CPAs Who Innovate: What box?

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

Role of the CFO Continues to Evolve

June 26, 2017By John Minnich, CPAChanging Role of the CPA, The Changing Role of the CPA

Colleagues routinely ask about my transition from public accounting to a role that combines business operations and education. Serving as CFO at Concordia Lutheran High School continues to fascinate me and allows the opportunity to bring together my experiences with accounting, business, education, nonprofits and technology. For those whom might have an interest in serving as CFO someday, it’s important to understand how the responsibilities overlap yet differ from the controller.

The role of the CFO continues to evolve from having financial acumen to complementing it with business operations, strategic planning and innovation. A thirst for knowledge along with having respect for your teammates makes the journey rewarding! This starts with having an understanding of and appreciation for positions. It’s all part of that expanded role in business that CPAs must embrace, which is addressed in the INCPAS 2025 document.

Controllers, serving a management function, have the responsibility for accounting and record keeping of an organization from a historical perspective. They ensure that established policies are followed and are responsible for financial and regulatory compliance. Depending on the size of the organization, additional duties can include coordination of audits, human resources, insurance, management of information technology, and tax reporting including federal income and sales.

CFOs similarly have financial responsibility yet have a more encompassing function. Using a forward-looking and big-picture approach, they review financial statements to gain perspectives on past performance. CFOs analyze information and work closely with operations and management to develop and implement strategy for the organization to achieve its goals. They serve as stewards, play a key role in operations, help influence the future direction of the company as business leaders and strategists, and act as catalysts driving process improvements and innovations that add value to the company.

A CFO can no longer rely on number crunching and spreadsheets alone as the demands rapidly change. According to an article from Business Insider, CFOs must possess these nine skills:

  1. CFOs must become analytics wizards.
  2. CFOs must manage an increasing amount of risk.
  3. CFOs must adapt to new technology.
  4. CFOs must become better at managing people.
  5. The CFO of the future must guide decisions in a politically charged atmosphere.
  6. CFOs must manage big data as a large part of business operations.
  7. CFOs will make effective decisions with analytics from outside of the enterprise.
  8. CFOs need to understand business drivers and the underlying non-financial information that drives the financials of their company.
  9. Hiring decisions will become a major part of the job for future CFOs. They will need to drive talent acquisition and retention.

In a recent Forbes article, “Three Ways to be a More Strategic CFO,” a discussion centers around what it takes to succeed as a CFO today. Three takeaways:

  1. CFOs must have a passion for and deep understanding of the organization along with intellectual curiosity.
  2. CFOs should have the attitude and aptitude to properly balance risk and reward.
  3. CFOs should be visible working in teams as business partners.

I thoroughly enjoy my new opportunity and absolutely relish collaborating with colleagues whom have expertise in each of their areas. For aspiring CFOs, I hope this helps paint a picture for you. A few months ago, I shared an article, “Teamwork Key to Successful Business Office,” regarding the importance of teamwork and collaboration. During my career, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with and learn from what seems an infinite number of talented colleagues at several organizations. As I continue to acclimate with Concordia (having joined in June 2016), I value our teammates with whom I serve. Everyone brings a unique and diverse skill set to each team as they play their positions. We have a very dedicated team of faculty and staff. I certainly have much to learn from an institution rich with history, culture and knowledge, and I look forward to advancing our mission together!

How Management Accountants Innovate

June 12, 2017By Rebekah Payne, CPAChanging Role of the CPA, Innovation

Innovation is a top priority for the CPA profession. Gary Bolinger discussed innovation at this year’s Professional Issues Update and INCPAS just released its white paper on innovation. And, in recent months, there have been several posts related to innovation on the CPA Center of Excellence® Online Community. It’s imperative for CPAs in public accounting and industry to embrace and influence innovation within their organizations.

Several articles have been published this year on innovation within accounting firms, specifically Big Four firms. Some of these ideas include cognitive computing, big data analytics, surveyor drones for inventory observation, and machine learning technology. Many published examples of innovation in the CPA profession are occurring within public accounting.

