Issues from the trenches
With recruiting and retaining top talent a major concern for accounting firms – and with more and of that talent expecting more from their workplaces – human resources issues are popping up all over the profession.

In this installment of the HR Helpline, consultants Tamera Loerzel and Jennifer Wilson of ConvergenceCoaching answer tough HR questions they’ve heard from real firms.
Last-minute lady
Q: My current supervisor seems to wait until the last minute to give me work. She drops it on me and doesn’t seem to care what I have on my plate or how it might impact other priorities I have been given. What is the best way to give feedback about this to her when she’s superior to me?
Last-minute lady (1)
A: First, let’s interpret your supervisor’s behavior hopefully. It is absolutely possible that she isn’t aware of the impact her actions are having on you, so you need to have a check-in conversation with her to let her know.

Then, use our “expectation, observation, inquiry, stop” approach to set up feedback conversations in any direction, even upstream. You can set up the conversation to say, “I wanted to check in with you to share the experience I am having trying to manage last minute assignments. I wasn’t sure if you were aware that when I receive an assignment from you that requires that I drop other work or jobs that I have scheduled, it impacts my ability to keep my commitment to other engagement managers and/or clients. What can we do to better plan between the two of us so I can manage my commitments and not feel like I’m going to disappoint someone because last minute requests come up?”
Last-minute lady (2)
In the conversation, you may discover that your supervisor didn’t realize the impact she is having on you or your other commitments. You may be able to propose a solution that when competing priorities emerge you can ask a question to resolve the conflict, such as “If I say take this rush assignment, I will not be able to complete the other assignment from John by Friday as he requested. How can we work together with John to determine which one is the highest priority and establish a new due date for the other assignment?” or “Can I work on your assignment next week and have it to you by Wednesday so I can meet John’s Friday deadline for the assignment I already have in process?”

Then, put your understanding in writing in a simple e-mail recap to all parties involved. Doing so will clear up any miscommunications that may exist and will ensure accountability to any jointly developed solution.
Mute in meetings
Q: I’m new to supervising and running team meetings. When I hold my monthly meetings with my engagement team to provide updates, identify ways to improve our team effectiveness, processes, and client service or just build rapport and camaraderie in my team, they don’t speak up or provide much feedback in the meeting. How can I encourage more interactivity and discussion in my meetings with my team members?
Mute in meetings (1)
A: None of us likes to hear “crickets” in meetings we’re facilitating. Try these ideas designed to encourage interactivity and elicit feedback in team meetings:

--Publish an agenda and provide it in advance of the meeting. This allows your more introverted members the opportunity to think about the topics before the meeting and come ready to discuss them.

--Ask for feedback on your agenda and rotate facilitators for various topics. Soliciting input on your agenda ahead of the meeting will ensure you address the topics most important to your team. Then, consider asking someone (maybe the originator of the agenda item) to facilitate the discussion on that topic. This will provide a variety of speakers in your meeting, which can increase engagement and interest.
Mute in meetings (2)
--Practice facilitation techniques to solicit input from each member by going around the table and asking for their view or thoughts. Let each person know that you value their input and want them to share their perspectives. Start with those that tend to be the quietest and ask for their insights or feedback. If you’re driving toward a decision, ask each person whether they are in favor or against the matter and why. Go around the table so that each person has an opportunity to speak and be heard. Because you are in a position of authority as the facilitator, plan to share your views last because you want to be sure others can give their input without being swayed or shut down by your point of view.

--Ensure you are truly being open to feedback. When input is provided, be careful to not be defensive or make comments like “We’ve tried that,” which can shut down a meeting. Non-verbal cues like eye-rolling, sighing or tapping your fingers or foot are also sure-fire ways to have meetings where you’re the only one talking!
Help with hiring
Q: Our midsized firm has made some real mistakes with our last few experienced hires, which has resulted in us having to let two of them go because one did not fit culturally and the other did not have the experience we thought he should have as senior. What are some of the essential screening tips to avoid these hiring mistakes?
Help with hiring (1)
A: The first step is to assign specific screening roles to each person involved in screening your experienced candidates to ensure that you don’t all cover the same ground. Define who owns each of the three “must do” screening elements:

1. Determining cultural fit. Ask value-based questions to understand how the individual will fit into your firm culturally. Ask behavioral interview questions that ask the individual to describe different scenarios that they may experience working in your environment and how they might handle them, such as:

--Tell us about a successful team of which you were a member. What made this team successful? How did you contribute to its success? (In this question, you are looking for the degree to which the person takes credit for the success versus sharing credit with others.)

