What are you great at?

Being good is simply not good enough. The first question I hear from many people when seeking advice is what do I need to do better? The problem with that question is getting better starts from looking at areas of weakness that need to be improved. If an area of weakness is a fatal flaw, something that will truly hinder your career, then by all means, you need to work on that area. But once you have eliminated career limiting flaws, what next?

Too often people try to create a breadth of skills they are good at. This is kind of like investing in an index fund rather than individual stocks. You won’t lose big, but you won’t do better than average either. In investing, this is a great strategy, but in career building such a plan may not be the best. Instead, people should think about finding a few things they could be great at doing. Think about it – who is more likely to get noticed, someone who is a solid hard worker or someone who delivers something special?

If you’re honest with yourself, the answer is someone special will get noticed first. Then people will look at the person who does something special and, if they are good enough at everything else, give that person the opportunity for the next project or promotion. My “special” is accounting policy and standards. If you ask people who know me just a little, the first thing they will comment on is that I have a unique ability to understand how transactions should be accounted for under our standards and rules. Once people notice me for that talent, they look a little deeper and realize I’m a pretty good manager, supervisor and leader, too. (Yes, those are different skills.)

The point is that without the initial recognition because of my special skills in one area, the rest of my “good” skills would never be recognized. As you move up the ladder in your organizations, it gets harder and harder to show how you’re different. Everyone is good (well, above average). The question is, how do you shine when everyone is talented? I think the answer is to pick something you’re (very) good at and become great at it. Being great at something is what will continue to get you noticed, after which, you can then show off all the other things you are good at.

What are you, or can become, great at? That’s the question you need to answer to get noticed and accelerate your career path.

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Questions

I know we all became or are becoming CPAs because we like numbers not words. Well, how did that work out for all of you? Looking at the last week, I probably read or wrote 1,000 words for every number I entered on a spreadsheet. The reality is that our life as CPAs is buried in words, including reading contracts, leases, marketing proposals, tax regulations and accounting standards. The resulting work of taking all those words and determining the resulting numbers to put in the accounting systems can be easy or difficult depending on the precision of the questions asked about the documents we read.

Let’s take a recent example that had lots of people talking, the end of Game of Thrones. The big question was who was going to be King or Queen of Westeros at the end. The easy answer is that the king was Bran the Broken of House Stark. Everyone who said it would be Bran was right … well, not so fast. That depends on what question was asked.

If the question asked was who would sit on the Iron Throne at the end, maybe the answer should be no one. I mean, the throne was melted out of existence by Drogon the Dragon, so no one can sit on it, right?

If the question was who will rule the Seven Kingdoms, the answer once again maybe no one, because one Kingdom decided not to bend the knee and be independent at the end.

If the question was which house will rule the Seven Kingdoms, then the answer may be House Stark, because even though one Kingdom decided to be independent, it is also ruled by a member of House Stark, Sansa Stark.

There is a tired old joke about a series of accountants being asked what two plus two is, and the one who gets hired is the one who says what do you want it to be? Maybe we’ve been missing the moral of that joke all these years. Maybe the real point of the joke is that answers depend on the questions asked


Preparing for the Future

I recently saw a list of people in Texas who lost or had their CPA license suspended, due to failure to complete required CPE. I find that list unfathomable for two reasons. One, how could you let something you worked so hard to get lapse over not completing a reasonable amount of CPE? It can’t be the cost, because you can get all the mandatory CPE for little or no expense now.

And I would say it can’t be because of the time either. Some people might say 40 hours – or five days a year – is a lot of time. My answer is that you probably waist more time in useless conversations about the Kardashians, Game of Thrones or some other meaningless topic. Let’s look at this in terms of numbers. Five days is less than 2% of the workdays in a year. Now, CPE can be taken in one-hour (or less in some states) increments. All you need to do is watch one hour of CPE one day a week over lunch while you eat a sandwich. How difficult of a time commitment is that to keep? TXCPA even offers the new TXCPA Passport, which includes special savings for members and unlimited access to a catalog of on-demand CPE courses available to watch anytime.