So what about CPAs in industry? How can CPAs in management accounting positions (e.g. CFO, controller) influence innovation within their organizations? Innovation requires an investment that translates into cost. A management accountant will have significant involvement in “crunching the numbers” for innovation. This may include building cash flow models, budgeting costs, allocating resources and advising on financing. But focusing solely on these traditional responsibilities of a management accountant wouldn’t be innovative.

How else do management accountants influence innovation? A CGMA Report issued by the AICPA and CIMA provides deeper insight into managing innovation. This report identifies the following areas where management accountants can influence and support a more innovative business.

  1. Create an innovation mindset: Fostering a culture that encourages innovation has to start with leadership at the top, including CFOs. CFOs can help develop incentives to encourage employees to be innovative. CFOs can also help determine the proper metrics to utilize based on a project’s stage.
  1. Nurture creativity: “The goal of operational excellence is to drive businesses toward certainty, while the goal of promoting innovation requires a high tolerance of uncertainty, ambiguity and constant change,” according to the report. CFOs will need to assist companies with adapting financial processes and metrics to align with the stage of each project. Financial measurements for projects in the early stage will most likely be more relaxed than at a later stage. 
  1. Prepare the path to profit: In this area, CFOs will perform some of their traditional responsibilities. Innovation takes those responsibilities to the next level as CFOs need to move from being viewed as a constraint on innovation (saying “no”) to becoming a valued contributor (helping assess “how”). CFOs are essential in managing both projects and risk.
  1. Match metrics to the stage of development: CFOs will need to help create “stage gates” through which each idea can be challenged and refined to prepare for the next stage of investment. As discussed above, part of this process will involve tailoring metrics to each stage of a project.
  1. Take a balanced view on risk across the innovation portfolio: Portfolio management is crucial for a company’s sustainability, and CFOs play a vital role in this process. Management of the innovation portfolio includes defining and understanding a company’s strategy and risk appetite, strategically managing risk, and building both tangible and intangible risks into strategies.

The areas above identify several examples of how management accountants can support and influence innovation within their companies. Are there other examples of innovation that you have observed in your company or clients?

Interested in learning more about innovation in the CPA Profession? Read the Indiana CPA Society’s innovation white paper at this link. 

The Transition – What I’ve Learned in a Year

May 15, 2017By Rachel Smith, CPABlog, Changing Role of the CPA

Last year, I made the transition from public accounting to private corporate accounting. The time has flown by since then and I’ve learned a lot of things along the way. Here are a few of them …

First, CPAs and other accountants work hard. Being in public accounting previously, I have to admit – I felt superior to my friends in private. I thought I worked harder or was somehow better than them. I’ve learned this year that’s not true! I’ve found private accounting to be just as intense and challenging as public. We may not have a tax season on this side, but we do have month ends and year end to keep us on our toes.

Second, we all know tax season is a beast – but it’s prepared me well. However, the work intensity, longevity and challenge had prepared me well to handle our month end close and get through year end. I have colleagues who started in private accounting right out of college, and some struggle with this. As for me, after getting through multiple tax seasons – I feel like I can do anything.

Third, community involvement and leadership are important. In public accounting, we are encouraged and sometimes required to serve in the community and take advantage of various leadership opportunities. Starting in public created a base for me to continue this with my lifelong career along with other CPAs. Although some are involved in private accounting, I don’t see an abundance of this. I am currently serving on the Indiana CPA Society’s Leadership Cabinet, which gives me the opportunity to be involved and connected with both sides of the profession – private and public. This piece of my career boasts my engagement and purpose.

Finally, one of the best decisions I ever made was becoming a CPA. This has remained true. Whether I’m in public or private, the opportunities for me as a CPA are amazing. So many doors have been opened. Being able to have continuing education throughout the year is an asset to my career. Being involved in the Indiana CPA Society and being connected to other individuals dedicated to ethics, growth and bringing value to clients and employers is wonderful. These relationships have profoundly impacted my career as a CPA.

Friends in public and private – what do you think? Have you ever had made the transition? What are some things you’ve learned? It’s been a fulfilling and exciting journey for me, and I look forward to seeing others share their experiences. Based on what I’ve experienced so far, I can’t wait to see what the future holds!

