When Networking Isn’t Your Strong Suit

January 24, 2018By Chaleise Fleming, CPA, CFEBlog, Collaboration, Learning and Career Development

One of my goals for 2017 was to take one of the Society’s CPA Center of Excellence® interactive courses. They received a lot of recognition over these courses and I’ve heard a lot about them, especially as a member of INCPAS Emerging Leaders Alliance. If I was going to help promote these courses, I really needed to try one myself.

So, this past December I did just that. I signed up for the Collaboration and Networking online interactive course.

Networking isn’t my strong suit. I feel a lot of CPAs can relate to my struggle, especially younger CPAs recently promoted or working on their advancement in the profession. You are usually promoted because of your excellent technical skills in an area. But as you move up the ranks, your technical skills take a bit of a back seat. You are expected to start networking and developing your business referral contacts. To continue to advance, you are then expected to start to bring in clients and have your own great network to pull from.

This is something most of us do not get real training on. We had years of school to get our degrees in accounting, followed by the studying and stress of taking the CPA exam. In the workplace, we get tons of continued experience in everything we studied beforehand as we work with real projects and clients. Then suddenly, the “networking” part comes in. “Go out, find referral sources and build your book of contacts!”

While I have no issue connecting with current clients and providing them great services – going out and marketing myself; finding new clients and referral sources, that’s a whole different world. It’s also one I openly admit I am not comfortable in. I’ll do it. I go to networking events, but let’s be honest: I would rather be at home with a book and my cat. Why can’t that work to get clients?

So, the Collaboration and Networking course seemed like a good fit for me. Taking this course not only allowed me to finally experience an online interactive course, but also to work on a soft skill I am lacking in. In the process of taking it, I got some valuable ideas for my networking process. I also identified where many of our typical webinar-type CPE courses fail, at least for me, in that it doesn’t require you to really focus or engage with the learning material.

First off, I really did enjoy the setup and flow of the Collaboration and Networking course. It has a great mixture of reading, videos, link clicking and typing. You can’t just read an article and forget about it, or zone out watching a video. There isn’t a quick multiple-choice test to make sure “you are there.” You have to pay attention to the videos and articles in each section, because you are expected to comment on them. This forces you to pay attention to what you read or watch so you can really provide a thoughtful response. The course is also set up in a way that’s easy to follow. It has 10 “levels” that start off with explaining what networking is and why it is important and conclude at the difficulties and networking and how to overcome them.

I personally loved the variety of articles and videos. I enjoyed that the articles pulled from different news sites and viewpoints. This kept the reading fresh. The articles were also short and to the point, making them easy to read and stay focused on. There were quite a few articles I liked enough to save or print out, because I could see easily sharing them with others at my firm, or even with clients.

I also enjoyed the commenting part of the course. After you read an article or watched a video, you had a question to think about and make a comment on. You also get to see previous comments. I enjoyed reading other people’s comments and seeing their thoughts on networking, or what methods and techniques worked for them.

Completing the Collaboration and Networking course qualifies for a waiver of eight hours of CPE. While it didn’t take me eight hours, I did come away feeling excited about networking and with more takeaways than I usually do from an eight-hour course. You don’t have to finish the entire course in a day either, you can do a little bit here and there as you have time.

You have 90 days once you register to complete the course. This was great for me, as I didn’t end up having time to start it until about 15 days after registering. You can also continue to access the videos and articles to the course until your 90 days are up in case there is something you want to re-watch or an article you forgot to save.

Once the course is finished, you get a certificate much like your regular CPE certificates. You also get a neat digital badge that shows you are a networking expert. I did get a lot of great tools and suggestions that I hope to implement in 2018 to up my networking game. The course also helped remind me that networking takes time. You don’t develop your book of referrals overnight. Be yourself and find what works for you.

I encourage all of you to take one of the online interactive courses. You may learn something about your own learning style, like I did. You will also get a taste of these great new type of CPE courses that you’ve been hearing about!

Have you already taken one, or maybe all? I’d love to hear your feedback and impressions.

#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.  