I guess I should be happy that people not wanting to take CPE are no longer part of the profession. With all of the changes happening – new tax law, new SEC and PCAOB rules, new GASB pronouncements, new FASB standards – how can you keep up without taking CPE? And the changes are even bigger than just the new standards and rules. What we do every day is changing radically, due to technology. Artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and blockchain, just to name a few, are technologies that are changing what it means to be a CPA.

We don’t necessarily have to become experts in data analytics or computer programming, but we better know enough to have a conversation with the experts in those areas. Really, such a concept is nothing new. CPAs have been interacting with subject matter experts for years, be it people who really understand tax, M&A accounting or valuation work. I’m certainly not a valuation expert, but I can talk reasonably well with those who are about valuations. I know enough to be dangerous, which means, in terms of the profession, I know enough to bring in the experts when I need them.

While future CPAs may include people with data and technology skills, that doesn’t mean I lose relevance – as long as I keep up. The CPA profession has always been broad enough to include many experts, from tax to financial planning to forensics. Today, I would say public company GAAP knowledge is even a subset expertise in the profession, as well. How do we keep all of this together? It is by taking CPE to expand our areas of knowledge so we can engage our subject matter expert colleagues when needed. CPE is the key to a continuously relevant profession and I, for one, am glad we have recognized that need for many decades.

 

 


Are You More Important Than Your Colleagues?

Do you tell your colleagues that you are more important than they are – or more specifically, that your time is more important than theirs? While I bet most of you would respond that you would never say such a thing, I also bet most of you have done something in the past month to deliver that exact message. What did you do? You overstayed your assigned time in a conference room and passed the next group that was supposed to be in there five minutes ago as you walked out the door. By not allowing the next group to start on time, you made it loud and clear that your time was more important than the time of those who were waiting to start their meeting.

Even if you’re fortunate enough not to work in the latest fad of open office environments, offices are getting smaller and smaller, so more and more meetings are moving from offices to conference rooms, even meetings with only two or three people. Scheduling apps make the process of reserving a conference room easy, but the apps also allow meetings to be scheduled one next to another. Scheduling meetings one after another maximizes use of the available space, but it also sets up the proverbial dominos. If an early meeting runs late, then the next meeting runs a little later and before you know it, people are waiting five minutes, 10 minutes or even longer to start the next meeting.

The passive/aggressive among us (see my hand being raised) try to “fix” the problem by scheduling the start of our conference room reservation 15 minutes before the meeting begins and the “considerate” might schedule the reservation to end 15 minutes after the meeting is supposed to end. In some ways that makes sense, like the time we had to get between classes when we went to school. Schools recognize that you can’t start the next class one second after the last one ended. The problem is that the scheduling creates gaps throughout the day where valuable space is not used.

Real estate consulting types then come in, look at conference room usage and say: “Look at all the times conference rooms are not being used. You could save real money by reducing the number of conference rooms and, therefore, the amount of leased space you occupy.” Such a reaction becomes a death spiral to conference room availability and usage.

It seems the real solution is to respect your colleagues’ time, end your meeting on time and vacate the conference room when you’re supposed to. Of course, asking for such a level of respect in a society when its OK to take out your phone and tell the person you’re eating with they’re boring and you would rather spend your time with this shiny device may be hoping for too much, but that’s probably a whole different blog. How does your office solve the conference room conundrum?


Musings from an Interviewer

I recently conducted several interviews related to openings in my organization. The interview process provides ample opportunities for improvement and I thought I would share a few observations to help interviewing for your next opening be more successful.

First, never assume an email setting up an interview has been received by your candidate. Email systems block emails all the time, especially calendar invitations. Make sure you have confirmation from your candidate that he/she is coming. Second, make sure your candidate knows what needs to be done once he/she arrives at your office. Where is the person supposed to park? How does the person get into your building? If your organization is small, is there someone to greet the candidate? If your organization is large, does the person at the reception desk even know who you are and where to send the candidate once he/she arrives? These may seem like trivial matters, but you only get one first impression (remember the candidates are interviewing you too) and you don’t want that impression to be a disorganized mess.

