic improvement. Innovation = future success.

But, innovation is scary too! What? You expect me to innovate? I don’t know HOW!

Innovation should NOT be unsettling to you or your colleagues. Wikipedia defines innovation as a “new idea, device, or method.” Sure, there is a little more to the definition. Solutions that meet new requirements, more effective processes or something that breaks into a new market. In 2016 the Indiana CPA Society (INCPAS) Board of Directors established an innovation task force and they elected to use a definition of innovation crafted by Dan McClure: “Any practice that leverages creative invention to respond to an important challenge.” There are others. Pick one that fits you best and embrace it!

Innovation is process improvement. It might be a series of little things (marginal gains) that eventually make a big difference. Everyone in your organization can and should be challenged to find one or two little things that could be improved. Everyone should embrace the opportunity!

You will hear more in the near and long-term future from the CPA Center of Excellence®, powered by INCPAS, about innovation. We hope to hear from you as well. As we embrace change and implement thoughtful and purposeful innovation, we can all help to ensure a valuable and relevant future for the CPA profession. Let us know how you are innovating in your career.

Gary Bolinger, CAE, is president & CEO of the Indiana CPA Society, a position he has held since 1991. He has spent the last 32 years of his career at INCPAS, beginning in 1984 with the role of field activities director. Bolinger has served in numerous volunteer and presenter capacities in both the CPA and association professions nationally and in Indiana. He was named as one the most influential people in accounting by Accounting Today for each of the last two years. Bolinger is a regular blogger for the Society. 

#8: Collaborate!

January 13, 2017By Justin Hayes, CPABlog, Changing Role of the CPA, Collaboration

There is nothing to fear in sharing knowledge

There is a newer trend that is starting to occur in the CPA profession, and that is collaboration. For years, many CPAs wanted to hold onto their own thoughts/ideas/strategies for fear that the competition would use their thoughts/ideas/strategies against them and steal clients. Fortunately that fear has begun to wane as CPAs clearly see the benefits of collaborating with other CPAs and even other professionals to better themselves and strengthen the profession for the benefit of all. Specialization and hyperspecialization are among the environmental factors that are driving the need for collaboration.

There will always be competition, of course, which does help drive innovation and growth. We all tend to be smart individuals, but part of being smart is knowing when you don’t know the answer and not being afraid to ask for help. Part of being confident in your work and reputation is in knowing that if you share your thoughts with others it will not have a negative impact on you. I am not saying that when you collaborate you need to give out any proprietor information or “trade secrets,” but don’t be afraid to ask other people for help in areas that you don’t have knowledge or experience in.

Think of the following example. You are a smaller firm (about 10 employees) and you a have client, who happened to be one of your largest clients, who wants to become set up in an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). This is something you have never dealt with in your career. But you do recall that one of your classmates from college works at a larger firm that has a specialty in ESOPs. What do you do?

Historically, I’m guessing that you would not want to admit to your client that you don’t know the answer. Even if you did admit it, I’m guessing that you would have fear of reaching out to your college buddy for concerns of losing the client to the larger firm. However, this is a perfect example of when you could collaborate and better serve your client. You need to be willing to step outside of your boundaries and collaborate with the larger firm. This will better serve your client and also help you to grow in the profession. Now on the flip side, what do you do if you are the college buddy at the larger firm? Your first thought might be that you have a great chance at a new client. But let’s say there is no chance that this company is going to make a change and now you have a voicemail from your old college friend asking about ESOP 101 training. Historically, I am guessing that the answer would be to try and deflect the question, for fear that this would give away some of your advantage in the market.

I would argue the opposite. By collaborating with the smaller firm you are allowing your professional skills and knowledge to be out in the market more. Who knows where those connections could lead to. I do know that you would eliminate all opportunity by not collaborating with the smaller firm.

As we begin the new year, I’d encourage everyone to think about ways you can grow professional (and personally) through collaborating with other CPAs and other professionals. Who can you collaborate with today?

Justin Hayes, CPA, CGMA, is a director in Katz, Sapper & Miller’s Audit and Assurance Services Group. His primary responsibilities include auditing and reviewing financial statements and advising clients on accounting, reporting, compliance and internal control-related matters. Hayes serves on the INCPAS Leadership Cabinet and Diversity Advisory Council. He is a graduate of Opportunity Indianapolis 2010 and Leadership Education and Development 2011 with the Lacy Leadership Association. Hayes is a member of the Fusion Network, a group of Indiana CPA Society member CPAs who blog on trends, new ideas and innovation in the CPA profession. 

