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The Boomer Bulletin - 2014
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Tips for Conquering Your 2015 Resolutions

Posted By Deanna Perkins, Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Click on photo to see Deanna Perkin's bio

It's just a few more weeks until the dreaded January 1st, 2015. Now I call it dreaded because many of us are already trying to decide what our New Year's resolutions are going to be and along with that thinking comes the doubts; is this the year I'm going to stick with it and actually make it happen? With all the other stresses that we are dealing with, why do we choose to add a New Year's resolution on top of that? Well, it's because it's a new year and a new start! Why not return from some time away from the office with a fresh mindset and new goals we are wanting to tackle?

I, like many others, have goals that include becoming healthier, being more active and hoping to lose some weight. It's sometimes so tempting to use the break at the end of the year to splurge just one last time but I honestly feel like it hurts you rather than helps you to achieve your resolution. I think that taking some steps towards your goals during the time away from the office, no matter what your resolution, will help you be more likely to conquer them in the New Year. Here are my five tips to help you conquer your resolutions in 2015.

Start Today

Many researchers have reported that you can form a habit in 3-4 weeks; 21 days is the magic number you normally hear. If you start working on your habit today, you'll have that time frame to really develop the habit before the start of the year. If you develop the habit before 2015 even starts, you are already well on your way to achieving your resolution for next year.

Start Small but Stay Consistent

If your New Year's resolution is to exercise more, then start out with something light. Go for a 10 to 15 minute walk every day or pick up a set of dumbbells and do one or two sets. Continue doing this every day and then work up from there. If you decide you want to exercise more and you jump straight to P90X or Insanity, you are setting yourself up for failure. This goes for any resolution; start with small goals every day and work up from there.

Create a Path of Least Resistance

If your New Year's resolution is to read more and watch less TV, then figure out how to make reading easier than watching TV. On your way out of the house, place your TV remote on the top of your fridge, or in a drawer, and put your book on your favorite relaxing spot. This way you will come home, plop down on your seat and then realize the TV remote is on top of the fridge. Well, your book is right there and you will be more likely to pick that up and start enjoying it than making yourself walk to where the remote is newly located.

Strength in Numbers

You constantly hear people talk about having a buddy system; well, that's because it works! If your New Year's resolution is to volunteer more around your community, find a friend, acquaintance, or coworker who is already volunteering and start joining them in their efforts. They already have the habit of volunteering and they will be very encouraging and keep you updated on opportunities throughout the year. Sometimes it's good to find a buddy who has the same resolution as you but take care that your friendship does not reduce the accountability between the two of you.

Forgive Yourself and Move On

We all have days that we will fall off the wagon but as the saying goes, "get back on!" When creating new habits it is inevitable that we are going to slide and miss a day or two. The biggest key here is to forgive yourself for your missed step and continue working on your resolution the next day. If we don't forgive ourselves, we will easily fall back into our old habits because they are "easier" and by this time next year we'll be kicking ourselves for not staying committed to something we challenged ourselves to do.

I hope that these tips help to give you a jump start on your 2015 New Year's resolutions and that 2015 is one of your most successful years yet!

Tags:  2014 Article  accountability  Change Management  culture  Deanna Perkins  Health  Leadership 

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Strategy for Change

Posted By Tina Greim, Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Click on photo to see Tina Greim's bio

As I reflect back on 2014 at Boomer Consulting, Inc., there have been many changes regarding our client service, sales processes and overall messaging. Times continue to change and in order to continue to reach the ultimate goal, we must think about the overall picture. Change is hard but it can have a positive impact on the future. Planning, commitment, using your team’s unique abilities, accountability, and buy-in for change are all important factors to achieve overall success.

As we all know, implementing change can be time consuming, expensive, frustrating to team members and trying on your patience, leading you to question whether the changes were beneficial and worth the investment. However, if you are remaining "flat” as a company and feeling like you are not gaining momentum to get to the next level, then it’s time to reflect on the whole picture. What has worked in the past may not be working towards the future success of the company. The whole picture consists of all areas of your company from client service, marketing, business development strategies, technology and internal processes. Collaboration as a team and having accountability is the foundation that continues to drive change.

Here are positive ways to drive change for your company as you move into 2015.

Strategic Planning

As we move into December, I think about our own Strategic Planning, the changes we face as a company, how to keep the momentum going as we move forward, and how valuable this is with the impact it makes on our own company. Sharing the same strategy and vision, holding ourselves accountable with quarterly 90 Day Game Plans, and holding a one-day Mid-Year Review keeps us focused as a company on our progress on our One-Page Strategic Plan. Yes, we practice what we preach in the profession.

Not all companies see the value or need in Strategic Planning and are afraid of the accountability that comes along with it. However, one way to manage change is by Strategic Planning. When talking to potential clients one thing we hear is, "We are growing with no real direction and we’re not sure how we got here. Our people are uncertain about the direction we are headed and where they fit into the process.” Growing your company, developing your people and having a strategic plan are critical for continued growth and success.