Baby it’s cold outside, or how to meet people without leaving your warm office

December 10, 2015By Jess Halverson BowyerBlog, Collaboration, Innovation

It’s that time of year again – I’m typing in fingerless gloves and an extra sweater. In honor of it being the season to hibernate, I’d like to suggest you fight off pending loneliness by discovering some unsung features on the CPA Center of Excellence® online community, only for INCPAS members.

Here’s a few tips to get you collaborating and meeting other CPAs from the comfort of your chair, and a video tour to show you where to find these features.

All INCPAS members can use their INCPAS login and password to access the online community.

You see the daily digest emails from the open forum each morning, but did you know you can respond to any of those posts, or send a private message directly from that email?  Just click “reply to group” to contribute to the discussion or “reply to sender” to send a private message at the top of the post. If you’d like to see the entire discussion online, click the “reply to group online” or “view thread” links.

Think you get too many or too few emails from the open forum? Scroll to the bottom of any open forum email and click “My Subscriptions” to change your email preferences.

Need to find a CPA with expertise other than your own to help with a particularly tricky question? Navigate to the “Find a Member” tab, choose “Advanced Search” and seek out other CPAs based on a range of criteria, including where they are located and what they specialize in. There are a list of topics to select from on this page, such as business valuation or not-for-profit.

Have a question for Indiana CPA Society staff? We are all on the online community as well, and if you search “Indiana CPA Society” under the find a member tab, you’ll see a staff directory, with direct links to send private messages or email us. You can also always post a question to the open forum, which we will make sure to respond to.

Want to share a document you think would be helpful for other INCPAS members and have it hosted to the online library for all to see? Simply post a new discussion and add your file as an attachment, and it will be added to the library automatically. Or, you could use the “Explore” tab and select “Library Entries” to see what is already out there and add your own.

Harboring a burning desire to start your own blog, but don’t want to worry about software and hosting fees? INCPAS members can write their own blog on the online community, but choose to mark each post as “Public” and share it with the world. Navigate to “Participate” and “Post to Your Blog.” You can choose if you only want members to read it, or if you want to make it accessible to the wider web by selecting “Who can read your blog entry?” after composing your post. You can add images, links, and format the text of your entry just like any other blogging platform.

Attend an INCPAS conference or PIU and forget to grab someone’s business card? Each conference and PIU has it’s own online community, where you can see everyone who attended, download the slides, and start a discussion within that smaller group.

Just want to share the love? A yet much unused feature, the online community allows you to “recommend” posts you think deserve more reads (see the white “Recommend” button on the top right of each post). And as always, if you see a great conversation happening, jump in there and start posting. There are interesting discussions happening each week, and if you happen to have a more comfortable pace at work this December, it’s the perfect opportunity to get on the online community and see what you’ve been missing.

The opportunities are out there waiting for you. And luckily, you won’t have to bundle up and go out into the cold to collaborate and communicate with those most in the know about your questions and needs as a CPA – other Indiana CPAs.

Excellence is a mindset, not a demographic

November 17, 2015By Jess Halverson BowyerBlog, Collaboration, Innovation
So you don’t know technology. So what.
Much of what I do as CPA Center of Excellence® Strategist amounts to talking with CPAs about our online tools. I’m often asked if these tools are targeted at “younger people” or “tech-savvy” CPAs.The answer is unequivicably, no. Excellence is a mindset, not a demographic.

While I can emphasize with the person who might hear “online course” or “online community” and think “that’s only for millennials,” what I’ve seen from our users is the opposite.

The defining similarity of the “typical” CPA Center of Excellence® user, whether on our online courses, posting in the online community, or utilizing the Insight Toolkit, is not their age or familiarity with technology – it’s their desire to be the most excellent CPA. Their quest for the best type of education or career development, the best answers to their questions or the best resources for their firm or organization outranks any qualms they might have about learning to use new technology.

In the pursuit of excellence, you often find that online technology is allowing us to make advances in competency and collaboration that just weren’t possible before. If an online community allows you to seek answers from a larger pool of people than is available to you in your personal network, why not use it. If an online course offers you higher quality content than live courses in the subject matter, why not take it. If the flexibility of an online course allows you to study a subject you can’t fit a live course into your schedule for, do it.