#7: Bridge the Generation Gap

January 12, 2017By Lisa Brown, CPA, CGMABlog, Collaboration, Future of Work and Change Management, Talent Management and People

Consider the context and create great teams

I recently heard that Millennials do not like being referred to as Millennials, and who can blame them. Often, something unflattering follows the term. Even the mere word evokes knowing head nods from a room full of Baby Boomers.

As a college professor, I interact with Millennials on a daily basis. Millennials are the largest generation in U.S. history. They’re the fastest growing generation in the workforce. And by 2017, they are predicted to outspend Baby Boomers.

We can’t neatly put each generation into a stereotype box, but we can use these broad strokes of information as clues to how we can best communicate with one another. Understanding why the members of the “other” generation are the way they are and how to bridge our generational gap is extremely important. Understanding how to effectively communicate among generations is important for everyone, as we interact with each other on a daily, continual basis.

I was interested to read a blog post in the Huffington Post about Millennials. The author attended a conference on Millennials where the CEO of The Center for Generational Kinetics, Jason Dorsey, was one of the speakers. The top five interesting perspectives and opinions the author noted in a humorous way are:

  1. Eye contact is an increasingly unnatural behavior for Millennials.
  2. Emails are OK. Just don’t expect them to read more than the subject line.
  3. Phone calls are often seen as an invasion of privacy, so don’t call them unless your name is Mom. (And even if it is, they will still forward you to voicemail — which they never check.)
  4. They will not read blocks of text. Save the effort.
  5. They are visual thinkers and learners. Do not try to educate them or sell them something using a long, linear approach.

I have learned from my own experience that most of these examples ring true. According to Curt Steinhorst, the preferred methods of communication for millennials Millennials are text, email, and social media. Think about the technology this generation is immersed in every day and how it shapes their context. Thinking about the popularity of YouTube makes you realize how the internet has shaped this generation into visual thinkers and learners.

Inc. recently listed nine tips for communicating with Millennials which not surprisingly, corresponds with the perspectives listed above.

  1. Keep it brief, but meaningful
  2. At the same time, provide detail
  3. Choose the best medium for communication
  4. Understand the 24/7 communication cycle
  5. Communicate the path to career growth
  6. Don’t condescend or make jokes about age
  7. Demonstrate fairness in the workplace
  8. Commit to a social bottom line
  9. Nurture their passion

Twitter has helped Millennials convey their thoughts in 140 characters or less. They appreciate brevity. At the same time, they are outcome driven and want to know what the end result should be and what they need to do to achieve it. Just be concise!

One of the largest generation gaps is in the workplace concerns how we work. Baby Boomers measure work ethic by hours in the office, where they are seen. Millennials exist in a world where communication is available 24/7 and productivity can occur outside the office walls. That same technology has broken down hierarchy for this generation. They can communicate via social media with celebrities, politicians, and even the president. They see no issue in approaching the CEO with their ideas and opinions. Millennials want to be taken seriously, and sometimes believe they should be promoted within two years. It’s important to let Millennials know how they are doing and what their career path looks like. Finally, Millennials are passionate. Communicating how they can meaningfully contribute to a greater good is very important to them.

Great teams can be formulated from the experience of the Baby Boomers and the enthusiasm of Millennials. Understanding where each generation comes from will help us better communicate and foster wonderful multigenerational relationships.

If you are a Gen X’er or Baby Boomer, what key strategies do you have for effectively communicating with Millennials?

If you are a Millennial, help us be better communicators. What do want us to know about communicating with you?

Make this the year you start to bridge those generation gaps. You may be surprised by the results.

Lisa Brown, CPA, CGMA, is an assistant professor, accounting & finance, at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne. Among the topics she teaches are accounting principles, corporate taxation and corporate finance. Brown previously worked in public accounting for Balestra, Harr, Scherer, CPAs in Ohio and in industry for an Ohio school district and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. She is a campus presenter for the Indiana CPA Society and a member of the Fusion Network, a group of Indiana CPA Society member CPAs who blog on trends, new ideas and innovation in the CPA profession.  

#6 Stop Procrastinating

January 11, 2017By Jennifer Briggs, CAEBlog, Learning and Career Development

Start prioritizing your learning

If you are a CPA, there is a high likelihood that you are a procrastinator. That’s right. I said it.

From Psychology Today –

Everyone procrastinates sometimes, but 20 percent of people chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions — which, unfortunately, are increasingly available. Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we’ll feel tomorrow, or the next day.

