In this last article in a series that has explored a number of dimensions of leadership, we'll focus on ways to further develop leaders in your organization by helping your people map their career success.In public accounting and technology, we spend a lot of time producing annual performance appraisals. In these appraisals, we are essentially looking in the rearview mirror to assess what our people have done in the past, and then sharing our thoughts about their accomplishments and areas for improvement. Because most of us are adverse to conflict, the performance appraisal process is perfunctory, and all but the most egregious offenders against firm policy receive at least a "meets requirements" rating on the appraisal itself.

To develop leaders in your practice, I would like to suggest that you consider shifting your labor-intensive, often-ineffective performance appraisal process and adapting a new way of developing your staff. This new way would include making a commitment to acknowledge all staff accomplishments, "good behavior" and "bad behavior" in the moment - when it occurs - and not store it up (or even worse, blow it off) for the magical moment when your firm's performance appraisal will give you the time, insight and courage to share it.

If we all did this, our staff members would be able to honestly say that they know where they stand in their career with our firms. They could focus on making performance improvements or repeating positive accomplishments every day - instead of just considering these topics on an annual basis.

Even better, making a daily, weekly and monthly commitment to manage the performance of our team members would free up our time each year during "performance appraisal season" to do something innovative and inspiring for and with our staff. That's right - plan for their future!

Our people are most successful when they are clear about the direction in which they are headed and when they can visualize the steps required to get there. In my leadership development work, I encourage CPA and IT firms to help their team members develop a vision for their career and outline the steps and milestones that will mark their progress along the way. The output, or deliverable, is a forward-focused leadership development tool that we call a "career roadmap."

When developing a career roadmap, you'll want to be sure that you and the staff person have considered their:

* Current career objective. We say "current" because people need to know that they can change this as they learn and grow, and that flexibility will give them the latitude to feel comfortable committing to a current career "destination."

If we are fostering an environment of honesty, we will allow our people to share career objectives that are far-reaching, and even those that might propel them to leave the firm over time. I would rather know that one of my team members aspires to be a family counselor now, and be able to plan for their inevitable departure in three years, when they complete their degree and certifications, than to have them working hard toward this goal "in the background" and have their plans to leave sprung upon me when I least expect it. What about you?

* Specific measures for success for the coming year. These will be quantifiable and are their high-level performance goals for the next 12 months. Most, but not all, of these goals should tie back to the individual's areas for growth, improvement and development, as identified by you and them throughout the past year (and, remember, communicated with them as we observe them).

These success measures, or goals, should also take into consideration and support the person's department goals and the goals of the firm. At least one of these goals should be unique to the individual and their special interests, skills or needs within the firm. At ConvergenceCoaching, we encourage our team members to also consider identifying specific and measurable personal goals and sharing those with their manager, so that we can support each person holistically.

* Specific action steps for achieving each of their success measures. These are the small baby steps that they will take in each area noted to move them forward toward their goals and their career objective in the coming months. For instance, if an experienced IT consultant has a career objective to become the network support department manager, one of their measures of success may be gaining a promotion to supervisor in the next 12 months. To do this, you may both identify that they need to gain a better understanding of, and skill in, managing conflict and employee performance. One of the steps, or tactics, to do so may be attending a specific training course designed to provide them these skills. When establishing the action steps, be sure to include an expected date of completion (or by-when date) for each one.

Once you have created career roadmaps for each member of your team, encourage them to report their progress on the action steps and each success measure at least quarterly. This progress report can be delivered by e-mail, to keep it informal and ensure ease of reporting. These updates can help you and the team member identify any roadblocks and course corrections that may be necessary to overcome them.

Be sure to also schedule a personal career roadmap review and adjustment meeting to occur semi-annually, where you can meet with each of your direct reports and discuss their progress "live." In these meetings, you can formalize any adjustments to their objectives, goals or action steps to ensure that they are making the progress that they aspire to, and that you expect and need, in their career with your firm.

And reflect your understanding of the most important lesson of leadership as shared in the first article in this leadership series: Your people will mirror your behaviors, so model those that you want reflected back. How does this apply to career roadmaps, you ask? Simple. Test this out yourself by developing your own roadmap and sharing it with your manager or leader, or, if you're an owner, with your partners, spouse or significant other, and report your progress quarterly, too.

You'll be surprised by how easily you achieve your goals and arrive at your planned professional destinations when you take the time each year to map your way.

Jennifer Wilson is co-founder and owner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC (, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that specializes in helping CPA and IT firms achieve success.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access