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. 

Now is the time to be a CPA

May 8, 2017By Lisa Brown, CPA, CGMABlog, Innovation, Technology

I’m a big fan of the TV show, Shark Tank, so I was curious when I came across Lindsay Patterson’s blog, “That Time I Told Mark Cuban He Was Wrong About the CPA Profession.“ Cuban was speaking at the SXSW Conference and Festival and stated, “we’ll see more technological advances over the next 10 years than we have over the last 30.”

In an effort to describe how technology will change the most desirable jobs and skill sets and how important critical thinking will be in the future, Cuban says, “I wouldn’t want to be a CPA right now. I wouldn’t want to be an accountant right now.” Lindsay not only had the opportunity to explain to the public how Cuban did not understand how the CPA profession is already embracing technology, but she was actually able to explain to Cuban, himself, how wrong he was about the CPA profession. She even has a picture to prove it!

There are so many ways technology is impacting the CPA profession that it is mind-boggling to reflect back on the days when creating a spreadsheet in Lotus 1-2-3 seemed like cutting edge technology. Patterson writes about how today’s technology automates many functions which now free CPAs to perform higher value services, services which require specialized knowledge and critical thinking skills. 

Blockchain, FinTech and Artificial Intelligence would have been considered science fiction not so long ago. In fact, I had not even heard of Blockchain and FinTech until fairly recently. Today, these are technologies in which the CPA profession is strategizing on how to incorporate and utilize. FinTech is an entire industry of technologies used and applied in (or disruptive to) the financial services sector. The March 2017 edition of CFO Magazine features the articles, “Betting on Blockchain” by Randy Myers and “How Auditing Will Incorporate AI” by Bill Brennan, Michael Baccala and Mike Flynn.

According to Meyers, blockchain is a type of distributed ledger that is shared by many users over a peer-to-peer computer network. Each “block” of data is built on the block that came before it, ensuring a complete, highly transparent, audit-able trail of information on an ever-growing blockchain that cannot be changed or altered. In 2016, venture capitalists funded $1 to $1.5 billion of capital into blockchain and bitcoin companies. A survey of 200 commercial and retail banks found that by 2018, nine out of 10 will have invested in blockchain solutions for deposit-taking. Other finance applications include elimination of reconciliation, streamlining of settlement activities, facilitating supply chain financing and optimizing and unlocking liquidity.

Brennan, Baccala and Flynn report that artificial intelligence can assist auditors by acquiring, processing and churning through the mountains of data that a business‘s financial reporting systems generate. AI can make it possible to move toward auditing 100% of data instead of sampling. This will allow auditors to study the totality of a business and provide assurance service through thoughtful examination and exercise of judgment, again the specialized knowledge and critical thinking skills possessed by CPAs.

I’m excited to learn more about these and other technologies and see how they’ll be utilized in the CPA profession in the future. Lindsay was right; Cuban was wrong. This is an incredibly exciting time to be a CPA!

The War for Talent

April 4, 2017By Stephanie Parton, CAE, INCPAS Director – Marketing CommunicationsArticle, Blog, Innovation, Talent Management and People


Across the country, high school seniors are donning caps and gowns for graduation. Many will head off to college in the fall, full of hope for a bright future. Through the help of family, teachers and counselors, they have decided on a major which will determine the career they will enter into for the rest of their professional life.

Pretty simple, right?

Not so fast. Landing your dream job right out of college and sticking with it throughout your career is a thing of the past.

Only 14 percent of U.S. workers believe they have the perfect job and more than half want to change careers, according to a 2013 Harris Poll.

Making the Career Change

Deciding to make a career change is a huge decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are many risks to consider including the cost of going back to school, juggling a full-time job, and maintaining work-life balance while pursuing a new degree and career.

Robert Reynolds, CPA, CGMA, made a career switch in his early 30s. He went from manager of a convenience store to director and shareholder with Brady Ware.

“I finally found my calling, public accounting, at the tender age of 31,” Reynolds explained. “After obtaining my associate degree in business administration, I embarked on my journey to real adulthood as a mid-level manager for Stop-N-Go. Needless to say, the 24/7 retail environment lost its appeal after a few years, and in my late 20s, I found myself still struggling to determine just what I wanted to be when I grew up.

