I frequently get questions from partners, high potentials and others in CPA firms about how to handle sticky management issues. Here are three situations that won't go away, and keep showing up in my "Ask Rebecca" inbox - along with my advice on how to handle them.
ACT ONE: WOULD-BE START-UPS
Whether you realize it or not, you have high potentials within your firm who may seem engaged, but are not. They're daydreaming about leaving to start their own practice. If this describes you, here's my advice.
What's most important is that you're leaving your current firm and starting your own firm for the right reasons, and that you've done your homework.
Some of the right reasons may be:
You have a big vision for how a firm could better serve clients.
You know you'll never be happy working for anyone else.
You're willing to do whatever it takes to be successful on your own.
People (clients and peers) like working with you.
Some of the wrong reasons are:
You're mad at your boss. (Maybe you need a new boss instead?)
You're facing burnout. (Maybe you need a vacation, not a new start-up.)
You believe you'll earn a lot more on your own. (This won't happen for a couple of years.)
The great news is, if you are leaving for the right reasons and you're really good at what you do, you have every tool at your disposal to build a credible Web site, develop referrals through your clients and social media, and position yourself in the market. The real gut check is whether you're willing to do it all for the next several years. The closest parallel I can offer to starting your own business is building a house. When you build a house, you have to make thousands of decisions that you literally have to live with. Same with a new business.
Only you know if you're leaving for the right reasons or not. I strongly recommend a four-day weekend, a gigantic margarita and a gut check (with friends, if that helps).
And if you decide you are ready to make the move, I'll be cheering for you! The world needs more entrepreneurial CPA firms.
ACT TWO: MANAGING UP
Let's say you've just been promoted to manager. And you're south of 30 years old. And some of your team members are older than you. Maybe even twice as old as you. This is called "managing up," and here's how to handle it.
First, realize that you're not alone. Managing people older than you is a topic that's always hot, because it's so common in firms.
The key? Ignore everyone's age, and focus on two R-words: respect and results.
Yes, you're younger than some of the folks on your team. You may also be more slender, left-handed, or a bigger fan of American Idol. None of that matters. What matters is that you treat everyone - regardless of their age or reality TV habits - with respect. If you start with respect for everyone, you're going to be a great manager.
Next, you want results. So long as people are performing and pulling their weight, you don't care if they're green or have three heads. You simply care that they get their work papers done on time and accurately.
Respect and results. Focus there. (And then pass this advice along to "traditional managers" who oversee folks younger than them. Same principles apply.)
One of the ways we develop talent in our firms is to assign them to difficult "stretch" assignments. But sometimes the person who assigns the stretch project just ... can't ... let ... go. This sends mixed messages, and leads to confusion, or worse, disengagement.
Take it from this poor soul:
"Dear Rebecca: I'm a 27-year-old senior manager and 'high potential' in my firm. I was recently asked to lead an important project for our firm. The partner who asked me to lead it said, 'I trust you completely.' Yet now he's asking to check in every couple of weeks, and wants to be cc'd on every e-mail I send about the project. I admit, I'm feeling a little micro-managed! I can't tell if he really wants me to lead it, or if he wants to do it himself. By the way, the partner is 63. What do you suggest? Signed, Mike-romanaged in Melbourne."
Here's my advice to "Mike:"
For starters, this isn't a generational issue. It's a work style and control issue. Mike can't change his partner's behavior, but he can change his own.
Mike has three options:
1. He can accept his partner's behavior and give him everything he wants, e.g., the e-mails, the additional check-in meetings, etc.
2. Mike can ask his partner for clarification and/or to change his behavior. For example, Mike might say, "I know you could do this project yourself, but you asked me to lead it. I feel that I'm getting mixed messages. You said that you trust me, but you've asked to be cc'd on every e-mail and want to have additional meetings with me to talk about the project. If you really do want me to lead this project, I need a longer leash and more authority. So let's agree now about how often we'll check in, and how much leeway I'll have to run this project the way I want to run it."
3. Mike can excuse himself from the project.
One final word of advice to all of the Mikes out there: If you really want to be a future leader at your firm, I suggest Option 2. It will be a good experience for you and your partner.
Rebecca Ryan is a consultant who helps firms develop and keep their top talent. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (888) 922-9596 ext. 702.
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