Just how professional are you?

Scanning the web the other day I came across an interesting article published back in 2005 by a group called the Appraisal Institute. Although the original intent was to help professional appraisers (i.e. valuers) the following professionalism tenets can serve as guideposts for all of us. (I’ve made some slight adjustments to better suit the purpose of this blog)

Ethics/Integrity: The professional adviser strictly adheres to all applicable standards and ethical rules and acts with honesty and integrity in the performance of all their services.

Competency: The professional adviser develops competency through advanced education, continuing education and experience; relies on education and experience to develop judgment and sound reasoning; and continually strives to improve his or her knowledge and skills.

Image: The professional adviser strives to present a positive image of the profession to clients and to the public.

Services: The professional adviser strives to consistently provide high-quality services, reports and other products to clients and other users of their services.

Reliability: The professional adviser strives to meet commitments to made to their clients.

Accountability: The professional adviser recognizes and accepts responsibility for his or her actions.

Public Trust: The professional adviser recognizes the vital role that appraisers play in the well-being of our society and strives to promote and maintain a high level of public trust and confidence in the profession.

Courtesy: The professional appraiser strives to act with civility and courtesy to all.

Membership in a professional association: The professional adviser joins and actively participates in a professional association and in the processes of self-regulation.

I must say the above list is not a bad starting point. How do you rate on the above checklist?

All my best,

James

Help me help you!

If you have been reading this blog for a while you would have noticed that I’m a fan of David Masiter (see http://davidmaister.com)

David has published a wealth of material on how professional services firms should relate to their clients and prospects. Back in April 2006, David wrote a blog titled “What do you want from me?” Have a read below. I’ve made a few tweeks so it fits better with the theme of my blog. I hope that’s OK!

It’s common that clients will assign work to you badly, and that will cause you problems. How can you do what they want if they don’t tell you clearly what they want? The key is to take responsibility and ask permission to ask questions.

When someone gives you a task to do, say something like ‘I really want to do a great job for you, so can I clarify a few things?’ Most people will say ‘Yes.’ You can then be sure you understand the following details about your assignment –

  1. The context of the assignment – ‘Please could you tell me what you are going to do with this when I get it done, tell me who is it for, and where does it fit with other things going on?’
  2. Deadline – When would you like it, and when is it really due?
  3. Scope – Would you like me to do the thorough job and take a little longer, or the quick and dirty version?
  4. Format – How would you like to see the output of my work presented? What would make your life easier?
  5. Time budget – Roughly how long would you expect this to take (so I can tell whether I’m on track or not?)
  6. Relative priority – What’s the importance of this task relative to the other things you have asked me to do?
  7. Available resources – Is there anything available to help me get the job done? For example, have we done one of these before?
  8. Success criteria – How will the work be judged? Is it more important to be fast, cheap or perfect?
  9. Monitoring and scheduled check points – Can we, please, schedule now a meeting, say, halfway through so I can show you what I’ve got and ensure that I’m on track for your needs?
  10. Understanding – can I just read back to you what you’ve asked me to do, to confirm that I got it down right?
  11. Concerns – before I get started can I just share with you any concerns about getting this done (e.g., other demands on my time) so that I don’t surprise you later?

Yes, your client should be good at assigning work and giving you this information anyway. But the truth is that many people won’t have thought through what they really want from you until you guide them through their ‘either-or’ choices.

If you have not received answers to these questions, you don’t yet know what to do, and the risk of being judged a failure is high!

Don’t rely on your client to give you all this information. Pull it out of him or her!

Some sage advice from one of the real masters.

All my best,

James E

Its always better to laugh than cry

I was looking through the traffic statistics for this blog earlier today and noticed that one of the most clicked on posts was one titled “Some funny client stories” published last month. So in the spirit of today being Friday and me believing in the truth that if we don’t laugh we will all probably start crying, here are a few one-liners to get you smiling. Enjoy!

What do accountants suffer from that ordinary people don’t? Depreciation.

What’s the definition of an accountant? Someone who solves a problem you didn’t know you had in a way you don’t understand.

What’s the definition of a good tax accountant? Someone who has a loophole named after him.

What’s the difference between an accountant and a lawyer? The accountant knows he is boring.

Why did the accountant stare at his glass of orange juice for three hours? Because on the box it said Concentrate.

What do you call an accountant without a spreadsheet? Lost.

When do accountants laugh out loud? When somebody asks for a raise.

Why do accountants get excited on Saturdays? They can wear casual clothes to work.

How does an accountant make a bold fashion statement? He wears his grey suit instead of the blue.

If an accountant’s wife can’t get to sleep, what does she say? “Tell me about work today, dear.”