“A wise person I knew at the time spoke of the career opportunities available in accounting, and since I enjoyed working with numbers, I enrolled at Wright State University in the fall of 1985 as an accounting major and the rest is history,” he added. IU Health Ball Memorial Director of Finance Bettie Caldwell CPA, CGMA, also made the career change switch after reflecting on her long-term goals.

“I was a mid-life career–changer, having worked as a registered respiratory therapist in the hospital setting for over 15 years,” said Caldwell. “A family move to a new job market prompted me to re-evaluate what I wanted to do with my remaining 25 plus years of work life. I was primed for a challenge and a change, and found what I was looking for in the CPA profession. Eventually my career as a CPA led me full circle back to the healthcare setting, but this time as a director of finance for a large hospital system.”

“I was primed for a challenge and a change, and found what I was looking for in the CPA profession,” Bettie Caldwell, CPA, CGMA, a mid-life career changer.

Desire for Change

While not everyone who wants to change careers will actually make the decision to go through with a switch, a significant portion of the American workforce would like to do so.

Nearly 80 percent of workers in their 20s said they wanted to change careers, followed by 64 percent of 30-somethings and 54 percent in their 40s according to the Harris Poll.

“I just wasn’t thinking long-term about my career,” explains Mary Milner, staff accountant at Baden Gage & Schroeder LLC. “I didn’t really know myself well enough at age 19 to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So I got a job in the real estate industry. I did leasing and a little bit of sales and customer service, putting out fires, conflict resolution. It was great experience and I did that for seven or eight years.

“There were a lot of things about it that I enjoyed but it just wasn’t where I wanted to be for my career,” she continued. “After a while I started doing some soul-searching. I found that all the things I enjoyed doing in real estate had to do with accounting. That was kind of my light bulb that maybe I should be doing this.”

Milner recognized her decision to go back to school and pursue an accounting degree was a risk.

“It was a big risk to say OK, I’m going to go back to school, I’m going to take out more student loans,” she said. Milner said she decided to make the commitment and take the risk knowing it would pay off in the long run. Quitting was not an option for her.

“It’s a whole different experience trying to go to school when you already have a full time job and I was starting a family,” she said. “And it leaves no time for anything because every free moment is spent studying. Looking for a job was probably the scariest part. I was unsure how to navigate that more so than just deciding to go back to school. It was almost a full time job looking for a full time job.”

Enter the CPA Profession

INCPAS President & CEO Gary Bolinger, CAE wrote about career changers entering the CPA profession in a post “The ‘War’ for Talent” on the Society’s blog I Was Just Thinkin’.

“Career changers are going to end up somewhere in the workforce,” Bolinger wrote. “It might as well be the CPA profession. A lot of these people have got the perspective and talent to be significant contributors in the profession. If we want to leverage this trend, the profession (which includes firms, corporate accounting departments, colleges and universities, and accounting associations and societies that serve the profession) needs to reassess recruitment. Are we willing to accept the need to aggressively recruit talent in places that we have never looked before? The places to start are the ‘career changer’ marketplace and the non-traditional student marketplace.”

Nontraditional Students

There are more than 17.6 million undergraduates enrolled in American higher education. The National Center for Education Statistics reports 38 percent of those enrolled in higher education are over the age of 25 and one-fourth are over the age of 30. The share of all students who are over age 25 is projected to increase another 23 percent by 2019.
“More seasoned candidates can bring a perspective on business and the role of being a professional to an organization that rests on a foundation built through real life and work experiences,” says Reynolds. “All I can say is at 31, I know I was a much better listener than I was at 21. At 31, I was more patient than I was at 21. I certainly was more thoughtful and empathetic at 31, than 21. I feel these traits and my journey not only allowed me to advance my career, but they contributed greatly in helping me become a trusted advisor to clients.”

Purdue University Northwest Department of Accounting Head Ed Furticella says nontraditional students are faced with challenges traditional students might not face.
“The speed of the course work can also be challenging for the nontraditional students,” he said. “Especially the students who are balancing work and family commitments. They are worried about balancing work, life and school. They worry about getting behind in class and typically, these are the students that will drop a class if they don’t think they’re doing well.”
Once Milner made the commitment to go back to school for her accounting degree, her concern shifted to what would happen after graduation.