Do You Know How Blockchain is Changing Business?

April 3, 2017By Jason Bainter, CPABlog, Changing Role of the CPA, Innovation, Technology

If you don’t know what blockchain is, you should because it is going to change the way all businesses transact financial information in the future.

Blockchain is widely known as the technology that underpins bitcoin, but it is a lot more than just bitcoin. Blockchain is the technology that backs distributed ledger technology, which is a trusted way to track the ownership of assets without the need for a central authority. As a result, it could speed up transactions and cut costs while lowering the chance of fraud, according to an article in CIO Journal.

Per Business Insider, blockchains are basically ledgers that accept inputs from a host of different parties. The ledgers can only be changed if all parties consent. These ledgers can be shared publicly. They are housed on servers, or nodes, which maintain the entries (known as blocks) and every node sees the transaction data stored in the blocks when created. Since these blocks are publicly shared, there is no central authority to approve the transactions. The ledgers and underlying databases are immutable and irreversible. The date can’t be revised or tampered with even by database operators. The distributed nature of the network requires that the computer servers reach a consensus, which allows for transactions to occur between unknown parties. The software behind blockchain is written so that no conflicting or double transactions can be written in the data set and thus, transactions can occur automatically.

So what does all of this mean? In basic terms, let’s take a personal transaction and break it down. Let’s say that you have a child in daycare and every week, you have to pay the daycare for the services they provide. You write a check and update your checkbook ledger, or do you? The daycare provider deposits the check and updates their checkbook ledger. But things could go wrong. Although you wrote the check, you just picked your child up and they are excited to see you and tell you about their day. So you go off to hear about their day, but wait, you forgot to update your check register for that check you just wrote. And your bank doesn’t know immediately upon you writing that check if you have enough funds in the account to cover that check.

With blockchain, instead of two separate checkbook registers with debits and credits, both you and the daycare would both be looking at the same ledger of transactions. It’s private (encrypted) and decentralized, so neither one of you control the ledger. Since the ledger is decentralized, you both can look at the ledger and each transaction is put into a “block.” Then if you and the daycare provider validate that block of information, it’s added to a chain. That chain is then protected by a sophisticated cryptography, and no one can change the chain after it is created. In this way, you know how much is left in your bank account and your bank immediately knows if there are funds in your account to cover the check. The transaction is instantaneous and there is no more “float.” Also, because of these chains, there is no longer any additional work on the daycare provider’s part on having to issue year-end statements for taxes because you would now have the availability to look at the chain to see your annual payments. Do you think this would assist in year-end tax planning?

Although blockchain is in its infancy, it is quickly gathering speed among financial institutions, trading companies and the health care industry. There are still challenges to overcome such as regulation, cost and security issues. However, financial institutions are big proponents of moving this forward as they see this as a huge cost cutting method by removing back office staff that have to approve trades and transfers.

As this system develops, clients are going to be utilizing these blockchains, and CPAs must keep up-to-date on this technology in order to audit the system. However, based on the premise of this technology, our audit procedures could be reduced or eliminated because there really would no longer be a reason to confirm A/R, contracts or bank accounts. That would all be within the chain of transactions validated by each party.

How do you think your clients could benefit from this technology?

#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. 

#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

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.


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.


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. 

Three Tactical Steps to Destroy Information Overload and Become Infomagical

February 16, 2016By Jess Halverson BowyerBlog, Changing Role of the CPA, Innovation

Learn for me. Not for them.

This is my new information mantra. It’s what I declared after cutting my feelings of burnout in half and learning how to learn despite a busy schedule and daily distractions.

Keep reading, and I’ll tell you how to in three steps. 

This sounds clickbait-y, but it’s true. What better skill to have today than the ability to combat your own information overload? How many hours do you lose from constant notifications, emails, headlines and the stress of feeling like we can’t keep up with it all? In order to be excellent public service providers, with the ability to synthesize all of the data that is available into true insights, I would argue CPAs and others involved in this data and knowledge-based economy need to build the essential skills of skewering information overwhelm by creating a personal system and mantra of focus and attention to serve their clients and organizations.