Strategic Planning is a foundation for your company that feeds into other important areas such as Succession Planning, Technology Reviews and Talent Development.

Developing Task-Force Teams

In the television show Undercover Boss, a high-ranking company official goes undercover as an entry-level employee in order to gain hands-on experience by learning and doing jobs onsite. This often sheds light on processes and requirements implemented at an executive level that are made without really understanding how it affects their employees. I think this show demonstrates the importance of getting a broad range of people involved in decision-making.

Internal task-force teams are a great way to collaborate, strategize from different angles and do the leg-work that it takes to get to the next level. When piecing together your task-force teams for internal projects, keep in mind that it may impact business development, new technology implementation and roll out to internal processes, so be sure to utilize team members from corresponding areas in the company.

Great things happen when you incorporate people who can think through the whole process from beginning to end along with representatives of the key people and processes it will impact. This strategy maximizes your chances for success.

Accountability

Think about accountability from a personal level. We have all held ourselves accountable at some point in our lives. Whether it was to lose weight, run a half marathon, get a college degree, buy a new home or become financially sound; to accomplish any of these, accountability was a huge player in achieving success and driving change. Accountability is even more important when it comes to your company. If you don’t hold yourself accountable how do you expect to hold others accountable? Accountability shouldn’t be a negative word but a positive one. If your company shares the same strategy and vision and everyone understands the expectations, accountability becomes a positive word for your company. This is culture changing.

Unique Ability of Team Members

Capitalizing on the strengths and unique ability of your team members is like finding missing pieces to a puzzle. It will add value to your company and help to keep key employees happy.

Conclusion

The first steps towards any kind of change is acknowledgement, acceptance and commitment. Don’t be afraid of change and what it takes to get there. Just remember, there will be obstacles but focus, discipline, collaboration and accountability will get you to your ultimate goal.

Tags:  2014 Article  Accountability  Attitude  Change Management  culture  leadership  strategic planning  team building  Tina Greim 

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Turn Conflict into a Strategic Asset

Posted By Jim Boomer, Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Click on photo to see Jim Boomer bioThis article was originally published in CPA Practice Advisor September, 2014.

Conflict. Whether it is related to decisions about firm management, technology or personnel, most of us try to avoid it like the plague. After all, wouldn’t life be easier if we could just make decisions in a vacuum and not worry about what others thought? Yes, but more often than not, the quality of decisions made by a team of people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives is much higher. And diverse teams naturally lead to conflict. However, conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. When managed properly it can actually be harnessed as a strategic asset.

Types of Conflict

There are two types of conflict that typically arise in a team setting.

  • Task conflict. This type of conflict is beneficial to decision-making and involves disagreement about the content of decisions. It is rooted in differences in viewpoints, ideas and/or opinions about things like how we interpret facts, complete a project or deploy resources.
  • Relationship conflict. At the other end of the spectrum is conflict that deters progress. Relationship conflict is emotional in nature and focuses on interpersonal incompatibility. It typically results in tension, annoyance and animosity among team members. Differences in personal tastes, politics, values and personality are examples.

The most effective teams, and ultimately, the most effective decisions promote task conflict and work to diffuse relationship conflict.

Common Pitfalls

Conflict management is not the same as conflict avoidance. When we avoid conflict altogether, we miss out on valuable information, experience and perspectives that improve the decision-making process. For example, a team might go with the first suggestion made just to avoid a confrontation. However, the suggestion may have been made simply because it had the least chance of resistance. This results in a decision that no one on the team really supports. In this case, a little conflict—or at least discussion—would have been healthy and led to a better decision.

There are a number of decision-making processes that stifle healthy conflict or defer it in favor of the easier path. Here are some of the more common examples.

  • Majority Rules. Team members who sense they are in the minority will avoid offering a dissenting opinion to avoid feeling like an outsider or impedance to making a decision.
  • Defer to Those "In Charge.” Excessive deference to status characteristics such as seniority or the person with the loudest opinion does not lead to the best decisions. There is a wealth of knowledge at all levels of the firm. Take advantage of it.
  • Attacking dissenters. Dissension creates a lag to decision-making and is often frowned upon by the team. Similar to "majority rules,” attacking those who dissent limits the number of diverse viewpoints offered during the decision-making process.

Encourage Task Conflict

How can a team encourage task conflict and avoid escalating relationship conflict? Some strategies include:

  • Utilize task forces and committees comprised of members with diverse backgrounds and experiences. This will encourage differing opinions and perspectives as well as better decisions and outcomes for your firm.
  • Avoid starting a meeting with a vote. You met for a reason. Discuss and debate the issues to explore all available information and attempt to resolve differences of opinion.
  • Do not compromise to avoid the conflict. Recognize the value of debate, because it helps everyone explore more issues and, ultimately, make a better decision. Compromise is often necessary to move forward but it shouldn’t be used until the discussion takes place.
  • Solicit minority opinion. Make sure that people aren’t keeping quiet simply to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of being in the minority. Some of the most valuable information will come from those who don’t agree with the majority.
  • Focus on the behavior or issue and NOT the individual. This is the most important – and most difficult – part of conflict management. When a debate becomes personal, the natural tendency is to become defensive. When people get defensive, a healthy conflict will quickly turn into an argument.