“I was afraid as a job candidate that the people interviewing me would have concerns about it,” said Milner. “I was afraid they would have concerns and say ‘why did you go back to school, why are you at this age and you’re just starting out, why did you go to school online.’ What I found was that I had more anxiety about it than they did. They just wanted to understand. They wanted to know my story. I was afraid it was going to be a problem and it wasn’t.

“I think the first step begins with the people in charge of hiring having an open mind and seeing the value people can bring when they’ve had different experiences,” Milner continued. “When they look at a résumé, if they’ve been in a different profession, don’t automatically discount them. I think I got lucky here that’s what Baden Gage did. They didn’t discount me because I didn’t have accounting experience.”

Bold Challenge

One of the four “bold challenges” created by the Indiana CPA Society Board of Directors is to “Build bridges to the profession …” and one of the bridges must be the bridge for nontraditional students.

“We tend to focus our energies on current high school and traditional college students as potential future CPAs,” said Caldwell. “We value the longevity and new ideas that youth brings with it, but more mature candidates have their own advantages. When I returned to the hospital as a CPA, I brought with me my previous work experience and understanding of how a hospital operates, as well as the appreciation for the hospital culture and our ‘patients first’ focus.” The Society is working on reaching nontraditional students and encouraging them to pursue a new career in the CPA profession.

“Nearly every day I receive a phone call from a person considering a career change or wanting more information about the CPA designation, specifically the process applying and sitting for the CPA Exam,”said INCPAS Director — Diversity & Outreach Ali Paul. “They are often relieved to learn that depending on their previous college education, only a handful of additional classes may be needed to meet the 150-hour requirement in Indiana.”

The Society’s Diversity Advisory Council is developing a new toolkit to help career changers and nontraditional students better navigate the pathways to becoming CPAs. The goal is to help make the process as clear as possible and give candidates a better idea of what they can expect as they enter this profession. Career changers bring so much experience to the table and when you think about the core competencies of a CPA (Communications, Leadership, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Anticipating and Serving Evolving Needs, Synthesizing Intelligence to Insight, Integration and Collaboration) these are skills that career changers have been developing for years, allowing them to really hit the ground running upon entering the CPA profession.

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?

#9: Innovate

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

Relish change and embrace the opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Not a Secret

November 13, 2016By Jennifer Briggs, CAEBlog, Innovation

The difference between most successful people and others is not a secret. They do things. That’s right. They. Do. Things.

Before they are ready, when they don’t know if they should, when other people aren’t sure it’s a good idea, when it hasn’t already been proven, or even when they are scared. This is what I tell my kids and what I tell the people I work with.

Can this be dangerous advice? Yes. But, too many times in my life I have seen people become experts in a field or achieve something remarkable by jumping in and doing. Not talking about doing. But actually doing it. (No, this isn’t a sly ad for Nike, but they were on to something with that Just Do It campaign.)

In October at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., the Indiana CPA Society received one of the highest honors in the association world, an American Society of Association Executives Power of A Summit Award for our CPA Center of Excellence®, praising it for its ingenuity, collaboration and focus on the future. This great video that ASAE produced and showed at the event does a nice job of telling our story.

We received the award because of the work we’ve done in trying to transform the education model for CPAs and other professionals. We had no idea what we were doing when we started on this journey back in 2010. We held focus groups and changed paths as we went along. We recruited volunteers and asked them to do very hard work. We questioned our own motives, actions, strategies and common sense all while continuing to DO.

Foolish? Maybe. Incredibly frustrating? You bet. Exciting? Definitely. If I could go back and do some things differently I would, but in hindsight aren’t we all a little bit more genius? I’m glad we pushed through. The CPA Center of Excellence® wants to change how we talk about learning and competency, where we put our priorities (on learning, not on time sitting in a seat) and, most importantly for me, the CPA Center of Excellence® is focused on the needs of individual people. What they need to learn and how we can make that easier and better. The vital skills we started with – Leadership, Networking, Decision-making, Communications, Critical Thinking and Entrepreneurship – do not have to be hard wired in to someone for them to become accomplished.

As a rule, organizations seek out those who are naturally gifted in these areas and ignore these needs in everyone else. This leaves so much potential on the table. Will everyone in your organization become a master communicator or strategist? Probably not, but can some people, when given a chance to focus outside of the technical aspects of their job, improve and adapt and ask better questions? Undeniably, the answer is yes. When we don’t give people as many opportunities as we can to DO, we suffer the consequences in a lack of needed skills, in competitive “talent wars,” and in an absence of innovation.

