Voices

Art of Accounting: Staff growth is essential

I like learning new things and also like to be prepared. I also hate making mistakes. I also used to think that was so for everyone else, but it isn’t.

Over the years I realized that if I wanted to be successful, grow personally and also grow my practice, I had to assume that no one would have these three characteristics and that I would need to develop processes that would “legislate” learning, being prepared and finding mistakes. I have and I’ve been pretty successful with it.

The dream is that the staff will want all three things as much as the bosses and will work at this. The reality is that neither group works at it. A few exceptional staff members and owners do, but by and large most do not (in my humble opinion). Since that is the case, here is some of what I do:

  • I assume staff will not do what is necessary to learn new things. I am not a cynic but a realist. So I push them to learn and grow. It takes effort, but I get the growth they and I need to have so they can keep “pushing my pencil.” If I get that rare staff person who wants to grow on their own, that’s great and I count that as a bonus — and of course I push them even harder.
  • I’ve been fortunate to have partners who feel the same as I do in this regard, so the staff pushing also comes from them. But if you do not have like-minded partners, then you need to make this your job and work with each staff person by yourself.
  • I cannot be aware of their growth without watching them, reviewing their assignments and seeing how they perform. Staff costs are expensive and cannot be ignored. They are equivalent to wasting money.
  • Most people find a comfort zone and try to stay there. An example is having the same staff person continuously work on the same clients. There is no growth to this. My three-year rotation method is effective for many assignments (but not all). The first year they assist the person working on a client; the second year they take over that job; and the third year they train someone to take over in a year.
  • Exceptions develop when a staff person creates a bond with a client. While they are removed from the work routine, they take over much of the partner’s role, meeting with the client and becoming the manager on that client.
  • This way staff members continuously move up, clients get fresh people, and the owners get to see which staff person has that something extra.
  • Another way is to bring staff to partner meetings to expose them to the client and the issues that are discussed. Staff people are expected to take notes and follow up promptly. Those who do not, do not have it, and I do not bring them to future meetings.
  • Staff are expected to read and learn on their own, prepare for meetings and mentor those under them. They are also expected to look for add-ons and value-added services to perform for clients. I want to see thinking and ideas and focus on what they are working on.

I am running a business and expect to make money so staff need to contribute to my success. I really do not have room for stagnant staff or staff that do not help me grow.

Do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com with your practice management issues or questions.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or emendlowitz@withum.com.