And a few more …

My accountant told me that the only reason why my business is looking up is that it’s flat on it’s back.

A fool and his money are soon audited.

A businessman tells his friend that his company is looking for a new accountant. His friend asks, “Didn’t your company hire a new accountant a few weeks ago?” The businessman replies, “That’s the accountant we’re looking for.”

An accountant is talking to the young child of one of his friends and says, “Do you know what I do?’ “Daddy says you’re a CPA.” “That’s right. Did he tell you what CPA stands for?” “Well, he says you’re a Complete Pain in the Arse.”

Keep smiling and bye for now!

James E

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

The other week I was meeting someone in their offices in an outer Sydney suburb and was surprised (to say the very least) a prominent sign posted in the entry way to their foyer.

We are a organisation that is professional and proud of what we do.

If you want to do business with <inset their brand name here> we expect
you to be dressed appropriately. If you are not wearing a neck tie, one will
be provided to you at reception. Thank you.

During the course of my working life I have been in thousands of office buildings. This is the only time I’ve seen such a sign.

The person in the above organisation I was meeting with told me that the owner of the business was an elderly gentlemen who for reasons of proprietary and respect refused to meet anyone (including his own male staff) who was not wearing a tie.

At first I just put this down to the owner being old fashioned and perhaps a little eccentric. However, on further reflection, I changed my mind and decided that he has ever right to insist that everyone he deals with in his business should dress and behave according to the values and standards of his organisation.

As an adviser to your business clients I think it is crucial to be understanding of those elements like speech, dress & demeanor if you are going to build a strong and lasting relationship with your clients and start to build bridges to prospective clients.

See you next time,

James E

Do advisers have honeymoons with their clients?

The other week I had a great meeting with a CFO of a medium sized retailer. To protect the innocent lets call this CFO chap, Wayne.

Wayne was a guy in his late 40’s but looked younger. I was impressed by Wayne’s sharpness, warmth and knowledge of his business & the market in which he operated.

Wayne had been with the business around 4 years and was an experienced operator when it came to working with external advisers – in particular accountants & accounting firms.

In his first year at the retailers, Wayne wanted to shake things up a bit so he informed their current auditors  and tax advisers that he would be going to the market to see what other firms could do for him. Obviously he gave the incumbents  the opportunity to, as it where re-apply for their role as auditor/adviser, but they weren’t successful. They went with another firm.

At this point Wayne pauses, sighs, bows his head slightly, smiles (as if to himself) and is genuinely excited as he recalls the first year working with the new accounting firm which provided him with audit and tax consulting services.

James … it was like the first year of any marriage. Everything just clicked. All of my phone calls were returned almost immediately, any request was never too much trouble, open communication flowed freely and love on both sides abounded. Ah … the memories of the honeymoon. A sweet and lovely time between a client and their accounting firm.

Then suddenly as if some hidden switch had just been flicked, Wayne’s face went dark and gloomy. He was thinking about the state of play with his accounting firm.

Now its year 4. They do their work and its fine but I get the feeling that they’re just going through the motions. The phone calls aren’t returned as promptly, communication is more about me giving and them taking and there is less spring in their step when they come in for meetings. I think sometimes they take the relationship a little for granted. Hmmm … I’m thinking it might be time for a change.

We all get excited about winning a new client , but isn’t it equally important to keep the clients you already have and invest in the relationship?

How is your client “marriage” going? Is your Wayne looking for a new spouse yet?

All my best,

James E

Better to be a fox?

Following on from the last post. Here is an alternate perspective on the question is it better to be a hedgehog or a fox?

For the professional accounting adviser – is it better to be a a fox?

Here is an alternate point of view from the prestigious Economist magazine. It says it may be better to be a fox. See:(http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2009/02/better_a_fox_than_a_hedgehog)

CAN we blame the “experts” for not predicting the financial crisis? I don’t know of any scientific method that could have perfectly called and timed it. Some things were very troubling—global imbalances and the housing bubble—but did it have to get this bad? There were probably a myriad of ways it might have played out, some even worse, some better (remember the IMF  hoping for a happy and gradual unwinding). How can you predict a tepid, inconsistent government reaction (economists suffered a touch of hubris there) and market panic? Human behaviour is tough to predict and when humans try to anticipate what other humans will do—you can get a big mess.