We know there’s much more for us to accomplish, we know some aren’t thrilled about our experimentation, and frankly we aren’t attracting the volume of participation we want. But what we have achieved so far is remarkable as is what we’ve learned. It’s the kind of learning that lasts, the learning that comes from doing.

We look forward to what’s ahead and we thank ASAE, the Power of A Summit Awards Steering Committee, our Board of Directors, the CPA Center of Excellence® Board of Directors, our volunteers, and our outstanding staff.

CPAs Want More Online Learning and Non-Technical Skills Training

February 18, 2016By Dave ShatkowskiInnovation, Learning and Career Development

The CPA Center of Excellence® recently conducted a survey of nearly 700 Indiana CPAs to gauge their learning preferences and the skills they need to enhance. The results further validate the growing need for online, interactive competency-based learning, soft skills assessment and development, and collaboration — the foundation on which the CPA Center of Excellence® was established in 2014.

“The survey results confirm what we’ve known to be true for some time now,” said Indiana CPA Society President & CEO Gary Bolinger, CAE. “First, that mastery of non-technical skills is critical for current and future CPAs. Second, the current hours-based system of education is outdated and not meeting CPAs’ needs. And third, CPAs want options for professional development and need help mapping out those plans.”

First, that mastery of non-technical skills is critical for current and future CPAs. Second, the current hours-based system of education is outdated and not meeting CPAs’ needs. And third, CPAs want options for professional development and need help mapping out those plans.

Most-desired personal skills
In terms of specific skills necessary to them personally, communication was first at 23 percent, with critical thinking second at 19 percent, problem-solving third at 18 percent, leadership fourth at 17 percent and analytical fifth at 16 percent. Among new hires, the skills most lacking were critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, analytical and leadership.

How employers handle soft skills
A related question asked how the CPA’s employer addressed the need to develop non-technical (soft) skills. Nearly 45 percent indicated their employer believes this education should be included within their continuing professional education requirements, while another 20 percent offer to pay for this training in addition to other continuing professional education. At the present time, CPAs in Indiana are required to obtain 120 hours of training every three years.

Professional development plans
Three other questions dealt with professional development plans. More than 62 percent said they do not currently have a plan, and nearly 65 percent would like resources to help develop one. Of those that do have a plan, only 44 percent said that their skills development is assessed.

Training needs
In terms of specific types of training, 75 percent of respondents said they need technical accounting, auditing and tax education as expected. But more than 40 percent (respondents could choose multiple types of education) said they also needed non-technical education such as leadership, critical thinking and communications training. And 13 percent indicated that they needed ethics training as well.

Competency-based learning
More than 35 percent of respondents agreed a shift to competency-based education for CPAs is needed, while only 16 percent disagreed. Nearly 50 percent said more information was needed to form an opinion. The Indiana CPA Society and the CPA Center of Excellence® have been leaders in the movement toward a competency-based continuing professional education system for CPAs. A competency-based approach simply means that competency must be demonstrated in order for a participant to advance through or complete a course.

“I like to learn at my own pace. When doing online learning, I am required to focus and learn. In a class setting, it is easier to just be physically present and not get much out of the class.”

Classroom and device training preferences
Classroom training was the top choice among CPAs for a learning environment; however, nearly 30 percent said they are most successful in online webinars while over 20 percent said they are successful in online self-study. These online education percentages are believed to be higher than in prior years. As far as devices used for online education, the laptop was used most, followed by a desktop, tablet and smartphone.

Most effective group sizes
Two questions addressed learning group size. Larger groups were the preference for both classroom and online learning. In a classroom environment, 93 percent preferred class sizes of 10 or more. In an online environment, 81 percent preferred groups of at least that size as well.

Formal vs. informal settings
When asked simply about their preferences between formal and informal settings for learning, nearly 64 percent of respondents preferred informal settings. And in terms of learning formats, an interactive format was the top vote-getter, followed by lecture and experiential.

“Formal is too restricted. There are often good ideas by the participants in classroom CPE, and they can offer valuable insight at times. A combination of lecture and interactive is best,” said one survey respondent. Another commented, “Informal settings usually allow for more participation and knowledge sharing of participants.”

A third respondent provided a perspective that contrasts competency-based learning with the current hours-based model: “I like to learn at my own pace. When doing online learning, I am required to focus and learn. In a class setting, it is easier to just be physically present and not get much out of the class.”