Reaping the Benefits

Conflict is a natural part of working as a team. Too often, we avoid it in order to remain in our comfort zones. However, when managed properly, conflict can be extremely beneficial to decision-making. The first step to effective conflict management is to understand how to spot different types of conflict by listening carefully to team members and ensuring that you hear the messages they are attempting to convey. Next, apply general rules to manage both task and relationship conflict. It is also important to develop a process that will be followed when conflict arises. This creates consistency and increases team members comfort and confidence when dealing with a tense situation.

Ultimately, the ability to manage conflict can turn what you thought was a liability into one of your firm’s greatest assets.

Tags:  2014 Article  Communication  Conflict Resolution  Jim Boomer  Leadership  Talent 

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Achieving Leadership Clarity

Posted By Sandra Wiley, Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Updated: Monday, November 10, 2014

This article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of Career InsiderClick on photo to see Sandra Wiley bio

While participating in a recent think tank of business owners, I listened with interest as each person outlined what their company did, what set them apart as individual leaders, and more specifically, their company’s services. As we closed in on the final presentation, everyone sat quietly and a bit mesmerized as the leader outlined his company’s services, presented his website, talked about his clients, and finally shared the story of how he had been offered a sizeable amount of cash to be acquired by another company. He said no. When asked why he had declined that sale, he said that he had a clear vision of where he was steering the ship and the acquiring company would not fit his vision. While some in the group might have argued that the dollars would have been great and he had made a mistake, this leader showed through body language, words and actions that he had clarity in his personal and company vision.

I am happy to report that more firms than ever have a strategic plan that outlines their vision, mission, core values and strategies; however, I fear that many are just words on a paper and that passion and clarity behind the words is weak. Let’s explore a few ways your firm could strengthen and clarify the vision of the company.

Take another look at your Vision

Does your firm vision really speak to what your firm wants to be, and is it clear to everyone who reads it? A simple way to determine this is to give it to a few trusted clients or team members, ask them to read it, then explain clearly what your firm wants to achieve. In other words the "why and how” of your firm’s future. Think of clarity as the fuel of vision and action. If you aren’t clear about the "why and how,” you will never lift your vision off the ground.

Take another look at your Strategic Plan

Firms that have a strategic plan are proud of the fact they have a road map their leadership team will follow. Unfortunately, it is often held tightly by the leadership team and never advances to the rest of the firm. Your team cannot follow you unless you give them the map. By sharing the full plan with the team, they are going to know the direction you are headed, and the leaders then can set the course for everyone. Everyone should know clearly how their job links to the overall plan.

Look at your Retention Metrics

We are a profession that loves our metrics. We should be looking at our overall retention rate, including members you let go or those who left on their own. A clear vision that encompasses everyone in the firm will inspire passion and excitement in everyone from the partners throughout every person in the firm. Retention of the best will become less of a worry. Engagement comes from passion; and passion comes from a clarity. When they "get it,” you will be able to tell because everyone will begin to talk the vision and will join in the excitement that comes from the top of the organizational chart.

Identify Roles and Responsibilities

Developing an organizational chart along with job descriptions is imperative in progressive firms today. Individuals within the firm need to know why the firm exists and how they fit into the firm strategic plan. This, somehow, is a daunting task for many firms, but it is important to every team member that is a part of your firm. A written document for each member that clarifies what you expect, when you expect it, and how you expect the work to be done is important for individual clarity of position and for value to both the company and the individual. Make certain to include goals and performance objectives which can be linked back to IDPs or Individual Development Plans.

Know Your Numbers

Realizing that I am talking to a group of highly educated financial professionals, I don’t mean to offend, but we simply must be clear on the firm’s financial goals and we should work hard to be transparent in our reporting not only to the leadership team but also to the entire team. Explaining what you are measuring, why it is important and how it will affect them is a part of clarity that should not be ignored.

To be a leader with clarity is powerful and there is no limit to how far you will travel when you clearly see the path in front of you. Find your vision, chart your course, give your followers a plan for the bigger picture and set your sites of bringing your vision to reality.

Tags:  2014 Article  leadership  Sandra Wiley  Strategic Planning 

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Practicing Gratitude in Your Firm

Posted By Arianna Campbell, Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Updated: Monday, November 10, 2014

Click on photo to see Arianna Campbell bio

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and it is a time when people are more inclined to share why they are grateful. While this makes nice conversation over the holiday season, giving thanks has the potential to be even more impactful. Practicing gratitude in your firm can improve client relationships and firm culture, which can lead to higher retention and job satisfaction as well as repeat customers and higher revenue. Here are a few simple strategies on how to make the most of giving thanks.