Working with CPAs for almost 15 years now, boy do I appreciate the value of a deadline. As an example, in December each year people on our staff talk about closing the office between Christmas and New Year’s, and I always have to be the one to say “not gonna happen.” Because CPAs have the whole calendar year to get in their required minimum number of continuing education hours, they will definitely take the whole calendar year to fulfill that requirement. That means the last few days of the year we are offering continuing education seminars. Sometimes people show up and are ready to learn whatever we’re teaching because they have that deadline.

Is that the proper way to plan your learning? Just take what’s being offered? I don’t think so. But, I get it. I empathize. I’m maybe even one of you — a procrastinator. I ascribe to the whole “I work better under pressure” philosophy. Procrastination is the mother of creativity. I think I just made up that saying, but I also think sometimes it might be true. I often consider big tasks or projects something like this — inspiration could strike when I least expect it and an official plan would just hold me back from fulfilling my creative promise! And to tell the truth, it works. At least much of the time, because I have adapted to my deadline mentality.

But, when it comes to education, there should be a better way — and I know there’s a better way for CPAs. As the role of the CPA expands and changes year after year, it’s more important than ever to be deliberate in building and maintaining competencies in areas that, frankly, don’t always get enough attention. In a recent Fast Company article, economist Andrew Chamberlain talks about the “Top 5 Workplace Trends for 2017.” He discusses the rise of automation but says “Many things get automated but we don’t lose our jobs.” He’s not talking specifically about CPAs, but he makes the point that the routine work we’re used to doing will continue to get more and more automated, so we must all build on the skills the computers can’t do; that’s what will keep a career thriving. Simple, right?

The way Chamberlain puts it is that we need to “learn how to run a machine, not do the same work the machine does.” This kind of learning requires deliberate attention and planning. It’s not about memorization or checklists — those things are important — but how are you communicating what you’ve memorized or checked off, how are you using it to strategize and how are you adding value? If honing those skills isn’t a part of your approach to planning your learning, then they should be.

As we delve into a new year and think about our personal top five goals at work, what are you putting on your to do list? Are you seeking out opportunities to build your competencies beyond technical skills? Are you looking for unique ways to be better at what you do? Are you trying to find experiences outside of a classroom like volunteering on a task force or committee or taking on a new project outside of your comfort zone? Are you trying out online, on-demand classes that directly speak to your ability to meet the needs of your employer or your clients or your staff?

Even if you can’t predict how you’ll feel tomorrow or the next day, you can make a plan that addresses the skills you will rely upon in the future. Don’t do what I did (write this blog on the day it was due); look at your calendar! Think about what you need to know to be your best in 2017 and plan to seek out opportunities and education that will help you the most.

Jennifer Briggs, CAE, is senior vice president and chief operating officer for the Indiana CPA Society. She has been with INCPAS for nearly 15 years and has served in various prior roles including VP – member services and marketing director. Briggs has spent her entire career in association management working for two other associations and an association management group before joining INCPAS. She is a regular blogger for the Society.

#5: Stand Out

January 10, 2017By John Kane, CPA, CGMABlog, Changing Role of the CPA, Critical Thinking and Non-Technical Skills

Improve your soft skills to for real career success

Whether you are considering a job change this year or are just trying to get to the next level in your career, it’s time to consider your soft skills. Even if you are a long time CPA professional in public accounting or industry, soft skills are a key differentiator.

Employment experts agree that tech skills may get you an interview, but these soft skills will get you the job — and help you keep it. Soft skills are important, and are popping up in many job descriptions, according to Larry Buhl’s article on monster.com.

The soft skills that are so important are:

  • Communication skills — being able to express yourself well
  • Team work and collaboration — being able to work effectively as a team
  • Adaptability — willingness to continue to learn and stretch your skills to adapt
  • Problem solving — being able to approach a problem, solve the problem, and share with others
  • Critical observation — being able to collect the information, manipulate the information, and determine the next steps for solutions
  • Conflict resolution — the ability to persuade, negotiate, and resolve conflicts.

Do these topics look familiar to you? They should, as the new CPA Exam, debuting in 2017, is moving in this direction. Employers will be expecting a certain level of proficiency in soft skills at the onset of your career, so the new exam is being designed to test the readiness of both your technical and nontechnical expertise.

As seasoned professionals we are tested on this daily. Our firm found the CPA Center for Excellence® Insight Toolkit to be a good method to evaluate these skills. Insight considers multiple different attributes including Adaptability, Communication, Leadership, as well as Integration and Collaboration. This 360-degree view is revealing in many ways as it paints a picture of your various competency levels.

