This column begins year nine of my Art of Accounting columns. I am grateful to Michael Cohn, my editor, and other staff at accounting today for their continued help and assistance and for including my columns here. I am also grateful to the readers, most of whom are colleagues, who read them and who also email and call me with comments and questions. I feel especially lucky not to have missed a number in my streak of 416 consecutive columns. This is #417.
Anniversaries are thought provoking and I wondered if anything was new after eight years. The obvious answer is plentiful. If public accounting had a Rip Van Winkle waking up today after an eight-year nap, he’d find a lot of things changed, and he wouldn’t even recognize most of the new services that accountants provide. However, one thing that has not changed is the way staff work and are evaluated. The type of work and how it’s done has certainly changed, but I don’t think the expectations for performance and how it’s assessed have changed.
This is a critical issue since owners and partners cannot move forward if staff do not move forward. Staff should also care because they want to know what they need to do to progress and acquire more skills and responsibilities. There are probably a dozen measures that determine this, in addition to increasing technical skills. These are the same metrics on which bonuses, raises and promotions are based. I also don’t see how that has changed since the beginning of my career; thus, nothing new in this field since the dawn of time.
The rules or metrics are quite simple. Staff progress when they do their jobs on time and meet deadlines, and when their work is accurate, error-free, and within budget; and when they develop their skills and mentor and teach those who work under them and when they work more than the minimum hours required. In addition, taking over from supervisors rather than entrusting the work to them is an important issue. Staff will also progress when the clients they work on refer cases, accept normal fee increases, pay their bills on time, engage the company for additional services, and establish a relationship with the staff member who relieves the owners or partners of some responsibility.
I look at these articles and they seem obvious to me. The staff just have to do their part and the owners and partners just have to let them know that’s what they consider. I consider them basic, and when I was interviewed for a podcast by Blake Oliver last month, his questions brought that out. He kept hammering that none of that mattered and that hours worked were the only criteria. (You can listen to the 67-minute podcast on https://lnkd.in/gWstasJ9.) What I usually do with podcasts is put them in, then minimize the window and work while the podcast is playing. Blake provides an additional feature where you can play it at a faster speed, up to twice the normal speed. If you do that, I look very funny, but the information doesn’t change and your brain will easily absorb it. You can also pause it if you need to take a call or take a break.
Anyway, in terms of the role of those expectations and then the performance appraisal of staff, it seems to me that not much has changed in the last eight years, let alone. Nothing covered here is difficult or rocket science. It’s just the staff doing the job they were hired to do, and the bosses making the staff aware that this is what’s important.
Do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] with your questions about practice management or assignments you may not be able to complete.
Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is a partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on Accounting Today’s list of the 100 most influential people. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns”, co-authored with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition”. He also writes a blog twice a week dealing with customer issues on www.partners-network.com as well as the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. He is an adjunct professor in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s MBA program and teaches end-user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is an ongoing series where he shares autobiographical experiences with advice he hopes his colleagues can adopt. He welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or [email protected]