The University of California, Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center website says the following about practicing gratitude:

"Yes, 'thank you' is an essential, everyday part of family dinners, trips to the store, business deals, and political negotiations. That might be why so many people have dismissed gratitude as simple, obvious, and unworthy of serious attention. But that’s starting to change. Recently scientists have begun to chart a course of research aimed at understanding gratitude and the circumstances in which it flourishes or diminishes. They’re finding that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:

  • Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure;
  • Higher levels of positive emotions;
  • More joy, optimism, and happiness;
  • Acting with more generosity and compassion;
  • Feeling less lonely and isolated."

While these benefits sound limited to personal applications, they can be translated into the following advantages your firm:

  • Firm wide decrease in sick days, increased wellness and clarity
  • Positive work attitudes and increased cooperation
  • Improved client service
  • Increased collaboration

Now that we have defined some benefits, let’s explore how you can start practicing gratitude in your firm.

Document and Celebrate Success

An important part of giving thanks is having a clear understanding about what you are thankful for. Quarterly game plans and updating your resume are two ways to help make practicing gratitude a habit in your firm while also contributing to the success of the firm and the individuals.

Quarterly Game Plans

Did a team member complete a big project, or create a new process to increase productivity? Did the firm meet revenue goals, win a large account, or receive an award or recognition? These are all reasons to give thanks that often go unrecognized. Successes can be more easily identified when you are in the habit of setting and reviewing both long and short term goals. Quarterly game plans are a helpful tool for setting goals, reviewing progress and acknowledging accomplishments for individuals and for the firm. The process is simple. You use a form like this to record what you would like to accomplish in the next quarter. At the end of the quarter review your progress, share and celebrate achievements.

After you have used the 90 day game plan to identify your achievements, it is time to update your resume. Resumes are not just for job interviews. They are a way to collect and communicate your accomplishments and chart your progress. They are also used for networking on social media sites like LinkedIn. Resumes aren’t just for individuals. They can be modified to showcase firm knowledge and capabilities. Your firm’s unique accomplishments set you apart from competitors. Make sure your firm website is up to date with relevant and timely information and utilize social media to tout firm successes. This is a great marketing tool that gives potential clients a better understanding of your capabilities. Keeping this information current helps to highlight successes and identify opportunities for gratitude.


Firm Wide Community Service

Sharing your time and talents with others usually makes you more grateful for what you have. Last year the entire BCI staff (including our owners Gary Boomer, Jim Boomer and Sandra Wiley) spent time volunteering at an emergency shelter for the homeless in our community. Our tasks included stocking supplies, organizing storage areas, moving office equipment. We have participated in other activities like gathering meals or clothing for families in need. During these experiences we became more aware of basic comforts that we take for granted. We have also become more thankful for our team as we worked together to accomplish a goal for others. I encourage you to look for opportunities for your firm to serve in the community and get as many people involved as possible. In addition to increased community connection and exposure for the firm, you will likely get back more than expected.

Send Notes of Thanks

Perhaps the simplest way to show gratitude is to say thank you to both team members and clients. At Boomer Consulting, we use "Shout Outs” to give thanks internally. Sue Thiemann described the initiative this way in her article "Important Words to Use in the Workplace!

"Shout Outs are sent and logged from our database. All members receive notice of each posting submitted (Public appreciation – what a novel idea.). These are tracked within the database and may be viewed anytime by any BCI member. Staff meetings are a good time to view the 'Shout Outs' submitted within the past week. This reinforces appreciation shown by and to all members.”

While electronic methods are convenient, don’t underestimate the personal touch of handwritten notes.

In Summary

Documenting and celebrating success, participating in firm-wide community service and sending notes of thanks are just a few ways to practice gratitude in your firm. Making a commitment to these habits will create a culture that attracts and retains the best team members and clients.

Tags:  2014 Article  Arianna Campbell  culture  leadership  Strategic Planning 

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Strategic planning - what model do you follow?

Posted By Sue Thiemann, Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Updated: Monday, November 10, 2014

Click on photo to see Sue Thiemann bio

In chapter five of her book "The Journey Ahead,” Sandra Wiley makes three very good observations:

  • In order for change to occur, someone has to start behaving differently
  • The effort to build internal collaboration and a good team starts at the top
  • Internal collaboration becomes the glue that holds the firm together/bridges the gap between leadership and employees (us and them)

There has been a considerable amount of change here at Boomer in the 14 years I have been an associate. One overall theme from the ownership has always been progress…not always perfection. This emphasis has provided and encouraged confidence in each associate to progress forward within the company irrespective of their position (no idea is a bad idea thinking). Change is a part of the company model and is accepted and encouraged throughout.

