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Archive for May, 2015

I hope you’ve enjoyed the long holiday weekend, which marks the unofficial start of summer.  Memorial Day is one of our nation’s oldest and most significant holidays, born solely of our shared American heritage. We set aside this day for remembrance and gratitude of those brave men and women who gave their lives while serving in the military to protect our beloved country.  We hope you enjoyed the day barbecuing, watching your local holiday parades and ceremonies, and of course, spending quality time with family and friends.

This day also provides a great opportunity to extend our appreciation to members of the Withum family who have served in the United States military:

  • Howard Aronson
  • Bill Cadmus
  • Amanda Reed-Darby
  • Matt Goldsmith
  • Allan Gross
  • Al Lehner
  • Wil Lissak
  • Ed Mendlowitz
  • Stanley Millner
  • Ron Petrics
  • Jim Rockwitz
  • Jay Sexton
  • Doug Sonier
  • Bill Stahl

On behalf of the firm, it is a great honor to be able to thank you for serving our country.  We are grateful to our soldiers, whose mission is to ensure that our safety and the many freedoms we as Americans enjoy are maintained.

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We will soon be underway with staff reviews, going over the results of the Upwards and Downwards evaluations.  The process is easy when you have only good things to say.  The most challenging part, however, is discussing the negative feedback and how to present it in the most constructive way possible.  A good method to consider is called the “Evaluation Sandwich” where you offer a positive comment or compliment of a strength area, followed by the negative comment or discussion of areas of improvement, followed up by another good comment.  It kind of looks like this:

san

Ok, stop thinking about doing a fast-food drive-thru lunch.  Instead, consider these five steps for effectively handling negative feedback during the review process with your staff:

  1. Be a coach by being specific. People generally respond better to specific, positive direction. Avoid saying things like, “You need to be more talkative in meetings.” It’s too ambiguous and can be interpreted in a lot of personal ways. Say something specific and positive pointed at the task you want accomplished, such as, “You’re smart. I want to hear at least one opinion from you in every meeting we’re in together going forward.”
  2. Prepare with facts, not opinions. If you need to substantiate performance, whether exemplary and poor, it helps if you have concrete examples or quantified results to support your claim. This will go a long way in helping the staff appreciate your position and not feel they are being personally attacked if the feedback is negative, or having a false sense of confidence when the feedback is very positive and they are not sure why.
  3. Keep it professional and show respect. Stick with issues related to the person’s performance and conduct in the workplace. Don’t raise your voice, make personal attacks, use sarcasm or belittle. Speak with respect.
  4. Give the other person the opportunity to respond.  Feedback is a two-way street, so don’t forget to listen to what the other person has to say. Remain silent and meet the other person’s eye, indicating that you are waiting for an answer. If the person hesitates to respond, ask an open ended question.  For example: “What do you think?” “What is your view of this situation?” “What is your reaction to this?” “Tell me, what are your thoughts?”
  5. End with encouragement. At the conclusion of the performance meeting, which also marks the end of one performance cycle and the beginning of the next, your job is to encourage. You want to motivate the staff member to continue doing that which s/he does well and to improve in the areas where there is room for growth. This is the best way to make these meetings productive and positive. Even if the person’s evaluation number was not as high as s/he might have hoped, remind your staff member that s/he is still valued and that you’ll support him/her in their development.

When done constructively and honestly, the evaluation process is likely the most effective tool we offer for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of our staff in order to help them grow in their careers in a positive, productive direction. Please use this as an opportunity to help put our staff and our firm in a position of strength.

Have a great week.

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Happy Mother’s Day!! (belatedly).  I trust you all had a great day and for those of you that are mothers you were treated to a special day by your family….and everyone else spent some valuable time with your mom’s and family….at the end of the day we all work hard for the reward of quality time with our families.

