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I’d like to continue expanding upon the ten traits described in the Withum Way, all of which define our culture and the behaviors which best exemplify our people.  Today we will cover point four:

  1. Maintain a Cooperative Attitude. Possessing a willingness to help, to solve any problem, to ‘make it happen’, is an attribute that is appreciated tenfold by others, and you are perceived as a team player.

There’s an old adage which states, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This means that a team can accomplish more together than if the individuals of that team went out on their own. The importance of being a team player is to contribute to that whole through leadership, cooperation and participation. I often hear stories about our professionals going above and beyond to help a client meet a deadline or solve a problem – sacrificing sleep, hustling to get many small details together, traveling great distances or making calls to the right people who have answers when we don’t, all in the effort to get the job done right for that client.  Taking these extra measures means the world to our clients and contributes to turning our relationships with them from a client/accountant one to that of the trusted professional. This also means a lot to your colleagues who are working alongside you.

Whether with your clients, co-workers, or even your own family or circle of friends, demonstrating a positive, cooperative attitude goes a long way in strengthening relationships when everyone feels they are working together.

Thanks and have a great week!

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You know these people: the ones that seemingly always have a cloud over their heads; they look at everything with a glass-half-empty perspective; they are chronic complainers known to rarely have a nice thing to say about anything.  Often, these people are not even aware of their own negative attitudes because thinking negatively has become a way of life.  Help zap that negativity and turn those frowns upside-down.  Here are a few tips you can use to foster a more optimistic, positive environment when faced with a “Debbie Downer”:

  • Model positive behavior. Your mood and your behaviors are watched and interpreted by everyone around you. Be a good role model, maintaining your composure and a positive attitude that’s authentic.
  • Search out and identify the positives.  Find that silver lining in the cloud! We have an amazing ability to construct our inner world and outlook, to use self-talk to either build ourselves up, or tear ourselves down. Give yourself permission to reframe your thoughts, to focus on the opportunities and positives, and not the drawbacks and negative consequences.  Help the people around you focus on the 90% that we still have rather than the 10% we have lost. See bad events as setbacks, transitory not permanent, and focus on what you can do to learn and grow from it.
  • Provide positive recognition. One of the most powerful gifts you can give someone is to publicly share their good work and victories. This underscores your belief in their potential, and suddenly they are capable of accomplishing so much more, which in turn reaps rewards in productivity.
  • Refuse to fall into the negativity trap yourself.  When there is negativity and distractions around you, it is very important that you keep your eyes focused on the road ahead, on the things that you can do and control. Keep that optimistic attitude.
  • Brainstorm with your team to discover creative ways to make the work environment more positive and pleasant. Trying new things keeps people motivated and stimulates the mind when problem solving. Innovative thinking always has a few stumbling blocks, so maintaining a safe, non-judgmental environment to express and experiment in is very important to employee morale.

We all know that we prefer to work with and interact with positive people. Be that positive person in your circle of friends both personally and professionally. Whether your clients, co-workers, or even your own family or circle of friends, help zap the negativity around you with a positive, cooperative attitude.

Thanks and 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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I recently read a great article on Yahoo! Small Business entitled, “You’ll Never Hear Successful People Say These 15 Phrases.”  Each point made is very applicable to what we do in our profession.  I’d like to share each of the phrases in a series of three emails, five phrases described in each, so you can fully appreciate the message shared for each one.  These are taken right from the article, but I am Withum-izing a few where appropriate.  As you read through these, ask yourself if you are guilty of saying these phrases, keeping you from reaching your fullest potential… and then learn how to remove them from your vernacular. 

Here are some phrases you’ll never hear a successful person say:

1. “We can’t do that.”

One thing that makes people and companies successful is the ability to make solving their clients’ problems and demands their main priority. If a need arises repeatedly, the most successful people learn how to solve it as quickly as they can.  Withum is home to many great resources and connections, both internal and external.  There is likely no problem we can’t help our clients solve.  Instead of saying, “We can’t do that,’ respond by saying, “I don’t have the answer/solution to that question/issue.  Let me check with my colleagues and I will get right back to you.”  Reach out to a supervisor or PIC if you come across an issue or service request you think you can’t address.  It’s pretty likely you can.