Change is never more evident than leading up to, during and the follow through in our Strategic Planning process. Yes, we eat our own dog food, so to speak. We walk the talk.

Another quote from Sandra’s book is, "True leaders need to be willing to let go.” I have seen this in our leadership. It is quite evident while comparing the Strategic Planning sessions of 10+ years ago to the sessions being planned for this December. From management creating the agenda and directing each session in a much structured manner to a team approach; the current sessions are now planned by a team creating a huge amount of buy-in by all associates. Quoting Sandra, "…we will see a flatter structure to firms in the future,” and, "in firms that are truly collaborative, we will see ideas developed by a group of people from inception rather than 'lone rangers' who operate alone and have to sell their ideas.”

This willingness to let go and let the team collaboration approach thrive has many benefits.

Buy-in and collaboration

By pooling everyone’s ideas, we benefit from "group think” rather than "individual thinking.” This impacts our recruiting and retention of the best when looking to hire a new associate. Younger professionals have grown up collaborating and working in teams; they now expect it. They look for opportunities that afford this work model. If you have not already, you do need to get onboard with the collaboration model.

Utilizing the unique abilities of each team member

At Boomer Consulting we focus on using our unique abilities. We want the Consultants to utilize their unique abilities through revenue generating efforts. Take Sandra for instance. (Yes, I'm picking on you Sandra!) One of her unique abilities is listening to a situation, evaluating the information, summarizing and providing professional recommendations. Bottom line, she is good at team building and strategic thinking; and speaking to these issues. It never fails to amaze me when I see her in action. Just as leaders need to focus and use their unique abilities; likewise so do we, the staff, need to focus and use our unique abilities. At every strategic planning session, at every 90 day accountability review, at every staff meeting, I listen and look for ways to assist the whole team to help them utilize their unique abilities.

A good way determine your unique ability is through the Kolbe A Index, including the use of the Kolbe A to A Report. The A to A Report helps me identify areas of potential conflict or agreement with another person on our team and includes ideas on how to address issues and collaborate. I have reviewed my Kolbe A to A with other team members in preparation to understand and to help progress forward and avoid conflict during our sessions. Understanding and respecting the problem solving methods of how others work can be very beneficial in our strategic planning sessions.

So now, what is the model of strategic planning you follow? Does your team prepare; are you ready to work toward collaboration?

Tags:  2014 Article  Strategic Planning  Sue Thiemann 

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Revenue Growth Through Collaboration

Posted By L. Gary Boomer, Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Click on photo to see Gary Boomer bioThis article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of Accounting Today

There are multiple ways to grow your firm, from expanding service lines to mergers and acquisitions. While these are both viable strategies, it is often easy to overlook opportunities associated with existing services and clients. Tax planning and compliance is a great example and an area that almost all firms currently provide services. However, due to the increasing complexity of ever changing legislation at the Federal and State levels plus the importance of international tax, I believe firms often discount the opportunities. Granted, there is a high degree of complexity and some firms may not have the internal resources or a large enough client base to justify acquiring the capabilities required to offer some of the more sophisticated services related to tax credits (jobs, energy, enterprise zones, etc.) as well as cost segregation.

There is a simple management strategy that is often overlooked when it comes to complexity and many accounting firms get caught in the trap. In order to break through the ceiling of complexity you must first step back and simplify the approach. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate a proven process to simplification and allow CPAs and firms to think differently about matching opportunities with capabilities. By thinking differently, you will probably challenge some of the existing strategies and perhaps even some of the processes that have made you successful. The old saying that what got you to this level of success won’t get you to the next level is often true when dealing with increased complexity.

We are talking about the development or access to the required capabilities necessary to leverage current and future opportunities. If you don’t have those capabilities or access to them, your firm will miss opportunities. If you do have the capabilities, but not the opportunities, you will generally underperform and have trouble retaining and attracting quality talent due to the lack of growth opportunities. Internal discussions often evolve into the chicken or the egg arguments.

Let’s take one step back from what most firms are doing today and assess how to develop talent and capabilities based upon today’s opportunities. Most firm’s think in terms of internal resources, especially larger firms, but this may not make the most sense economically. Think big (10 times bigger) and how you can leverage this opportunity with little or no additional investment in labor or technology!

In our profession, talent provides capabilities and the market provides the opportunities. Talent is developed primarily with three key components:

  1. Self motivation and life-long learning
  2. Access to experts and experience
  3. Relationships with peers

This approach may be different than the rugged individual approach many seasoned professionals are accustomed to. Today, the complexity and breadth of knowledge requires a team approach in order to scale.

Here are some basic questions CPAs and firms should ask when evaluating new or expanded services.

  1. Will this service provide value to the client?
  2. Who is going to champion this service?
  3. Does the champion have the passion, time, team and budget to be successful?
  4. Does the firm have the necessary capabilities or should we source with an external expert?
  5. Does the firm know how to name, package, brand and price this service?
  6. Is there a community of peers we can join in order to accelerate our ability to balance capabilities with opportunities?