Make sure the candidates know what to expect during the interview process. Will you have them meet with a series of people or just one person? Are you going to ask them to take some sort of assessment? You don’t have to give out all of the details, but make sure you are clear about how much time the candidate needs to commit to the interview process.

Finally, begin with the end in mind. Sure, you have a job description and a plan for what work the candidate will be performing when he/she joins the company, but what else are you looking for? Are you looking for someone who can grow into a supervisory role in your group or is your group considered the entry point into the company where people then move into other roles throughout the finance organization? If the former, do you see the candidate being able to grow into that role? If the latter, what skills, while not necessary for the immediate job, could be beneficial to the rest of the department? In a tight labor market, you may not have a lot of candidates to chose from, but if you do, you need to be prepared to think through the differences in the candidates both for the current and future positions in the company.

What other tips, both from experienced interviewers and from job candidates, would you like to share with your colleagues?


First Job

I recently read excerpts from an interview with Anna Helen Petersen. One of her comments really struck me. She was talking about expectations recent college graduates have about their first job and said:

“What they wanted was a job that was simultaneously cool, something that they could brag about to their friends, impressive, something that their parents would be OK with, but also something that they were personally passionate about. That is such a high order for your first job – or any job.”

I have written blogs on the responsibility of managers to explain the big picture to employees about how their job fits into the overall plans of the company and how the company seeks to provide something that people want, but no amount of explanation will make a job fit all of the above. In addition, Anna points out that social media distorts people’s view of other jobs, because everyone only posts the best (or worst) parts of their life. I sure don’t spend a lot of time posting pictures and talking about reviewing workpapers or working the 10th iteration of a proposed report in my blogs, but that is an important part of my job.

Every job has good parts and bad parts; that’s why someone pays you to do it. If a job was fun all the time, I’m thinking we would be paying our employer for the right to work there, kind of like we pay Disney for the ability to live a few days in fantasyland. Looking at other aspects of the expectations for a first job, cool is in the eye of the beholder. I know people who love being a CPA and think being one is really cool. I also know people who, even when they understand what CPAs really do, would find our work meaningless. Quite frankly, the same thing can be said about parents being OK with a job. Some parents would be thrilled with someone becoming a teacher, while other parents would wonder if their child was crazy for taking such a job.

The part that really gets me is the passionate part. I think we need to set the bar differently. Rather than passionate, are you happy to be going into work every morning or are you miserable? Isn’t a job that’s something you’re good at, pays the rent and doesn’t make you want to hit the snooze button 10 times every morning good enough? Maybe just such a job will allow you to have the time to spend on something else you are truly passionate about.

I’ve known CPAs who are part of their community orchestra and others who spend a great deal of time helping disadvantaged children. Their job may not be their passion, but their job enables them to pursue their passion. In fact, such an arrangement offers more balance, because their entire identity is not wrapped up into a single role.

So, here’s my challenge: what are you besides your job? If you can’t answer that, maybe you need to spend some time figuring it out.


Quotes and Ramblings

A few quotes and other thoughts have caught my attention lately.

Greatness occurs when your children love you, when your critics respect you and when you have peace of mind – Quincy Jones. In today’s world of vitriol from anyone who disagrees with you, I think the best that can be hoped for is the seething silence of hatred from your critics. Does that mean greatness is dead and the best we can hope for is goodness? Then again, maybe we could use a little more goodness in the world.

Zero Trust – The latest trend in cybersecurity or a commentary on society?

Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated – Coretta Scott King.

Hatred would have been easier. With hatred, I would have known what to do. Hatred is clear, metallic, one-handed, unwavering; unlike love – Margaret Atwood. Maybe that is why there is so much hate in 256 characters – it’s easier.

People used to define themselves by what they were for; now, they define themselves by what they are against – Ernie Brown. It sure is easier to be against something than for something. If you’re against something, all you have to be accountable for is saying you’re against it. You don’t actually have to accomplish anything.

Tweet unto others as you would have others tweet unto you – if only…

All you need is love – John Lennon. And kitten videos. At least there are some redeeming qualities about social media.