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Jennifer Wilson
9 complaints young CPAs need to let go of

Up-and-comers must suspend cynicism to drive change.

August 18, 2014
by Jennifer Wilson

In my June 23 CPA Insider article, I encouraged mature firm leaders to let go of nine complaints they have about the “younger generation” and instead develop strategies to capitalize on the new market realities that make young leaders critical to the success of any firm. Because it’s hard to move on, those mature leaders who put their complaints aside first will gain a definite competitive advantage. Judging from the volume of email and online comments I received, these complaints are pervasive, and for some, well-entrenched.

In considering other ideas for driving firm unity around shifting demographics, it seems important to make a similar request of the younger generation within firms. The bright up-and-comers hold great promise for our profession, and they definitely stand to inherit some magnificent firms. That said, these young CPAs, are growing restless with their mature leaders, and they are running a list of common complaints that they, too, must let go of to drive the change they seek.

The table below outlines nine common complaints that up-and-comers must let go of and offers questions they can ask instead to open up communication, gain a clearer understanding of their leaders’ motives and industry best practices, and begin to contribute to their firm’s strategy for change.

Let go of these complaints

Discuss these questions instead

Mature leaders won’t let go of the past or how it’s “always been done.”

What are the “must keep” elements (profitability, client service, quality, accuracy, etc.) of our firm’s business model as we look to the future?

What are the elements of the past that don’t play well in the future? What solutions can I suggest to change those things? Have other firms made changes that I can refer to as examples to encourage change in my firm? Who are those firms, what changes did they make, and what were the results of those changes? 

Mature leaders don’t want to relinquish any power or control.

How can we slowly transition responsibility to younger leaders so we can meaningfully participate in leadership and management with the coaching and oversight of our mature leaders?

What are mature leaders most concerned about losing as we consider changing our firm to adapt to market trends? How can I ease those concerns?

Mature leaders won’t trust me with important client relationships.

What changes do I need to make to exhibit more ownership of projects, assignments, and clients so that I can earn the trust of my leaders?

What aspects of important client relationships can I own at this point so that we can take a first step to transition these relationships?

What new client relationships can I develop through networking or business development where I can “own” the relationship from the onset?

Mature leaders won’t leverage and/or invest in technology, because it is something they don’t easily understand.

What can I do to build a business case for the technology investments we need to make?

Which mature leaders might be open to upward mentoring on the use of technology so that they can see and share the benefits with their peers? How can I share the technology in understandable, plain English?

Mature leaders are too attached to the clock and hours.

What measures can we put in place to report on true productivity that would give mature leaders confidence that they could let go of traditional time-based measures (e.g., revenue production, number of returns processed or reviewed, and other “output” measures)?

What small step could we take to move away from traditional office hours, such as instituting core hours when everyone is accessible?

What are other firms doing in this area?

Mature leaders won’t disclose their retirement plans, so I don’t know when to expect transition.

What succession best practices can I bring forward to help mature leaders feel comfortable that discussing their plans is important and expected?

What questions can I ask about my own career progression and expected transition of clients to me that will help me know what to expect?

Where can I privately ask those leaders I perceive as closest to retirement about their transition plans?

Mature leaders are not transparent with financial information, and it makes me feel like they don’t trust me or they have something to hide.

How can I encourage our leaders to begin to share summary financial information and tie it to firm goals so we can better affect firm performance?

What practice economics courses or benchmarking data can I access to understand more about firm financials? How can this better inform questions that I can then ask our firm leaders about our financials?

What do I know about my own financial metrics at the firm (e.g., revenue produced, realization, utilization, etc.)?

Mature leaders don’t seem interested in bringing me along to meetings so that I can observe them in action and learn from the experience.

Which firm leaders am I most interested in shadowing?

How can I make it easy for them to bring me along? Would it be helpful if I looked at their calendar and suggested some appointments that might be beneficial? What ground rules can I suggest that would make them feel safe bringing me along?

Mature leaders don’t seem open to feedback, and I’ll commit a career-limiting move if I share my ideas.

What would firm leaders think of forming an employee advisory board? What information can I bring forward that would promote the benefits of this idea?

What feedback do I most need to share? Which of our firm leaders should I trust with this feedback? What are the risks to my morale or team morale if I don’t share my input?

How can I expect my firm to change if I don’t share my thoughts on the changes I’d like to see?

Young people, the leaders at your firm need your ideas to navigate these challenging times of change. Let go of the fear that your elders won’t listen to you or share with you. Ask the right questions. Learn more. Generate solutions and then offer to lead a pilot to test your ideas.

And above all, quit expecting nothing to change and start driving the change you most want!

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Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and its services at www.convergencecoaching.com.