The tendency is to short-cut the planning and start charging hours to a project. This often results in large write-offs and poor client service. Taking the time to think, plan and grow will increase the probability and level of success.

From extensive experience, I can say the CPAs and firms that get the most value from communities are those who contribute and provide confidence to their peers. Learning is a two-way street. You must be vulnerable to learn and willing to teach. The communities raise the level of success for all participants. Also having access to expertise outside of their firm provides great value, even for internal experts. The exchange among expert peers results in learning, increased confidence and improved clarity. This expertise ranges from technical tax and accounting knowledge to:

  • Technology
  • Marketing and sales
  • Leadership & management
  • HR and team building

In the end, it is about you. You have to be motivated and have the passion to succeed. The participation in a community provides access to experts and peer relationships, accelerates the process and increases the probability of success. Those with passion succeed while those without passion try.

Tags:  2014 Article  Change Management  Growth  L. Gary Boomer  Networking 

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Whether you think you can, or you think you can't - you're right

Posted By Jim Boomer, Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Click on photo to see Jim Boomer bioThis article was originally published in CPA Practice Advisor July, 2014.

A famous Henry Ford quote, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right,” emphasizes how much attitude determines success or failure. This is true for most projects you take on and certainly for technology initiatives. Most people think choosing the right software or implementation consultant are what makes or breaks a project. While these are important, a project’s fate is mostly determined well before you make these decisions. This is because so much of it is based on attitude.

Attitude Starts at the Top

Attitude is contagious. And bad attitudes can infect the organization from the top-down. Likewise, positive attitudes – or inspiration – also trickle down from leadership. Whether it’s the implementation of a single specialty product or a complete overhaul of your firm’s core software systems, a commitment to stay the course in good times and bad is critical.

Similar Projects, Different Results

We hear countless war stories about technology initiatives from our Boomer Technology Circle members each year. Often we hear the same story from multiple firms with the exception of the ending. So, what’s different? What helps some succeed and causes others to fail? They were addressing the same pain point and using the same solution but recognized very different results. That’s right – attitude.

Some of the most discussed technology projects in firms which have varied in outcomes are:

  • Scan and Populate. There are a handful of solutions in the market that essentially do the same thing – digitize the client’s source documents and flow them into the tax package. Yet, I hear one firm talk about an abysmal failure and another sing the praises. When successful firms enter this project they view this tool from the perspective of progress not perfection, and they are willing to change their processes and staffing to make it work. On the other hand, firms that fail tend to look at all the shortcomings and abandon the project after (or during) the first year.
  • Portals. It amazes me that we are still talking about whether firms should use a client portal to exchange data and collaborate with clients. The most cited objection is that the clients won’t buy-in. What they are really saying is that the partners and other client-facing professionals aren’t onboard. And, if you’re not sold yourself, you can’t sell your clients on the value. Those firms where leadership is committed to success, the clients tend to be very accepting.
  • Remote employees. Technology has advanced to the point where people can do most of their work and effectively communicate/collaborate with their peers and clients from anywhere. However, the technology is only the enabler. The firm’s attitude about a different work arrangement, commitment to consistent communication and willingness to work through any challenge is what really determines whether a firm can make it work. Video conferencing, instant messaging and collaboration tools can all make this a seamless transition if you believe it can work.

Gaining Buy-In

So how do you get leadership to buy-in and adopt the "can do” attitude required for success? There are a number of strategies in this area, and here are some with which we’ve seen firms have the most success.

  • Alignment. Developing an overall firm strategy and ensuring the IT Strategic Plan is in alignment will greatly increase your chances for success.
  • Technology Steering Committee. Approach all projects as firm projects rather than IT projects, and develop an IT Steering Committee with balanced representation from service areas and levels within the firm.
  • Paint a Picture of a Better Future. Everyone responds better to a clear vision of the end goal. Develop your vision for a better future and communicate it throughout the firm.
  • Sell the Project in Terms of Benefits, Not Features. IT tends to get caught up in features of a technology solution, but that doesn’t usually resonate with the average end user. Make the pitch in terms of the benefits that will be derived rather than all the cool things the software possesses.
  • Peer Groups. Participation in peer groups provides outside perspectives, new ideas and confirmation you’re on the right path. All these factor into the comfort level and ultimate buy-in throughout the firm.

Before you embark on your next technology project, ask yourself whether you are fully committed to success. A positive attitude can make all the difference in ensuring you’re right – you can.

Tags:  2014 Article  Attitude  Change Management  Jim Boomer  Leadership 

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Building a firm that can implement your plan

Posted By Eric Benson, Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Click on photo to see Eric Benson bioThis article is the fourth in a series on building an effective strategic plan and budget for technology. The first article discussed establishing your current technology baseline. The second article helped define the direction technology was headed. The third article established a one page plan that could be used to communicate and implement technology change in the firm.

