This issue of Generational Viewpoints features two individuals from Anderson ZurMuehlen & Co. PC, a multi-office firm based in Helena, Mont., with 240 employees. Generation X senior software engineer Luke Muszkiewicz, born in 1978, and Baby Boomer shareholder Kevin Kelley, born in 1949, shared their views on the following question: "How important is employee coaching to the success of the firm?"
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MUSZKIEWICZ'S GEN X VIEWPOINT
Coaching is critical, especially for entry- and mid-level employees like me. My sense is that employees of my generation want, first and foremost, challenging work they find interesting and meaningful. Not many would disagree with that in principle, but I think we're more likely to leave the firm, or the profession, if we don't find it. That isn't to say we expect all work to be fun, but if we can do more of the work we find rewarding, we're more likely to do great work, complete it on time, and remain satisfied.
In our firm, the coaching role is distinct from the supervisor and management roles, and that's important because younger employees find it easier to ask questions and solicit honest feedback from someone who's neither focused on immediate client engagements nor ultimately responsible for hiring, firing, promotions and raises. But that doesn't mean that an employee's coach, supervisor and office leadership don't need to be on the same page. I've heard from coworkers who have worked hard with their coach to identify strengths and weaknesses, and set goals accordingly, only to be held accountable by senior leadership based upon a different set of expectations.
Coaching can also be effective in bridging the generational divide. Listening to some, you'd think younger folks just want to soak up promotions and raises while working in their pajamas on their iPads. I'm exaggerating, but I can't help but feel that some senior-level staff have forgotten what it was like to be entry-level. Did they not have different ideas about work and life than their superiors? Coaching offers us an opportunity to fully understand each other's perspective.
The truth is, we expect to work hard, but we might rather work from home a few nights a week, instead of in the office on Saturday morning. We're okay doing what we're told, but we need to understand the context of why it's important and what happens if it's not done that way. And most important, we appreciate clear expectations that, when met, result in increases in responsibility, autonomy and reward.
In our firm, employee coaching and development is taken very seriously. But we must remain diligent, set high expectations for employee growth, re-emphasize best practices, and continually remind ourselves that we're not so different from our superiors after all.
KELLEY'S BABY BOOMER VIEWPOINT
When employees are empowered to positively influence their careers, they're more likely to provide superior client service. Fostering good communication between management, supervisors and staff is the most important aspect of our coaching program, along with our commitment to ongoing professional growth. Three characteristics define our program:
1. Identifying coaches. Not everyone is cut out to be a coach, so identifying the right individuals is crucial. The most valuable coaching is one on one. We use peer-to-peer coaching within work groups to evaluate and direct staff. This involves people who work directly with the individual, managers and the coach to provide input. It's the starting point for developing work plans, setting goals and realizing the firm's goals. All professional staff set goals, and everyone is evaluated and held accountable.
2. Coaches' training and responsibilities. Our program includes an annual kick-off event that brings everyone together in one place for the same information and training. Then coaches meet with their designated individuals to assist them in developing short- and long-term goals and to review prior-year goals. Through regular meetings, coaches provide encouragement, maintain the focus on goals, offer insights on the culture and opportunities for promotions, give feedback, and provide a safe environment to take risks. The coaching process also initiates production work plan budgets and training plans for the year, helping management set the firm's annual budget.
3. Leadership. Our coaching program requires an investment of firm resources to make it successful. The payoff is a better understanding of career path options, improved retention of the best staff, and better leadership development and succession planning.
Sharing knowledge and expertise is vital to building a connected workplace. Many of our shareholders will retire in the next 10 years, so it's critical for us to build a bridge with the next generation and equip them to take on additional challenges. I can see the benefits of a coordinated coaching program that management is committed to and invests in. It's an important part of our success and always a work in progress that offers great hope for the future of the firm.
This column is facilitated and edited by Krista Remer, the Generation X consultant, and Jennifer Wilson, the Baby Boomer co-founder and partner, of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing coaching and training and development firm that specializes in helping leaders achieve success. To have your firm's generational viewpoints considered for a future Accounting Tomorrow column, e-mail them.