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The Boomer Bulletin - 2010
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Accountability...a process, not a slogan!

Posted By Gary Boomer, Monday, October 18, 2010
L. Gary Boomer

Accountability requires management and there is a crisis of under management in most accounting firms. Bruce Tulgan in his book It’s OK to be the Boss explains how most leaders and managers are struggling with the entire concept of management. It is my experience that the majority of partners in accounting firms either lack management skills or prefer not to manage. The words empowerment and micromanagement are often used as excuses for managers not spending time with those reporting to them unless there is a crisis. Does this sound familiar in your firm or organization? Now that times are tougher, we hear more about accountability and performance.

The focus of this article is accountability and the role management skills play in the management process. Too many people are talking about accountability as a slogan, but not doing anything to improve performance and actually hold people accountable. Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of accountable and unaccountable employees.

Accountable People

Non Accountable People

Welcome measurements

Avoid measurements

Speak in specifics

Speak in abstracts

Appreciate excellence and quality

Ridicule excellence

Strengthen standards, policies & procedures

Undermine standards, policies & procedures

Expand uniqueness and capabilities

Demand equal treatment

Demonstrate commitment

Avoid commitment

High performers

Low performers

In my opinion, the primary missing step in management is spending the time up front to establish expectations and then monitoring progress in order to insure success. Sure, most firms establish chargeable goals for employees and monitor progress. Establishing charge goals is not management, it is budgeting.

I am talking about taking the time to plan in advance including specific steps to accomplish an engagement or project, develop a timeline, discuss contingencies, and insure the employee has the appropriate training, tools and checklists. Most importantly great managers spend the time upfront to establish specific expectations. Many people, including partners, may feel this is a waste of time and employees will figure it out as perhaps they had to do earlier in their career. This approach is called micromanagement by some, but don’t be fooled or caught in the under management trap. It may sound boring and basic, but Tulgan emphasizes that in today’s environment with multiple generations in the workforce great managers manage every day, not just when they have time or a crisis.

Tulgan further points out that not everyone is equal and employees should not be treated as equal. Do you think you should treat your top performers the same as your mediocre and under performers? He says "No” for numerous reasons. Some of the things you should consider for top performers and those willing to be held accountable are:

  • Assign them to the best engagements where they will have the opportunity to develop
  • Provide them additional training in technical, IT and soft skills
  • Provide the opportunity to work with industry leaders
  • Encourage them to participate in peer organizations
  • Provide flexibility in their work schedules and locations

Now, let’s go back and review how managers can improve the process of setting expectations and improving performance and accountability. It all starts with a vision and strategic plan. If firms don’t have a current plan based upon a shared vision it is very difficult to manage and hold people accountable. Assuming your firm does have a plan and is serious about improving performance and accountability, it should all start with a personal game plans at all levels and especially at the partner level. Most firms accept the fact 90 days is the optimum time period.

At the end of the 90 day period the employee is responsible for completing an accountability review with their supervisor. Notice the big difference…the employee is responsible for the review, not the supervisor or manager. (Partners are not a protected class when it comes to accountability. The first decision great partners make is to allow them to be managed.) The manager is responsible for spending time with the employee, coaching and approving priorities for the next 90 days. Great managers not only provide constructive criticism, they also provide resources and instill confidence. Confidence is the most important criteria for people to learn and develop.

By following this process, firms can expect:

  • Improved personal, team and firm performance.
  • Focus on priorities and the strategic plan rather than just keeping busy.
  • Accelerated development of staff and managers.
  • The development of successors at all levels.
  • The elimination of mediocrity and under performance.
  • The retention and attraction of quality staff and clients.
  • Increased revenues and profits.
  • A firm culture that supports the firm’s vision.

Don’t procrastinate. Develop or update your firm’s strategic plan today.

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