--Share an unsuccessful team on which you were a member. What, if anything, could have made the team successful? (In this question, you are looking for the degree to which the person takes personal responsibility versus blaming others.)

--How do you handle critical feedback? Give us an example of a situation where you received constructive feedback and explain how you handled the situation. (Again, you are looking for the candidate to take personal responsibility and how they incorporated the feedback and got better, versus blaming others.)
Help with hiring (2)
2. Assess technical competence. Ask questions that elicit details to illustrate how this candidate will fit specific job responsibilities and skills they possess. This way, you can better understand how their skills and experiences map to the levels in your firm. Some questions to consider include:

--What five adjectives would others use to describe you?
--Tell me about your experience and the responsibilities entailed in a specific job on their resume. What did you like most about it? What did you like least? How come?
--What skills did you learn or gain in your last role?
--Tell me about common errors you’ve encountered when you review 1120s. How do you address those errors?
--When you self-review 1040s before sending them on to your manager, what are some of the common areas you find errors?
--What was your chargeability in your prior role? How about your realization?
Help with hiring (3)
3. Check references and conduct a background check. Please don’t skip this step! Many people do not check references because they feel that they will not garner any good information. However, the universally answered question “Would you rehire this individual for this role?” can uncover a lot of information with a simple yes or no answer. Also, be sure to look up the candidate on LinkedIn and see what connections you share. These people may be willing to provide informal references not on the candidate’s reference list. Google each candidate to see what comes up. Review each candidate’s social media profiles to learn more about how they position themselves in this more informal setting. And, consider a simple background check which has saved many firms a lot of headache (and heartache).
Troubles with timeliness
Q: I am a client accounting partner and have an issue with a supervisor on our team. I expected this supervisor to meet or exceed our client’s expectations on timeliness for the delivery of their financial statements. Unfortunately, I just received a call from the client stating he hadn’t received his financial statements yet and when he followed up with our supervisor, was told that he hadn’t received the information needed from the client to issue the financial statements. What are some things to consider before discussing my disappointment with this supervisor?
Troubles with timeliness (1)
A. You accomplished the first step by committing to have a conversation with your supervisor! Before you do, try these three ideas:

1. Look to see where you can take responsibility for your disappointment with your supervisor’s performance and what you could have done differently. Often, when we look at why we have disappointment with someone, it’s because we could have been clearer in our expectations up front. For example, did the supervisor know the due date by which to deliver the financial statements? Did you establish a way to return and report the status to you so that you would know if the job was off track during the process? Were the communication protocols for elevating missing information from the client clear? Identifying where you could have been more clear before you have the conversation can help you come to the meeting with a responsible mindset needed to collaborate with your supervisor and look for ways both you and they can do better next time.
Troubles with timeliness (2)
2. Approach the conversation using an “expectation, observation, inquiry” framework: “Our client accounting services team prides ourselves on meeting our clients’ timelines and expectations. I received a call from this particular client who was upset that he hasn’t received his financial statements by the expected date. Can you help me understand what caused the delay?”
Troubles with timeliness (3)
3. Listen to your supervisor’s answer – without speculating or providing your view of possible reasons the delay occurred. Doing so does not elicit your supervisor’s view and will not provide you with the information you need to figure out how to get back on track and identify solutions to prevent this from happening again in the future. Write a brief recap that captures the commitments and by-when dates for both of you to get the current client back on track and any agreements you make for how to prevent the situation from occurring again.
Looking for help?
This column is facilitated and edited by Tamera Loerzel and Jennifer Wilson, partners in ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a leadership and management coaching and consulting firm that specializes in helping leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and its services at

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