Now that we are through busy season, you are probably feeling relieved. But I am sure that the hectic pace of busy season is still fresh in your mind…you recall feeling like part of an act from a circus show where a man takes a plate, balances it on the end of a long pole, and gives it a spin.  Then he repeats the process with another plate, then another, and another until there are about eight or more plates spinning. During the rest of the act, the man runs from pole to pole, shaking the poles carefully in turn to keep the plates spinning. The plate is always just a second away from disaster. It’s a great metaphor for the effort we go through in balancing our client demands, engagements and personal obligations, keeping them crashing and burning and always moving forward.  Now is the time to plan for next busy season to be sure you don’t let any of those metaphorical plates hit the floor. Here are few ideas to make it easier:

1. Know Your Next Deadline.

Plan on getting information in more timely…..communicate with our clients that we would like to set a false deadline the week before the real deadline and get the information in early to avoid the last minute rush…..Also, if you’ve got multiple projects running concurrently, it can be very tempting to just pick the one that is easiest, most fun or for a favorite client and work on that. This can be a recipe for disaster, as it allows other deadlines to creep up on you unexpectedly.   A useful tip is to keep a document with these open project due dates posted in a very visible place, keeping track of everything.

2. Keep Task-Switching to a Minimum.

As many of you likely know, switching from one task to another is a productivity killer. Every time you need to ramp up on something, it takes you a while to remember what you were doing and to get back into “the zone” where you’re working efficiently. Don’t try to divide a four-project day into 8 individual 1-hour segments if you can possibly avoid it. You’re much better off blocking two hours for each project together – or, even better, spending half a day on each project on alternate days.

3. Apply Grease as Needed.

No client ever wants to think that they are at the back of the queue. Make each client feel they are the most important client by conducting a quick triage process on requests for extra work as they come in. Make it a practice to get to client requests that take less than half an hour out of the way at the start of the day; it really helps.

4. Keep Clients Updated.

Even if you can’t deliver everything as soon as the client might like, don’t ever “go dark” on a project. Every client e-mail should get a response, every phone call should be promptly returned, if only to tell them that you’ll be able to consider that more fully tomorrow. On major projects, send out a quick status report every one or two days (usually just a bulleted list of open issues) to let the clients know that their work is still proceeding. If you take this approach, make sure that the list actually changes from day to day. Don’t let open items sit for more than two weeks. Keep reminding the client of the open items because if they forget them, it will be our fault when the pressure is on to make a deadline.

5. Under-Promise/Over-Deliver

It is important to set expectations with clients. Let them know when they can realistically have a draft or completed product and then push internally to beat the date promised by a day or two. As always, when setting expectations, we need to also warn clients that we need complete and accurate information from them in order to do our job, and as stated in point 4 above, if we keep them posted on open items we should also let them know how open items impact our delivery date.

Switching between multiple projects can be challenging, yet it is a necessary evil in our demanding profession. But if you can manage it, the benefits of having more satisfied clients who will consider you as their trusted advisor makes it worthwhile.

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Now that busy season has wrapped up and our clients are (hopefully) content (for now), we are reminded that our clients are the core reason why we are a thriving professional services firm.  They need and require the services we provide, but choose to remain Withum clients.  CCH published an Accounting Firm Client Survey which provided this list of top client responses as to why they chose to no longer work with their current service provider. I think it is a good list to review, although fortunately a few of the points are not applicable to Withum.  But overall, they offer a solid reminder of what matters most to clients.

The Top 10 Reasons Clients Leave:

  1. The firm did not regularly check with me on my changing needs.
  2. Staff were not able to efficiently find the information needed to deliver the services I needed.
  3. I believe the firm was charging more than the value I was receiving. (note this is a PERCEPTION that we need to avoid by demonstrating value time after time)
  4. It became apparent that the firm was not leveraging technology to deliver the best services possible.
  5. The firm did not keep me up-to-date on regulations that directly affected me.
  6. I became concerned about the firm’s financial stability.
  7. The firm no longer specialized in the types of services I needed.
  8. I lost trust in the ability to deliver the quality services I needed.
  9. It became apparent to me that the firm was not acting as efficiently as it should.
  10. The firm had difficulty recruiting or retaining talented employees.

As a Firm, we make every effort to do our part in the client retention process: by hiring the best and the brightest talent possible; by providing education and training to our staff; to implementing cutting-edge technology to provide world-class client service and client communications; and by conducting annual client surveys to keep a pulse on their needs. But the rest is up to you… the individual professional.

Regardless of how much pressure we are under to make client deadlines, please be respectful of the valued relationships we have developed and nurtured with our clients, so that they continue to be clients for many years to come.  And in the event I can ever assist with a client relationship, please let me know.

Thanks and have a great week.

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