We began the process by creating a 360-degree assessment of ourselves and asked team members and others with whom we interact to also evaluate us, including peers from community volunteer experiences.

Some who rated us felt the assessment was time consuming, but found value in the process. Overall, the results are interesting. Although we do not know our individual scores from separate raters, we are able to see how we rated ourselves compared to the averages of our raters’ perceptions based on our behaviors. It provides an opportunity to drill down by competency, allowing us to see a more in-depth explanation of the competency and, by rater type, how we’re viewed.

The purpose of the 360º evaluation is to identify the gaps where we can improve. We are then able to start adding actions related to the competencies we need to develop. A good benefit is the availability of additional support if it is needed, such as an opportunity to connect with others, or even connecting with a peer coach or professional coach.

It’s also a good idea to continue the evaluation process and track your development over the years.

This year, resolve to improve your soft skills and truly differentiate yourself.

John Kane, CPA, CGMA, has been the managing member of a local CPA firm in Anderson, Ind., since 1997. Prior to this, he was a CPA with another local firm for 10 years after spending three years in banking. He has been active in the profession since 1989 serving on various INCPAS committees, the initial Leadership Cabinet, the Society’s Board of Directors, and the AICPA Council. In 2010, Kane was appointed by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels to the Indiana Board of Accountancy. He is a member of the Fusion Network, a group of Indiana CPA Society member CPAs who blog on trends, new ideas and innovation in the CPA profession. 

#4: Stop Speaking Like an Accountant

January 9, 2017By John Minnich, CPA, CGMABlog, Changing Role of the CPA, Critical Thinking and Non-Technical Skills

Five communication skills that transcend professions

Every profession and organization has its jargon, whether it’s words, phrases or even the dreaded acronyms. For example, my accounting colleagues speak in tongues of accrual, current ratio, debt-to-equity, EBITDA, GAAP, internal controls, net assets, reconciliations, return on assets and subledgers.

“Pardon?”

Software consultants say, “Crystal Reports, integrations, modules, ODBC, ports and offsets, relational databases, Remote Desktop, SQL, and thin clients.”

“What did you say?”

And educators refer to block scheduling, cooperative learning, Didactic and Socratic teaching models, flipped classrooms, learning outcomes, lesson plans, pedagogy, retention, rubric, and syllabi.

“Huh?”

As an accountant, consultant and educator, I’ve discovered that at least one thing transcends every profession: Strong communication skills, including the ability to speak with and listen to those outside your field. Below are some tips on how to stop speaking like an accountant (or consultant or educator).

1. Simplify.

From clients to students, a best practice involves speaking in simplified terms. Instead of describing the entire process in depth, describe the outcome in simple terms. Focus on using common terminology when possible as opposed to technical jargon.

2. Paint a picture and use creative communication tools.

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Rather than solely blanketing your audience with data, use visuals. Sharing financial results at a finance committee meeting? Paint a picture, use props, and share the story in understandable terms.

3. Be equipped with relevant models/frameworks to improve your communication skills.

Be clear and concise with a focus on coherency. From calls and emails to presentations, we spend a significant amount of time communicating with colleagues. Have you ever considered whether your messages are clear and meaningful? Various resources exist to help strengthen your communication from composing and delivering a message to receiving and making revisions. I encourage you to learn and implement what works best for you.

4. Understand and empathize with your audience to craft good messages and deliver effective presentations

I’ve trained clients, developed and led finance/communication and operations management sessions for a Fortune 500 company, taught graduate and undergraduate university courses, and served as a discussion leader for continuing professional education courses. Every audience is different, even when the topic or course remains the same. Find ways to engage your audience whether in a large group or small workplace setting. Put yourself in your listener’s seat. Anticipate how they might react. Realize that several generations are currently in the workforce and each vary in communication preference (i.e., face-to-face, email, text). Show humility as your listener(s) might not be familiar with the topic and could feel clueless.

5. Realize the importance of nonverbal communication.

All studies indicate that nonverbal communication represents the majority of all communication. Always pay attention to things like your appearance, eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, movement, posture, and tone of voice.

Effective communication strategies transcend professions. It is critical to know what communication skills are, how they relate to “doing business” today, and how communication happens. As professionals, we should all raise awareness of the pitfalls of poor communication skills and work toward better communication practice.