Philip Tetlock, a professor of organisational behaviour at the Haas Business School at the University of California-Berkeley, talks to Money about why humans make poor forecasters and, if you must listen to one, what qualities to look for. He reckons there exists two types of experts:

The most important factor was not how much education or experience the experts had but how they thought. You know the famous line that [philosopher] Isaiah Berlin borrowed from a Greek poet, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”? The better forecasters were like Berlin’s foxes: self-critical, eclectic thinkers who were willing to update their beliefs when faced with contrary evidence, were doubtful of grand schemes and were rather modest about their predictive ability. The less successful forecasters were like hedgehogs: They tended to have one big, beautiful idea that they loved to stretch, sometimes to the breaking point. They tended to be articulate and very persuasive as to why their idea explained everything. The media often love hedgehogs.

According to Mr Tetlock you should listen to humble, self-critical experts who shy away from bold pronouncements. The better ones often use words such as “however” and “perhaps”, instead of “moreover” and “all the more so”. That’s a tough sell to CNBC. He claims these thoughtful types have higher success rates. But I would classify the people who called the crisis as hedgehogs rather than foxes. A foxy economist would probably not incur the moniker Dr Doom. Our now celebrated prophets see no end in sight and think things will get much worse; should we still listen to them?

No. In our research, the hedgehogs who get out front don’t tend to stay out front very long. They often overshoot. For example, among the few who correctly called the fall of the Soviet Union were what I call ethno-nationalist fundamentalists, who believed that multi-ethnic nations were likely to be torn apart. They were spectacularly right with Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. But they also expected Nigeria, India and Canada to disintegrate. That’s how it is with hedgehogs: You get spectacular hits but lots of false alarms.

Mr Tetlock seems to suggest we should listen (and we might want to listen to someone if only to falsely encouraged that we live in a world where chaos does not reign) to the very people who meekly warned of problems, but never said how bad things might get. Most of the time, they will steer you in the right direction. But they’re not infallible; only a hedgehog would’ve seen this coming.

What do you think?

See you next post,

James E

Are you a hedgehog or a fox?

The web is an amazing thing – the largest most dynamic library human kind has ever known. I was listening to a podcast the other day and came across to a reference I had never heard before – something about a hedgehog and a fox. After a little research I uncovered the piece below thanks to a website called Internet Marketing Secrets (for more info see http://www.internetmarketingsecrets.com/news/126/126/hedgehog-fox.html)

The hedgehog and the fox, is an ancient axiom made known by Archilochus a Greek author & poet (645 BC) It simply states, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

It became popular through an essay by Isaiah Berlin, where he divided the world into two types of thinkers… hedgehogs and foxes, based upon the ancient parable.

The fox is sneaky, and always trying to scheme up new ways. Their world is complex, always on the move, and they never tend to focus on a single unifying theory. The hedgehog is simple. They organize the world into a single unifying concept. The fox, for all his cunning, is defeated by the hedgehog’s one defense.

According to Isaiah Berlin’s essay, “There exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision… and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory… The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes.”

In short, hedgehogs set goals, and they have systems by which they accomplish things. Foxes, tend to go off in all directions, without a methodology, goals, or systems to success.

When applied to a business, it means “Know Your Self” and your core competencies. Have a well defined culture. A vision. Know who you are. What you are about. And what you are trying to achieve.

The concept was widely popularized by Jim Collins’ #1 best seller, “Good to Great.” Why some companies make the leap… and others don’t.

According to Jim, “Those who built the good-to-great companies were, to one degree or another, hedgehogs. They used their hedgehog nature, to drive toward what we came to call, a Hedgehog Concept, for their companies. Those who led the comparison companies, tended to be foxes, never gaining the clarifying advantage, of a Hedgehog Concept, being instead, scattered, diffused, and inconsistent.”

As a professional accountant are you a hedgehog or a fox?

See you next post.

All my best,

James E

You don’t know what you’re doing until you’re 31!

A couple of years ago I read a book by Malcolm Gladwell (pictured & the famous author of The Tipping Point & Blink!) titled Outliers.

The book is unusual, thought provoking and definitely worth reading.

One of the themes the book examines that struck me the most, was what Gladwell calls the 10,000 hour rule.
Rather than reinvent the wheel here is an excellent summary I found on the web.

The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.

Even Mozart, the greatest musical prodigy of all time, couldn’t hit his stride until he had his ten thousand hours in. Practice isn’t the thing that you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.

The other interesting thing about those ten thousand hours, of course, is that ten thousand is an enormous amount of time. It’s all but impossible to reach that number all by yourself by the time you’re a young adult. You have to have parents who encourage, guide and support you. You can’t be poor, because if you have to hold down a part-time job on the side to help make ends meet, there won’t be time left in the day to practice enough. In fact, most people can reach that number only if they get into some kind of special program, or if they get some kind of extraordinary opportunity that gives them a chance to put in those hours.