Technology is only a tool that should be used to solve a problem or achieve a goal, like a hammer or a wrench. With my background in design, I also know that the way a tool is created should always have the user in mind throughout the design process – and this is what we try to do with the CPA Center of Excellence® tools. We know that saying “online tool” is a perceived barrier for some, and we take extra care in trying to create online tools that allow for a more intuitive user experience. And when you tell us there needs to be a change, we work to fix it.

We believe the pursuit of excellence is for every CPA who wants it – no matter demographics or location. Do you?

The ROI of being understood

November 12, 2015By Jess Halverson BowyerBlog, Collaboration

The ROI of being understood

Over the past few weeks, CPAs across Indiana have received dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of frantic calls from clients about tax amnesty letters and calls from the Indiana Department of Revenue. While skillfully trying to resolve these issues as quickly as possible for their clients, it created a frustrating situation for many CPAs, especially when letters were sent to many residents completely in error. 

Our CPA Center of Excellence® online community lit up with CPAs asking if anyone else had heard of a similar client problem, seeking out resources from our VP of Advocacy Sherrill Rude and most importantly – just looking for someone to understand.

What is the ROI of feeling understood? Can you measure it? Are you more productive when you feel confident you are not alone? Is your work of a higher quality if you can focus more after sharing your questions?  My experience tells me this is true.

I’ve been doing a lot of work this week on creating a strategy for our online community so that we continually improve. Much of my research touches metrics and best practices and bullet pointed lists – there is just so much information out there.

When combing through this research it’s been grounding to see the CPA Center of Excellence® online community do one simple thing that is so valuable you might not be able to measure it – providing CPAs with a chance to feel understood while working through a complex situation.

Yet often, people feel anxious to share. They think they might say the wrong thing or ask a stupid question – and then it’s written down for everyone to see. They worry perhaps someone will take them the wrong way or they might invite undue attention to themselves. In a profession with such a rich history of professionalism, adherence to high standards and a deep seeded respect for confidentiality, this is especially true.

What this week has shown me, though, is that even with the most sensitive of situations, sharing is valuable. Members are getting their questions answered on the online community. We’ve received multiple notes thanking us for hosting the community and providing resources. With technology advances breaking down geographical barriers and allowing us to host an online resource like this, I see an expansion in camaraderie and knowledge sharing among our member CPAs that just wasn’t possible before.

So I ask you – what’s the ROI of being understood? How will you encourage a community of knowledge sharing?

Power in Collaborating With Your Peer Group

May 5, 2015By Jess Halverson BowyerBlog, Collaboration, Innovation

There is an old saying that “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” I was thinking about that saying last week after our most recent Not-for-Proft CFO Peer Group meeting. Most everyone in the room is the OFO (only financial officer) of their organization, so we all have to reach out to others when we have unfamiliar situations pop up that we aren’t sure how to handle. It’s always so educational to get a group of peers sitting around a table talking about similar issues or problems that we are facing, and to be able to lean on the collective knowledge of a group.

Back in October, the group met and we talked about fraud. Specifically about what we were doing with small staffs and limited resources to apply best practices and minimize risks. Almost everyone at the table had a story to tell about a fraud that they had experienced at some point in their careers, and what they learned from it. It was very helpful to share these experiences that others could relate to.

In February, we had a group discussion about outsourcing back end support services within our organizations. We talked about what worked and what didn’t. We shared stories of cost savings, improved efficiencies, and also stories about failed attempts to outsource. We talked about the steps required to sell the idea of outsourcing to our CEOs and to our staffs. In other words, the culture changes that have to take place for a successful experience at our organizations.

These are just two examples of topics from this one particular group. There are other groups currently in existence or potentially to be formed in the future, and many other topics of interest to be explored and shared. The possibilities are endless.

I personally find it so helpful to be able to talk to peers about different issues, and I am guessing that our members who participate do as well. The CPA Center of Excellence® Online Community also allows for the opportunity to ask questions and share knowledge with your peers outside of these occasional group meetings. When you use the online community, it may be people you know, but sometimes its people you don’t even know. Either way, the knowledge shared is invaluable.

Don’t be afraid to get involved in peer groups, networks, online communities or whatever forum is comfortable for you and ask questions and share your knowledge. Take advantage of what the Society and the CPA Center of Excellence® offers to help enhance your skills, broaden your horizons and ultimately advance your career. It’s a great way to learn something new!