John J. Minnich, CPA, CGMA, oversees operations in education administration as chief financial officer and member of the administrative leadership team for a private high school in the Fort Wayne area. His career has straddled consulting, higher education, and public accounting. Minnich serves on several nonprofit boards and committees, and is the current president of the Indiana CPA Educational Foundation. He is also a member of the Fusion Network, a group of Indiana CPA Society member CPAs who blog on trends, new ideas and innovation in the CPA profession. 

#3: Decide with Confidence

January 6, 2017By Nancy Morton, CPABlog, Critical Thinking and Non-Technical Skills

 

Four ways to improve your decisions this year

Every day, we make decisions. In both my personal and professional life, there have been many times when I’ve faced a crossroads and had to make an important decision. Anxiety and stress often plague us at these junctures. You’re so afraid of making the wrong decision, you are paralyzed by the fear of failure. You feel that once you’ve made a decision, you’ll never have the opportunity to adjust. What I learned when facing these crossroads is that you must analyze the facts, follow your moral compass, not be afraid of failure, and to look “outside the box.”

When making decisions, you need to take time to analyze all of the facts and information available. You can’t make a good decision without putting the effort in to accumulating the appropriate information. Once you’ve done this, you’ll feel more confident in your decision making.

My father taught me that you must follow your moral compass. It is easier to make decisions based on what the majority believes in. It’s much harder to do so based on your own beliefs. At the end of each day, you need to be able to look yourself in the mirror and be proud of the decisions that you’ve made.

All three of my children have been high school athletes. They have taught me that doing your best meant trying and not always succeeding. We learn more from our “failures” than our successes. My youngest son is a pitcher. As he prepares for his last two years of high school and potentially a pitching career in college, he can’t allow fear to prevent him from making decisions. Not every decision he makes on the mound results in a strike. If he throws an unsuccessful pitch, he takes a moment, learns from his mistakes, and throws the next pitch. In life, like sports, we will not always make the right choices. If you make a wrong decision, take a deep breath, learn from your mistakes, and make the next decision. No one has a perfect success rate on decision making.

I am a partner at a CPA firm. One of the biggest benefits from working at a public accounting firm is having the pleasure of working with young professionals. They have taught me that you should always look at new and innovative ways to solve a problem. They’re not afraid to look “outside the box.” Conventional wisdom may not always be the right answer, and you need to have the strength of your convictions to make decisions that others haven’t. New inventions and creative ways to solve problems only happen when individuals look at problems from a different viewpoint. Just because no one has ever made that same decision before does not mean that it not the right decision.

As you face your next crossroads, gather the information, follow your moral compass, don’t be afraid to fail, and think “outside the box.” Resolve to make this change this year. Following these steps does not guarantee the decision-making process will be any easier, but you will feel more confident about the decision you make.

Nancy Morton, CPA, CGMA has been in public accounting for 30 years starting her career with the national accounting firm of Arthur Andersen. She is currently a partner with the accounting firm of Dauby O’Connor & Zaleski, LLC in Carmel, Ind. Morton was a member of the Indiana CPA Society’s Knowledge Management Task Force from 2011-13, and is a member of the Fusion Network where she blogs for The Smoke Detector.

 

#2: Plan to Lead

January 5, 2017By Lisa Fleck, CPABlog, Critical Thinking and Non-Technical Skills, Learning and Career Development, Talent Management and People

Make professional development a priority, not an afterthought

In looking at the year ahead, do you know where you want to be by the end of the year? If not, this is the perfect time to start thinking about your skillset and professional development options. Resolve to have a plan this year. No time better than the present!

Where do you start? Hmmm? Do you even have time for this? The answer is yes! Investing back into ourselves and improving our leadership skills is one of the most important steps to take as we plan and prepare for this new year.

Self-awareness is one of the first steps you can take … but how do you know which skills are the ones you can use to move your leadership meter in the right direction? Do you take an inventory of your leadership skills like you do in your business?

This popular article from Forbes lists the top 10 traits of leadership:

  1. Honesty — by living by this standard yourself, you influence this in your environment
  2. Delegate — trust your team with the vision
  3. Communicate — to clearly communicate your vision ensures alignment; miss this and you and your team could be going in different directions
  4. Confidence — your team takes cues from you
  5. Commitment — Lead by example and your team will follow
  6. Positive Attitude —  if your team is happy, chances are they won’t mind putting in the extra effort.
  7. Creativity — not all best decisions are black and white
  8. Intuition — draw upon past experience but don’t forget to reach out to mentors
  9. Inspire — appreciation of the hard work completed and vision of the end in mind will keep your team inspired
  10. Approach — direct and to the point vs. subtle; Millennial vs. Generation X vs. Generation Y; cultural difference? Your approach is critical for the situation and people involved. Know your audience!