Is the ten-thousand-hour rule a general rule of success? If we scratch below the surface of every great achiever, do we always find the equivalent of the Michigan Computer Center or the hockey all-star team – some sort of special opportunity for success?

Let’s see the idea with two examples: the Beatles, one of the most famous rock band ever and Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men. What truly distinguish their histories are not their extraordinary opportunities. The Beatles, for the most random of reasons, got invited to go to Hamburg. Without Hamburg, the Beatles might well have taken a different path. “I was very lucky,” Bill Gates said at the beginning of an interview. That doesn’t mean he isn’t brilliant or an extraordinary entrepreneur. It just means that he understands what incredible good fortune it was to be at Lakeside in 1968.

These outliers were the beneficiaries of some kind of unusual opportunity. Lucky breaks don’t seem like the exception with software billionaires, rock bands and star athletes. They seem to be like the rule. http://www.bizsum.com/2page/b_Outliers.php

So there you have it. Assuming you’re working at something around 20 hours a week for 10 years (which is roughly 10,000 hours) you will more than likely be an “expert”.  So for the professional accountant, lawyer or adviser you really don’t know what you’re doing until your early 30’s.

Controversial or what?! 🙂

See you next post (I hope)

James E

Do you thank people when they help you?

The other day I was in a hotel cafe meeting with someone for coffee. A big part of my job as a headhunter is to meet with various people in cafes, hotels and the like and have a chat about career, business & life.

After saying good-bye to the person I was meeting with I went to the counter to settle the bill. After signing the various bits of paper, I got my gear together and started to walk out the main entrance to the cafe and noticed out of the corner of my eye, an old client of mine that I keep in broad touch with. Lets call him Clint.

A few months ago Clint had asked me for some introductions to potential clients for a new consulting business he had started with a friend. Back in November I sent some emails to a few specific contacts of mine introducing Clint to them and saying that he would be in touch with them shortly. I wanted to help Clint out so I made sure the introduction was done professionally and well. Usually I would prefer a face-to-face meeting to arrange the introduction, but given the time of year (it was November and the Christmas rush was already starting to bite) a “virtual” introduction via email was the way to go.

The email was sent. Client sent back a quick reply to say thank you for the intros and we went on our merry ways.

Bumping into Clint the other day, he mentioned to me that one of the people I had introduced to him had been great and was proving to be a very fruitful business relationship. Clint then said something like, “Wow James I owe you a lunch or something for introducing me to Phil” I politely replied that there was no need for that, encouraged him that we should keep in touch and said good bye.

At the time I thought “that was good for Clint”, but since reflecting on it since I became annoyed and a little taken for granted. If I had not unexpectedly bumped into Client that day then I may not have known that the chap I had introduced to him 5 months earlier was a great source of help.  Am I being overly sensitive to want some appreciation for what I did for Clint? Maybe … maybe not.

As professionals we need to be treating people that help us build our business in a way that fosters respect and appreciation.

What do you think?

All my best,

James E

I expect ideas from all my advisers!

Last week I met with a CFO of an Australian retail icon and interviewed him for the “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?” book I’m working on. Due to restrictions with my Publisher I’m not permitted to release any name details until the book is out.

That being said I had a really good meeting with this chap. Lets call him Matt as in Matt Damon – I’m sure the CFO won’t mind.

We were talking about his expectations of the external accounting firm they use and he made a very interesting comment which I dare say all accountants can sometimes be guilty of when servicing clients. Please note: I don’t have the transcription of the interview back yet from the person I use so the following is a paraphrase.

You know James, the accountants we use are just great. Because of their long history working with us they really understand our business. Our operation is vertically integrated – we manufacture, wholesale, retail and export our products – so there are a lot of moving parts to our business. Our accountants have an appreciation of practically everything associated about our business and as such we have a close, open and trusting working relationship with them.

That being said, although our current accountants are excellent if I was asked for one area of improvement it would be their level pro-activity in bringing new business ideas and opportunities to the table. Our accountants are top-notch when it comes to all the compliance work they do and value-adding advisory services they provide, but they seem to still operate in the traditional “accountant’s box”

Given their deep and rich understanding of our business I want them to come to me with new ideas to help us improve the business. These ideas could be anything from new products to retail alliances to opportunities in new markets. In fact a lot of ideas I would expect wouldn’t have any link to accounting per se and that is completely ok.

In fact I want all our external advisers & consultants to be sources and generators of new ideas. Be they accounting, legal, technology, human resources, marketing, supply-chain or whatever. I want them all to help us – not just in their respective fields of expertise but, if for example,  our lawyer has a good idea to do with marketing bring it on. I expect ideas from all my advisers!

Are you generating ideas for your clients outside your area of expertise?

See you next post,

James E