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!

Your staff has no value. Unless …

February 2, 2016By Gary Bolinger, CAEBlog, Innovation

That’s right, your staff has no value.  Unless …

You know this to be true.  It has been true for decades.  And seasoned professionals talk about it just about all the time.  But, it seems more important today than ever.  More important because of the complex world that we are all operating in.  Because of challenges that are unique to the time we live in.  Maybe it’s because of this VUCA world we all try to make sense of.  You know VUCA … a “buzz acronym” in my judgment.  But the reality is that we are facing unprecedented complexity and volatility.

So … unless what?

Unless they (and you) have a strong command of the “core competencies.”  You know, those vital skills that all CPAs should have.  Yes, the “soft skills.”  Actually, I hate that label.  Soft skills.  Are you kidding me?  Soft?  I wrote a blog about it some time ago (March 2013): Why Are the Soft Skills So Hard?

A couple years later (last November), another blog appeared on SmartBlog on Leadership: Let’s face it. Soft skills are hard .  Very similar message and an admonition “It’s time that we face it. ‘Soft’ skills can’t be learned in a once-a-year breakout session. They deserve attention, investment, energy, and focus repeatedly and over time.”

Here is the deal.  No one cares how good your command of technical skills is unless …

  • you have outstanding communication skills, and …
  • your leadership skills combined with those communication skills allow you and your colleagues to collaborate in the most effective manner, and …
  • you and your staff possess the best critical thinking and analytical skills in order to make the most reasonable and effective decisions.

So, you see, without the “soft skills,” you have no value.

Another recent blog entitled CFOs-In-Waiting: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There perhaps says it best. “The ability to crank through financial statements and reporting are table stakes.”

So make sure that you and your entire professional staff INVEST in tools, engage in learning and commit to development of those vital skills – core competencies – to ensure that you have value and maintain relevance to clients, employers and colleagues.

Do you really listen? Really?

December 24, 2015By Jess Halverson BowyerBlog, Critical Thinking and Non-Technical Skills, Innovation

It always seems that the best answers are the simplest ones, even if a simple concept can be hard to achieve in practice.

Case in point: Communication skills. We talk a lot about communication skills when we talk about CPA core competencies, as communication is at the root of what a CPA does. Communicating with clients as public accountant, communicating with internal stakeholders as a CPA within an organization, communicating in writing and in person — it’s at the core of the many actions you take throughout the day.

As we’re all busy this time of year, I wanted to give you the gift of time and tell you I can sum up communication skills with one word: listening.

Simple idea? Yes. Simple to pull off? Eh… You tell me. When was the last time you had a conversation in which you felt you were truly listening or being listened to? When was the last time you talked with someone when she didn’t look at her phone at all during your conversation? When was the last time someone looked you in the eye, instead of just waiting for their next opportunity to speak?

I have a friend who is a wonderful listener. She is so good at it, when I first got to know her it was a little alarming. I’m used to having to teach myself to butt into a group conversation get my ideas heard, being a bit of an introvert. When I enter an important conversation with someone louder, older or with more experience than me, my adrenaline spikes so I’m ready to find a way to jump into those conversations. And when I met my friend Cassie, I almost had to teach myself to become accustomed to her peacefulness and ability to listen without trying to tell me what she thinks I should do in a situation or without immediately rebutting my comments. So just from personal experience talking with Cassie I’d like to point out: When someone truly listens to you, YOU FEEL AMAZING. I’m not speaking in hyperbole here as is so in vogue. Being listened to with someone’s full attention makes a person feel warm, secure, valuable, and probably even smarter and more attractive. Don’t you wish you could make all of your clients or coworkers feel like that? Or at least the ones you like?

While listening is an essential concept, we know that we could all use a little practice. It’s not a fault to you (or me) — it’s hard to really focus on someone else’s words when we have that buzzer of a smartphone hanging around making us worry that we’re missing something important. It can be difficult to make someone feel listened to when in this world of immediacy and information overload we can’t remember the last time we focused for an hour on one thing. We’re out of practice. It’s ok. Me too.

I’d like to challenge you, and myself, to start today with listening. For a wee bit of inspiration check out William Ury’s TED talk on listening. For my part, I’m just going to work on being a little bit more like Cassie this year and see where it takes me.