What about listening? What about caring? Leaders I’ve admired are good listeners and show how much they care. Listening and caring are two very key leadership traits that carry weight and move the needle when bundled with the Forbes Top 10 list. I’m sure one could argue for other top traits as well.

When planning my personal development for the new year, I like to start with the skill that I feel I need the most help with. Working and improving in my lesser skills, coupled with my stronger skills, is when I start seeing results shine through.

Where will you start your leadership journey in 2017?

Lisa Fleck, CPA, is the financial manager for Kimball Inc., in Jasper, Ind. She enjoys managerial and cost accounting; forecasting, profitability and cost control/management. Fleck’s passion is getting useful information in a timely manner so that quick decisions can be made to move the company profitably in the right direction. She is a member of the Fusion Network, a group of Indiana CPA Society member CPAs who blog on trends, new ideas and innovation in the CPA profession. 

Start building your skills now with these six online courses designed specifically for CPAs and related professionals.

#1: Stop Conforming

January 4, 2017By David Griffiths, Ph.D.Blog, Future of Work and Change Management, Talent Management and People

End the dreaded annual performance appraisal

Every year managers are required to provide an overview of staff performance. Each staff member’s performance is rigorously analyzed and, in many cases, an individual’s yearlong efforts are reduced to a series of numbers representing output. It is estimated that the cost for each appraisal, on average, equates to four to 10 hours of time per employee, depending on the type of analysis used. You are spending approximately $120-$400 per employee in salary-based cost.

Have you ever stopped to consider why you make your staff go through this annual performance appraisals process – one that originates from World War I “merit rating” systems developed by the U.S. Army? Created to identify and dismiss poor performers, about 60% of U.S. companies adopted this system after World War II, with 90% of companies adhering by the 1960s, according to Harvard Business Review.

Now, consider some of the challenges with the annual performance appraisal process.

  • Annual appraisals do not fit with the nature of today’s business environment. The environment is constantly changing, requiring adjustments across the year. So, why do people set rigid 12-month performance targets?
  • Performance appraisals tend to drive competition at the cost of collaboration.
  • Performance is a result of behaviors, processes and structures within the organization. People don’t intentionally set out to deliver a poor performance, therefore, when an employee is falling short, in terms of performance expectation, why do appraisals only focus on the individual performance? What about the processes and structures (the management) that contribute to the performance?
  • The recall of performance is impacted by primacy (performance that happened early in the year) and recent (performance that happened close to the appraisal process), while much of what happened in the middle of the year is forgotten.
  • Managers and reports can suffer from a number of unconscious biases, such as: availability cascade, the bandwagon effect, bias blind spot, choice-supportive bias, conservatism, fundamental attribution error, courtesy bias, the Dunning-Kruger effect, focusing effect, illusionary correlation, negativity bias, optimism bias, and that is just the start. So, why do organizations tend to place so much stock in the opinion of one person, the line manager?
  • The process is often opaque and alienates employees, increasing the risk of talent loss.
  • Annual appraisals can cause tension between a line manager and his or her direct report.
  • If you are interested in the acquiring and retaining the best talent, shouldn’t you be more interested in developing people, as opposed to ranking them?

All this considered, why do you persist with annual performance appraisals? Why persist with a highly subjective, judgment-driven process that costs, on average $1,200-$4,000 per group of 10 employees; to say nothing of productivity loss due to tensions created between line manager and direct reports?

Instead, decide to forgo annual performance appraisals for ongoing performance conversations. Engage and involve your employees in the design of this new performance feedback processes. Just imagine what you might create.

This is my challenge to you this year: Stop Conforming. Challenge your traditional beliefs and become a talent leader. You are competing in a talent-led knowledge economy, where talent is the currency of longevity. To acquire and retain the best people, you need leading-edge talent management processes.

David Griffiths, Ph.D. is the award winning managing director of K3-Cubed Limited, a consulting, advising and training company that specializes in organizational development, knowledge management, and strategic and change management. Griffiths has been an advisor to the Indiana CPA Society since 2012 and was the driving force behind the creation of the CPA Center of Excellence®. Griffiths is an internationally recognized author, blogger, learning design advisor and thought leader.

Do you want to know how you’re doing? Find out with this online self-assessment tool designed specifically for CPAs and related professionals.