The final article of this series will discuss how to implement a technology plan in the firm. In many firms, this is a black ops project that no one knows about. Unfortunately, this method (although easier) will not elevate the technology department into a change leader. The focus of this article is not how to finish projects, but rather how to communicate the project progress over time.

There are three key elements to leading change through technology in the firm:

  • Involve key firm members at major meetings, especially when changes are necessary
  • Communicate updates to your firm in relevant and regular language
  • Deliver projects on time with proactive updates before and after release

Involve key firm members at major meetings, especially when changes are necessary

The technology strategic plan was created with the help of a diverse team in the firm. Once the plan is complete, it may seem clear that the team should be disbanded to let the "real work” start. This is an error.

Major milestones on the strategic plan should be highlighted with a project update meeting. Project updates should be brief and focused on recent updates. Everyone in the room should have the agenda ahead of time as well as materials to review. The meeting should be a place to ask and answer questions for the firm.

The meeting should involve team members as well as key communicators in the firm. A key communicator is a person who gets technology and has respect in a particular department. The job of a key communicator is to buffer questions and concerns, as well as provide feedback to recent technology project completions. This group will vary based on the size of the firm, but it shouldn’t be too small.

If changes are necessary to a project, this information needs to be prepared and communicated at a regular project update meeting. Preferably, it would be proposed as a project risk early enough to adjust timeframes and communicate to the firm.

Communicate updates to your firm in relevant and regular language

Take advantage of regular firm communication channels to let the firm know about recent or upcoming projects. This communication should not discuss the technology being implemented, but the resulting impact on the firm. In addition, you can publish the list of key communicators if firm employees have questions. This is especially important when communication system changes occur (such as new phone systems or unified communication rollouts.)

Updates need to be tailored to your firm’s technology aptitude. The third article in this series discussed these two types of strategic plans:

  • Bottom up technology focus – This technology direction is useful for firms that are trying to shore up issues within their technology department. The goal here is excellent technology services to the firm.
  • Top down collaboration focus – Some firms already have a strong technology department. In this instance, the goal of the technology plan should be to enhance the leadership role that the technology area has in the firm.

If you have a bottom up technology focus, the firm-wide communication should explain how each major project is moving the firm closer to excellent technology service. For example, replacing a backup solution with one that allows for a live switchover could detail the benefits to firm productivity. Instead of detailing the type of backup, mention that the firm would need just a few minutes to be productive again in the event of a catastrophe that took the main servers down.

For a top down plan, the firm communication should focus on the role technology has in improving the profitability and productivity of the firm. For example, an update might detail improvements to phone system that allow for flex and mobile working arrangements. The language would focus on how the update allows audit groups to tie in with the office, or how home work is improved through the new soft client on every person’s laptop.

Updates should be regular and emphasize benefits to the firm, regardless of the type of strategic plan you have. Screenshots, or even better, short videos, can help detail the improvements in a story format that shows a feature in use.

Deliver projects "on time” with proactive updates before and after release

Delivering projects to the firm is a trust building endeavor. Trust is built in through consistent performance. Make every effort to deliver projects on the delivery date. This is best done with consistent attention to project management as well as padded deadlines that allow for the unforeseen to occur.

However, technology projects are full of wildcards. Everyone reading this article has been a part of a technology rollout that "didn’t go right” or had to be delayed by factors outside of everyone’s control.

The goal is to define "on time” as a project that has a well communicated delivery date. In some instances, this timeline will need to shift. Projects can still be "on time” in the firm’s eyes if the communication is proactive, educated and forward thinking.

Let’s take an updated phone system as the example. During the course of the project, the team decided to go with an untested type of phone connect (SIP trunks) in their area. The vendor assured the team that the technology was ready. Upon evaluation and testing with the onsite hardware, it was discovered that the SIP trunks were providing a significant delay between what was heard and what was spoken.

Being on schedule in this scenario would mean providing the team with a subpar project delivery. If the project updates were occurring, and the communication was consistent with the firm, it would be clear to the firm that a compromise was needed. In this instance, the trust built up in the firm would allow for a flexible timeline, and the firm would know that the technology was being delayed in the best interests of the firm.

Do not underestimate the value of regular, steady communication. This builds a level of understanding in the firm. When this is combined with high quality project delivery and consistent service from the technology team, you can start planning for projects that move the firm ahead.

When this planning starts, build on your current success, but be sure to take time to start fresh. Although many aspects of your firm have improved, technology is one place in the firm that benefits from a complete review. Oftentimes solving one problem unearths others. Consistent attention to seeing and solving these issues will make the technology department crucial to the success of the firm.

In closing, technology plans and the subsequent improvements are most successful when the communication is collaboration. Make sure and involve the firm in the successes of your plan. Discuss the value to the firm, not in dollars or specifications, but in impact to productivity or coworker success. It will benefit the technology leader, the team, and most importantly, the firm.

