Competency-based learning is no joke

November 7, 2017By Jennifer Briggs, CAEBlog, Learning and Career Development

Are you learning what you need to know in every CPE class you take? Maybe, but don’t you learn in ways outside of CPE courses as well?

In Indiana, through the efforts of our Board of Accountancy, the Indiana CPA Society and the CPA Center of Excellence®, we are addressing the idea of options. Specifically, related to competency-based (or outcomes-based) education.

What does that mean? What you learn vs. CPE hours. We are looking at ways to provide options for maintaining your skills. Hear more in this recent “Improv Is No Joke” podcast from author and frequent INCPAS speaker Peter Margaritis, CPA.

CPAs Who Innovate: What box?

October 11, 2017By Stephanie Parton, CAE, INCPAS Vice President - CommunicationsArticle, Blog, Changing Role of the CPA, Innovation, The Changing Role of the CPA

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.

The world as your workplace

October 4, 2017By Jessica HillBlog, Future of Work and Change Management, Innovation, Talent Management and People

Mobility policies, or being able to work outside of the office, are becoming more common as we embrace and become more comfortable with internet-based technology. With a mobility policy, you can work anywhere as long as you have two things: a laptop and internet access. I’ve been with a firm for a little over a year that strongly embraces mobility, and I have certainly taken advantage of the policy—either working from home or at Starbucks when I’m not expected to be in the office or at a client site.

At a recent college career fair, people loved hearing about the luxury of working from home; however, their questions revealed their skepticism. Below I’ve included the most common questions I’ve received about work mobility:

  1. How are you held accountable?

This is almost always the first question out of the gate. Accountability is a valid concern when you have the ability to work somewhere with no direct supervision. However, people tend to miss the fact there is still supervision—even though it might not equate to someone physically looking over your shoulder. If you’re working from a laptop distributed by your employer, then most likely there are tools in place to monitor your online activity. No matter where I’m working, my coworkers can see when I’m online. When I step away, my computer automatically times out after fifteen minutes to show that I’m inactive.

Communication is important no matter where you work, but it’s extremely important when you’re away from the office. Always check in with your coworkers to let them know how you’re progressing and if you have any questions. This makes your work more transparent and ensures your team that you’re working—just be sure to be honest!

  1. How do you stay focused?

Staying focused is the most difficult aspect of working mobile, but the solution varies from person to person. I need to have a designated office space to work efficiently. An office with a desk, a comfortable chair, and very minimal distractions is the best work environment for me. I am not fond of working in bustling coffee shops or restaurants because I think they’re too distracting. If I do find myself getting distracted no matter where I’m working, headphones and some music always helps.

  1. How do you determine when you work from the office?

More often than not, this will be an easy decision. If you need to access office equipment, check your mail, or work extensively with a coworker, then you should definitely work from the office. Some people prefer working in the office because they can’t focus at home, or they enjoy seeing other people. If you have a terrible commute, car problems, or you’re feeling under the weather, then working from home is a better option.

  1. Does a mobility policy help with work-life balance?

Yes and no. There are many ways working mobile can help with work-life balance. If you have a long commute and can work from home for part of the week, you can work at the times you would have been driving. Parents can work from home whenever they need to be there for a sick child. A parent can work at a coffee shop close to his toddler’s daycare for easier pick-up. However, for some people being able to work anywhere brings the feeling that you are obligated to work wherever you are. It is still important from a work-life balance perspective to have a clear understanding of your work expectations and your personal limits. If working from home makes it impossible to turn off the laptop and relax after working hours, then working from the office would be best.

There are many gains from a mobile working environment. However, the most important advice I give when working away from the office is to maintain a solid line of communication with your coworkers. While you may not be working in the office, you are still expected to perform, and perform well.

Does your employer have a mobility policy? What advice would you give on the matter? Please share in the comments below!

 

What MacGyver taught me about innovation and lifelong learning

August 28, 2017By Jess Halverson BowyerBlog, Innovation

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.

MacGyverPart 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. 

Can critical thinking be taught in university?

August 22, 2017By Jeffrey McGowan, CPA, CGMABlog, Critical Thinking and Non-Technical Skills, Learning and Career Development

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?…

What We’re Reading – 8/9/2017

August 9, 2017By Elise MayArticle, Blog

This week’s recommended reading on teamwork, technology, decision-making, and workplace culture. 