I was lucky enough to have my five-day journey spurred on by a great podcast — WYNC’s Note to Self by Manoush Zomorodi.

Note to Self is a lively and self-aware podcast about our real lives with tech. Things I’ve learned from the podcast so far include: the reason Two Dots is so addictive, how to get organized using principles of neuroscience, and how to cut photo clutter. Then they launched the Infomagical project.

For a week, Manoush (purposely using her first name, because that’s how close I feel we are after this experience) and her team prompted listeners with information overload reduction tasks, with the purpose of achieving one of five goals of your choice. For my quest, I chose to learn more about a certain subject over the week. As a lifelong learning addict, I never feel like I have enough time to learn everything I want to, so I thought it would be telling if I saw results.
And the crazy thing is, I really did.

The tasks for the week weren’t huge commitments, but they challenged me to think about how much control I could have over my time if I didn’t sacrifice it to distraction and the internet. Monday I tried to single task (#jessfail). Tuesday I was told to clear the clutter from my phone and computer desktop. Then there was avoiding a meme or trend all day, having a seven-minute long conversation on one topic, and lastly, creating your personal mantra.

How did this play out in real life? Essentially, I was teaching myself that whenever I wanted to be entertained by my phone, I would use that time to learn about my topic. I was also structuring my environment to encourage myself to focus on the task at hand (because structuring your environment is 80 percent of the battle). I was connecting with people more. And, if any of these tactics failed, I had my mantra to remind myself why I love information and technology in the first place — to learn what I want to learn, not read whatever someone else is pushing. Let’s face it, the internet can be a drug.  

After five days, I’m a believer. I’ve cleared a learning hurdle in my quest — not knowing where to start. After revisiting my focus every day, the consistency made what I needed to learn clear. I’m now closer to doing that.

This is the same strategy we all need to employ at work to synthesize intelligence and data into insight. Without that level of depth and focus, it’s hard to reach any level close to qualifying as insight.

I’ve boiled down my experience into the three main tactics for destroying information overload. They are:

  1. Strategically eliminate distractions from your environment.
    Think about what distracts you and create a plan that allows you to avoid stimuli until you have time for it. Our human nature is programmed to react to the most stimulating experiences, and you never know what’s behind that next notification bubble, right? What if it’s important?! Remove your notification bubbles from your apps, hide the apps that cause you problems, reduce clutter in general and keep tabs to a minimum and your email closed when you really need to focus. It takes 23 minutes to refocus after becoming distracted. Give yourself the gift of uninterrupted blocks of time when you have an important project or deadline, and let your coworkers know you are doing it and when you’ll next be available. Maybe they will follow your example.
  2. Use your intermittent time.
    The number one thing I learned in this experience? I actually DO have the time I need, if I use it properly. You would be amazed how much time you can find redirecting energy from when you would usually be checking Facebook or Instagram or reading the latest headlines. Instead, use that time you are already standing around looking at your phone to do tasks that require short bursts of attention, like answering emails, reading that one article you really need to, or making the quick phone call to catch up. I heard a great interview on the Harvard Business Review’s Ideacast podcast with Neil deGrasse Tyson where he’s asked, essentially, how do you do it all? He talks about using all of that intermittent time. Does this mean you can never have fun again? No, but have fun doing something fun when it’s time. Listen to audio books or podcasts on your drive to work. Read an actual book on the bus or the train. Using my intermittent time, I feel less stressed because I know I’m on top of everything, and when it’s time to relax I can actually relax.
  3. Create your mantra.
    We are all human. Sometimes humans are weak. Create a mantra for yourself to chant when you are more prone to distraction (usually when we are tired or overwhelmed). It’s ok if we need to trick ourselves to focus. Too much of today’s stimuli is designed to work towards our baser desires and away from our best interests.

Give yourself the gift being less overwhelmed. You’re not imagining it — the amount of information we consume, and more so the way we consume, is different than ever before. Take back your data consumption, and use these strategies to help you create true insights in your life and work. Use the knowledge for your goals. What’s your mantra?

Note to Self  is continuing to run it’s Infomagical project for as long as there is demand. You can sign up online and start next week. Have fun!