Tags:  2014 Article  budgeting  Change Management  communication  Eric Benson  Leadership  Technology  Trust 

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I’m a Digital CPA: Why should my clients care?

Posted By Samantha Mansfield, Sr. Manager, Program Development, CPA.com, Monday, September 15, 2014

Photo of Samantha Mansfield"Digital CPA.” When you hear this phrase what comes to mind? Is there inherent value you think of? Even if you do identify with the description yourself, the more pertinent question is, "Why should your clients care?”

Having a reputation of being progressive, innovative, and digital can be great for you and your firm, but only if embodying these attributes offers value to your clients. To help you ensure that your focus on being a digital CPA translates into something your clients care about, focus on these three questions:

  1. What is a digital CPA?
  2. What tools will I use to interface with clients?
  3. How will I communicate this differentiation?

What is a digital CPA?

The typical response to this question is that a digital CPA uses technology, operates a paperless firm, and works in the Cloud. Although these things may be true, a genuine digital CPA is one that leverages available technology to enhance their services and workflow for advanced collaboration with their clients. What this kind of elevated service looks like can vary by firm. This is because being a digital CPA requires adopting a philosophy that is tied directly to the vision and mission of your practice.

Author and visionary, Simon Sinek, says every leader and company needs to be able to articulate their "why.” It is not enough to simply use high-tech tools and workflow, but if the reason is not apparent most people won’t care to join you in your digital journey. This begs another sub-question: How does being a digital CPA support your passion for helping clients? Many practitioners today are answering "guiding clients in better decision making and growing their businesses” as opposed to a traditional answer of, "personal service.” "Growing their businesses” is a passion that holds real value for clients; the challenge is in connecting it to your digital CPA status.

To make the connection between client value and being a digital CPA, you don’t have to look further than how we work today. We expect availability of mobile options, immediate access, and 24/7 convenience. Office hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. are not the norm any longer. The phrase ‘work-life balance’ has morphed into ‘work-life blend.’ We want the ability to leave the office at 3 p.m. to make it to our kid’s game and then easily hop online after dinner to finish some work from home.

Research clearly shows this transition: Cisco’s research shows that 2014 will be the first year the majority of workload will move to the cloud vs transitional data centers. (Source: "Cisco projects data center-cloud traffic to triple by 2017”). As a digital CPA and trusted business advisor, you introduce the tools that establish effective communication, collaboration and simplification of their accounting processes. This is what your clients care about.

What tools will I use to interface with clients?

The specific software packages you choose to use in your accounting firm will vary by the vertical industries that you elect to focus on. However, let’s focus on how technology can help you build deeper client relationships and affords you the opportunity to truly develop a niche market.

A recent study by Hinge Research Institute found when people were looking for a professional services providers one of the key things they were searching for was an expert, so they followed up to find out how individuals found these experts. The results, over 30% of people seeking professional service experts look online. What is your online presence to help potential new clients find you? When looking for professional services providers, most people are looking for an expert in a particular area, so using social media to demonstrate your expertise is a smart move for a digital CPA. Depending on your niche, certain social media channels can be more effective than others. A book to help you craft your strategy on social media is Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk.

If you are not already incorporating video conferencing into your client meetings you should start. There are a multitude of tools to use. You want to see your client; body language can tell you a lot, but don’t get caught on meeting in person. Video conferencing allows more of a connection than just a phone call and a whole lot more than email. As a trusted business advisor, your personal relationship with your clients is extremely valuable. You don’t want to lose that personal touch.

How will I communicate this differentiation?

It takes words and actions to convey your value and differentiation as a digital CPA. When you tell clients you will make their accounting process easier, you need to ensure that your actions reinforce your words.

Start with how to communicate the significance of being a digital CPA. One way is drafting an elevator statement, a 30 second explanation. When someone asks what you do, or about your business, how long does it take to answer? And when completed how interested is the listener? Tip: Your elevator statement should address these questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What benefit will the listener derive from working with you?
  3. What need can you fulfill?
  4. What problem can you solve?

This type of speech is very difficult to draft on the fly. Write it out. Practice saying it. Get everyone on your staff familiar with it so if you are asked about your firm—or one of your staff members is—everyone is prepared to consistently describe your practice.

Next, you should take note of the tools you use and those that you ask your clients to use to work with your practice. If you have clients bring everything via paper, have them meet you in person, and don’t offer tools that interface with their mobile devices—then you cannot differentiate on the basis of being a digital CPA.

The bottom line here is that your clients don’t really care about what technology you use. What they do care about is that you use it to make their accounting work easier and that you offer your expertise to keep their businesses growing. Your digital CPA tools accomplish both of these needs.

Being a digital CPA is not really about you—it is about your clients

Your clients won’t care if you are a digital CPA if you don’t let it transform your service and business model. Focus on your vision for your firm and implement the principles of being a digital CPA to take your service to an expert, advisory level. This is what clients are looking for today.

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