2. “I don’t know how.”

Instead of automatically shutting down the solution-finding process, successful people learn what they must in order to succeed in a project or in their career. For example, you would never see a truly successful international business consultant who travels to Italy multiple times per year refusing to learn Italian. If you have a desire to do something, do what you need to do to gain the skills to achieve your goals. 

3. “I don’t know what that is.”

Pleading ignorance doesn’t make the problem go away. It just makes the asker find someone who is able to work with them to solve the problem. While it’s always good to be honest with those you interact with, finishing this phrase with “but I’ll find out” is a surefire way to become more successful. Again, Withum is home to many great resources and experts who can help you find the answer if you cannot do so on your own.

4. “I did everything on my own.”

The best people know to surround themselves with others who are smart, savvy and as dedicated as they are. The best leaders also know to give credit where credit is due, as due credit to you will always come back in hand. Recognize those that have helped you or made an impact and you’ll continue to earn success and recognition yourself.  As you know, at Withum, TEAM is what drives success and recognition, not ME.

5. “That’s too early.”

If there is a networking event, client meeting or prospect opportunity at the very beginning of the day, the most successful people do what it takes to be there. Part of being successful is being at the right place at the right time, no matter if you’re a morning bird or night owl.

Please consider these important points to help you be a more successful person, at Withum and in life. I look forward to sharing the other ten phrases with you in future emails.

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Today, I’d like to continue discussing Pat Williams’ book, Leadership Excellence: the Seven Sides of Leadership for the 21st Century, covering the fifth side of leadership:

  1. Competence. “A leader of competence displays the attitudes, skills, abilities, and behaviors needed to function at a very high level and to take the organization to increasingly higher levels of success. Competence is not a static condition.  It’s a state of one’s continual dynamic growth, both as a person and a leader.” – Pat Williams

The book outlines fifteen leadership competencies:

  1. The competency of problem solving – “If you want to be a leader, then you need to show that you are a problem solver.  Problems just come with the job.”
  2. The competency of selling – Leadership is selling.  And the first thing you must sell is yourself.
  3. The competency of continuous learning – John F. Kenney reminded us, “Learning and leadership are indispensable to each other.  If we stop learning today, we will stop leading tomorrow.”  Invest time in reading an hour a day about great lives, great events and great ideas.
  4. The competency of teaching – Our job is to take the complex and make it simple… if they don’t ‘get it,’ it’s because we failed to teach them properly.
  5. The competency of team-building – “Industrialist entrepreneur Andrew Carnegie said, ‘Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision – the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.’”
  6. The competency of organizing and planning – “A leader of excellence starts with a vision and creates a plan to achieve that vision.”  That plan is the roadmap for teams to follow, while also pinpointing potential obstacles and strategizing around them.
  7. The competency of managing change – “A leader proves his or her mettle not in calm, stable circumstances, but in times of uncertainty and rapid change when the ground is shifting underfoot.”
  8. The competency of balance – Balance is “keeping all things in perspective, maintaining self-control, and avoiding excessive highs or lows that occur because of luck or misfortune.”
  9. The competency of charisma – “Charismatic leaders are personable and outgoing, carry themselves with an air of confidence, and are positive and optimistic in the face of adversity.”
  10. The competency of poise – “Poise is the ability to remain cool, calm and collected in emotional or stressful situations. A poised leader keeps such emotions as anger, frustration, impatience, and panic under control.”
  11. The competency of historical awareness – “History is filled with patterns that have a way of repeating themselves. The better we understand the cycles of past history, the more quickly we recognize the events that come our way.”
  12. The competency of authority – “Followers grant authority to leaders by agreeing to follow – and they can withdraw that authority by simply refusing to follow.”
  13. The competency of good judgment – “…the capacity for making wise, moral, effective decisions.”
  14. The competency of authenticity – “What does it mean to be authentic? Very simply, it means be yourself.” You are who you are. Embrace it.
  15. The competency of patience – “Pay your dues. Learn the ropes. You can’t come into a new situation and jump right to the top.”

