Winning the War on Talent: Recap of the Closing Session at the Financial Strategic Leadership Conference by Guest Blogger Mark Goldman, CPA

On May 10, I was honored to be on the panel at the Financial Strategic Leadership Conference hosted by TXCPA San Antonio and the TXCPA CPE Foundation, speaking on the topic of “Winning the War on Talent.” Recruiting experts Nancy Ozuna and Anna-Marie Parker from BKD joined in, as well.

One of the items speakers hope for at such an event is an engaged audience and we certainly were fortunate in that respect. The audience chimed in on several of the topics that were discussed and in fact, directed the conversation in many ways.

I wanted to write this follow-up as a way to both continue the conversation and bring some closure. It was a very productive session, but the audience was so engaged that we actually ran out of time to finish the discussion!

With respect to the top item that candidates look for during the interviewing process, the most discussed request was “flexibility.” To state it in even more basic terms, they look for a position that will fit in with the rest of their lives.

We all have other aspects of our lives that need our attention. Most commonly, family needs are cited, but our other interests, such as maintaining relationships with friends or continuing hobbies we enjoy, are also very important.

Job applicants in today’s market are looking for flexibility to be able to do an excellent job for their employer, but not have to sacrifice too much of their other interests in order to do so. While we want to be productive, it should not be at the expense of other important areas of our lives. We want balance.

Flexibility was, by far, the most discussed issue of the session, but many more were mentioned, including:

  • Remote work capability;
  • Faster growth and promotion opportunities;
  • Dress code that makes sense for the work day;
  • An understanding of expectations;
  • Meaningful work;
  • Feedback on performance, along with active coaching and mentorship;
  • And of course, competitive pay and benefits.

If I had to summarize all of this in one short statement, it would be that employees in today’s workplace expect transparency in how everyone is treated and in what it takes to be successful.

It’s no longer acceptable to be expected to act in a certain way simply because that was the historical expectation. We need to understand why something is handled the way it is and if it doesn’t make sense any longer, then we expect our organizations to be proactive about changing it.

I’m curious what you think about the list above. Is there anything you would add or alter? Please comment or start a conversation on the TXCPA Exchange. We would love, love, love to hear from you!

Mark Goldman, CPA

Mark Goldman is a CPA and the founder of MGR Accounting Recruiters and Where Accountants Go, and the author of the book “49 Tips for a Successful Accounting Career.”

Goldman graduated from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. He worked in public accounting handling tax and general business consulting, and then entered the recruiting industry in 1993. In late 2006, he started MGR Accounting Recruiters, a locally focused recruiting firm specializing solely in accounting placement, and then 10 years later in 2016, he founded, a career website for accountants. In conjunction with that effort, he hosts the weekly “Life in Accounting” podcast.

He has served on the local board of directors for TXCPA San Antonio in several positions, including being a past-president, as well as on the state-level TXCPA board. In addition, he has been involved at both the committee level and board level in other accounting-related organizations, such as the Institute of Management Accountants, Financial Executives International and the American Payroll Association. He has also led the career transition ministry at his church.

On a personal level, Goldman was fortunate enough to be able to marry his high school sweetheart, Sayuki, and they are blessed to have a daughter.



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.

Talking Benefits

As a supervisor, you are asked to evaluate and compensate all of the employees in your organization. When it comes to compensation discussions, if you are only talking about salary, you are doing a disservice to both your employees and your organization. Benefits are a portion of compensation too often undersold by supervisors and, therefore, undervalued by employees. As a supervisor, part of your job is to retain employees and you can’t do that job right if the employees don’t understand and value the total compensation they are receiving. I can hear everyone saying, “but isn’t that HR’s job – to explain the value of benefits?” My answer is yes and it is your job too. In fact, as a CPA, we are often in a better position than HR to understand and explain the financial aspect of benefits, let alone other supervisors.

Simply put, there is no excuse for not spending time helping your staff understand the value of their benefits. Well, there is one excuse – you don’t understand how the benefits work either. If that is the case, it is time to bone up on the benefits your organization offers. Here are a few things to make sure you understand and explain to your employees.

Does your company offer a 401(k) plan? Is there a company match? How does the match work? How much does the employee need to contribute to get the maximum match available to him/her? If you aren’t explaining this, you are letting your employee leave money on the table that he/she could be earning. After those basics, you need to go a little deeper. What are the investment options in the 401(k) plan? What are the fees? If you don’t like the answers, you should be advocating with HR to give all of the organization’s employees better choices. It doesn’t have to be a big company to have good choices and a good price for employees.

The next question is about medical benefits. Does your company only offer one choice or are there options? If options are available, you need to understand the differences. What are the differences in deductibles, co-insurance and employee contributions, and what do employees get for those differences? Your employees get to make the choice, but if you can’t even tell them the differences, how are they supposed to choose?

The next question depends on the kind of medical plans available. If your company offers a high-deductible plan, then it might also offer a Health Savings Account (HSA) benefit. HSAs are great, but you have to be able to explain the triple tax benefit of HSAs – a tax deduction on amounts contributed, no taxes on earnings and no taxes when amounts are withdrawn if the withdrawals are used to pay for medical expenses. That is a better tax deal than a traditional or Roth 401(k) and one that CPA supervisors have a better chance to explain than any other supervisor in the world.

You also need to understand other benefits that may be offered – disability insurance, life insurance, flexible spending accounts. Some may be great deals and others may not depending on each employee’s individual circumstances. The key is to know what is offered, because if you can’t help your employees value their benefits, your employees might leave for a different organization that doesn’t even offer as much value and then you are both worse off.