Art of Accounting: Is anything new after eight years?

Accounting

This column starts the ninth year of my Art of Accounting columns. I am grateful to Michael Cohn, my editor, and the other staff at Accounting Today for their continuous help and assistance and for including my columns here. I am also thankful to the readers, most of whom are colleagues, who read them and who also email and call me with comments and questions. I feel particularly blessed that I haven’t missed an issue in my string of 416 consecutive columns. This one is #417.

Anniversaries cause reflection and I asked myself if anything is new after eight years. The obvious response is plenty. If public accounting had a Rip Van Winkle who woke up today after an eight-year nap, he would find much that has changed, and many of the new services accountants are performing he wouldn’t even recognize. However, one thing that hasn’t changed is how staff perform and are evaluated. The type of work and how it is done certainly have changed, but I do not think the expectations for performance and how it’s evaluated has.

This is a critical issue since owners and partners cannot advance if staff do not advance. Staff should also care about it because they want to know what they need to do to move up and acquire more skills and responsibilities. There probably are a dozen or so metrics that determine this, in addition to increases in technical competencies. These are the same metrics that bonuses, raises and promotions are based on. I also do not see how this has changed from when I started my career; thus nothing is new in this area since the beginning of time.

The rules or metrics are pretty simple. Staff advance when they get their work done on time and meet deadlines, and their work is accurate, free of error and on budget; and when they grow their skills and mentor and teach those working under them and when they work more than the minimum required hours. Also taking work over from supervisors rather than pushing work up to them is an important issue. Staff also will advance when the clients they work on refer business, accept normal fee increases, pay their bills on time, engage the firm for added services, and start a relationship with the staff person that relieves owners or partners of some responsibility.

I look at these items and they look like no brainers to me. Staff just need to do their part and the owners and partners just need to let them know this is what they consider. I consider these basic, and when I was interviewed for a podcast by Blake Oliver last month his questions brought this out. He kept hammering away that none of these matters and that hours worked is the only criteria. You can listen to the 67-minute podcast at https://lnkd.in/gWstasJ9. What I usually do with podcasts is put them on, then minimize the window and do work while the podcast is playing. Blake provides an extra feature where you can play it back at a faster speed, up to twice the normal speed. If you do that, I sound very funny, but the information does not change, and your brain will easily absorb it. You can also pause it if you need to take a call or a break.

Anyway, with regard to the role of these expectations and then evaluating staff performance, it seems to me nothing much has changed in the last eight years, and then some. Nothing covered here is difficult or rocket science. It is just the staff getting the job done that they were hired to do, and the bosses making the staff aware that is what is important.

Do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com with your practice management questions or about engagements you might not be able to perform.

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.” He 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. He 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 he shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. He welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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