I know there’s a lot to digest here, but these fifteen points certainly underscore the importance of being a competent leader. As it relates to our profession, I’d have to add a 16th competency – the competency of technical skills, which we as a firm strive to help you through our CPE programs, training programs, and technology and software tools. Those who are really great at what they do not only enjoy their careers the most, but also gain the respect of their clients and colleagues as experts, as well.  Continuing to grow in your competencies both personally and professionally will inevitably bring you to your pinnacle of leadership.

Have a great week.

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In case you were not able to attend our recent New Partner Reception, I’d like to share a few great announcements worth repeating regarding our firm and our people that you missed:

  • INSIDE Public Accounting released its Top 100 Accounting Firms list for 2014. The IPA independent rankings are among the longest-running, most accurate and up-to-date for the nation’s largest accounting firms. WithumSmith+Brown moved up two spots from 31st to the 29th largest firm in the nation, breaking the Top 30 list!  We attribute this move not only to a couple of recent mergers of competing firms, but also to our own organic growth.
  • Accounting Today released its “100 Most Influential People in the Accounting Profession” list and we again have TWO people from our firm being honored, the only firm on the list with more than one person.  Jim Bourke, partner and practice leader of our Technology Services Group, makes an appearance for a seventh year in a row.  Jim tirelessly travels around the country and the world, presenting and discussing all things tech, quoted and published in a variety of magazines, blogs and websites.  He truly is an influencer in our profession. The second person is Sarah Cirelli, interactive marketing manager, her second appearance on the list and most certainly the youngest person on the list!  Sarah has done extraordinary things to showcase our firm through our videos which contribute to our unbelievably great morale that defines and strengthens our culture.  The profession has taken notice of her work and has followed her trendsetting efforts.  Click here to view the list; Jim is on page 62 and Sarah is on page 64.
  • I also want to share the news that Chris DeMayo, our newly inducted partner, was listed as a 2014 honoree in the national 40 Under 40 program for CPA Advisor magazine.  Honorees are described as “trailblazers who are changing the accounting profession,” and that certainly befits Chris, who has spearheaded several firm initiatives to expand market share in various industries as well as continue to enhance the firm’s reputation as a regionally and nationally recognized provider of services to emerging growth companies. Click here for the official list of honorees from around the country.

Please join me in congratulating these talented professionals who are out there making a substantial impact on our profession… and making us all very proud.

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The late Stephen Covey was an American educator, businessman, keynote speaker and author, with his most popular books being The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and The Speed of Trust.  He is also co-founder of FranklinCovey, a global professional-services firm selling both training and productivity tools to individuals and to organizations, whose mission statement reads: “We enable greatness in people and organizations everywhere”.

Recently, our partners and department heads attended a special FranklinCovey program on “Inspiring Trust.”  By definition, “trust” is the trait of believing in the honesty and reliability of others. This certainly aligns with our firm’s goal of “maintaining the highest professional and ethical standards demanded by the profession, our clients and the public,” as outlined in our own mission statement. The “Inspiring Trust” program was powerfully insightful, with our firm’s leaders learning about “The 4 Cores of Self Trust”:

  1. INTEGRITY: Deep honesty and truthfulness; who we really are; congruence, humility and courage.
  2. INTENT: our plan or purpose – our motive, our agenda, our behavior.
  3. CAPABILITIES: Our capacity to produce and accomplish TASKS: talents, attitudes, skills, knowledge, style.
  4. RESULTS: Our track record – based on past performance, current performance and anticipated performance.

Trust within a team is vitally important. We place great emphasis on our engagement teams to provide World Class Client Service, with the goal to become our clients’ trusted advisors.  From an internal perspective, whether a niche team, department team or office team, having a deep trust between team members helps them motivate and inspire each other in achieving great heights together. And certainly trust in the leadership of that team- his or her vision of strategy and end goals – is equally as important.

Leaders who have INTEGRITY with the right INTENT combined with the right CAPABILITIES will produce fantastic RESULTS.  Enhancing your Self Trust through practice and application of the four cores will help others put their trust in you.

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