 

A bank robber can teach us a lot about team-building, according to this video featuring Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871.

https://www.inc.com/video/howard-tullman/the-most-important-thing-to-remember-when-youre-building-a-team.html

 

The arrival of Blockchain is inevitable. How, as CPAs, can we be ready to embrace this new innovation?

https://www.strategy-business.com/article/A-Strategists-Guide-to-Blockchain?gko=0d586&utm_source=itw&utm_medium=20170808&utm_campaign=resp

 

Ever wonder how successful people get from one thing to another? Here are 4 strategies successful people use in making important decisions.

https://www.fastcompany.com/40444808/how-successful-people-make-decisions-differently?utm_content=buffer254e7&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

 

CPAs, do your workplace cultures have any of these three common, but misleading, characteristics?

https://www.accountingtoday.com/opinion/three-things-that-arent-your-firms-culture

 

 

At the CPA Center of Excellence®, we help CPAs and service professionals stay ahead of change and innovation. Look for our recommended reads on topics like critical thinking and non-technical skills, the future of work, innovation, talent management, leadership, and the changing role of the CPA each Wednesday.

What We’re Reading – 8/2/2017

August 2, 2017By Elise MayArticle, Blog

This week’s recommended reading on leadership, technology, and education. 

 

Honesty is proven to boost leadership credibility in even the most dire situations.

How Honest Apologies Can Help Leaders Bounce Back

 

Blockchain is further being touted as revolutionary force in finance. CPAs, how do you believe this technology will impact your businesses?

Building the Future of Finance with Blockchain

 

Villanova seeks to keep its students at the forefront of the accounting profession with its new Master of Accounting with Data Analytics program.

https://www.accountingtoday.com/news/villanova-announces-masters-of-accounting-with-data-analytics-program

 

 

At the CPA Center of Excellence®, we help CPAs and service professionals stay ahead of change and innovation. Look for our recommended reads on topics like critical thinking and non-technical skills, the future of work, innovation, talent management, leadership, and the changing role of the CPA each Wednesday.

What We’re Reading – 7/26/2017

July 26, 2017By Elise MayArticle, Blog

This week’s recommended reading on emotional intelligence, cybersecurity, innovation, and leadership. 

 

Afraid that first impression didn’t go well? Increase your likability in your networking efforts with these 5 emotionally intelligent things to do when meeting someone new.

https://www.fastcompany.com/40441365/do-these-5-emotionally-intelligent-things-within-5-minutes-of-meeting-someone_

 

Is your company protected against these threats? It might be time to adapt to the cybersecurity realities of today:

An Insider’s View on Outside Cybersecurity Threats

 

Looking to become better at something in your life? Here is a stellar list of 44 books for self-improvement:

https://www.inc.com/christina-desmarais/44-favorite-books-of-high-achievers.html?cid=sf01001&sr_share=twitter

 

Stay ahead of the curve with these 8 change management models you can use to adapt and grow your business.

8 Critical Change Management Models to Evolve and Survive

 

Read the story of how two executives, new to their jobs, propelled their company forward through their leadership and teamwork:

https://www.strategy-business.com/article/Finance-and-HR-The-Executive-Partnership-That-Transformed-a-Company?gko=bcdab&utm_source=itw&utm_medium=20170725&utm_campaign=resp

 

 

What We’re Reading – 7/12/2017

July 12, 2017By Elise MayArticle, Blog

This week’s recommended reading on networking, management, and innovation. 

 

Learn from a seasoned veteran of the business world on his vision of management: 

https://www.accountingtoday.com/opinion/the-art-and-philosophy-of-leadership-and-management

 

Do you cringe when you hear the word “networking”? For many people, networking can be intimidating and stressful. Here are six ways you can network if you don’t like talking to strangers: 

https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/how-to-network-if-you-dont-like-talking-to-strangers/

 

Drew Houston, co-founder and CEO of Dropbox, shares the challenges and opportunities he’s been faced with, as well as career advice for entrepreneurs. 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2017/05/23/drew-houston-why-the-most-successful-entrepreneurs-solve-big-problems/#66bcdadb7acd

 

Those who came before us often can lead us the way forward. Here are some lessons from history’s greatest innovators: 

https://medium.freecodecamp.org/lessons-from-historys-great-innovators-that-you-should-never-forget-4d5e432adcde

 

What We’re Reading – 6/28/2017

June 28, 2017By Elise MayArticle, Blog

This week’s recommended reading on retention, management, and development.

 

Why are some of your best employees packing their bags and leaving? These warning signs might just help you keep your most valued workers.

http://rh-us.mediaroom.com/2017-05-17-Are-Employers-Missing-Retention-Red-Flags

 

Giving an employee critical feedback is never fun. It’s part of the job, but doesn’t have to be negative. Learn how to constructively give feedback to your low-performing employees with these 4 tips:

https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/heres-how-good-managers-give-bad-employees-feedback.html

 

An increase in training programs and employee development is imminent, according to the American Insitute of CPAs. Indiana CPAs and beyond, what are you doing to develop your own employees?

http://www.cgma.org/magazine/2017/may/employee-development-and-training-201716652.html

 

At the CPA Center of Excellence®, we help CPAs and service professionals stay ahead of change and innovation. Look for our recommended reads on topics like critical thinking and non-technical skills, the future of work, innovation, talent management, leadership, and the changing role of the CPA each Wednesday.