Managing Your Career at Every Level — Manager Masters
by Kathleen Hoffelder, NJCPA Content Editor –
September 13, 2018
Managers, new and old alike, have acquired ways to not only survive public accounting or a grueling tax season, for example, but they have mastered a way to make it all work while enhancing client relations. In short, they have figured out how to retain clients and keep their department staff happy at the same time, which is never an easy task. This balancing act can make or break even the most talented managers, but those who do well typically are rewarded nicely with promotions, more clients, larger staff or simply more compensation.
“The road to becoming a manager in a CPA firm infers that you have mastered several key attributes along the way,” according to Rachel Anevski, M.A.O.B, PHR, SHRM-CP, owner of Matters of Management. “First is the ability to learn and really grasp the concepts your organization is teaching. Many effective managers are those who are great listeners and who can learn concepts quickly because the next step in their career is to become a teacher and hone in on delegation skills.”
“Now that you are a manager, you are likely five to eight years out of school. By this time, you may have had between one and three job changes as well. This is normal,” explains Anevski. First-time managers are often juggling these roles all at once, she says, which is why they must be “exquisite task managers, people managers and client managers.” And, often times, these skills are not taught, she explains, “but a skilled learner will get on board with the understanding that this triad of skills is the exact reason they have been promoted.”
As Benjamin Aspir, CPA, manager at EisnerAmper LLP notes, good managers understand rather quickly that the team matters. “In order to be an effective manager, you must come to the realization that you are no longer a ‘doer’ but are managing people. It is no longer about your individual performance but the team’s performance.” And this type of understanding is important because “as a manager you are judged by the growth of the people working with you,” he explains.
Communication can be one of the hardest challenges for young and mature accountants alike, but for those new to the manager role, it can be even more difficult. As Dr. Sean Stein Smith, CPA, DBA, M.S., M.B.A., CMA, CGMA, assistant professor at Lehman College, notes, “dealing with people can be either the most enjoyable and enriching part of your job or it can be the aspect of your job that you dread the most.” Some key points he suggests are the following: 1) always be clear and objective about what you are trying to communicate, 2) focus on the key takeaways and action items versus technical jargon that can be tuned out, and 3) provide a plan and roadmap of why you are doing something.” The bottom line, he says, is if you treat people with respect, are clear and concise on your objectives, and make sure everyone on your team understands the plan, you might be surprised how well your management skills appear to improve.
Aspir agrees. To him, the best managers have the best communication skills. “Communication is critical to both the people you are managing and your superiors.” Staff need to understand what is expected of them. Knowing how to communicate well with superiors is also important so the progress of a report can be relayed and any challenges discussed.
And the more you communicate, the better it is for everyone. “Communication is contagious. The more you communicate with your staff, the more they will communicate with you,” says Andrea Diaz, CPA, ABV, MST, manager at SKC & Co. CPAs, LLC, adding that it’s vital in order to help staff work towards their goals.
One responsibility that is essential to managing is providing meaningful and honest feedback on performance, adds Diane Opuda, manager at RotenbergMeril. “In delivering feedback, you should always be respectful, diplomatic and professional,” she says. In addition to contributing to company performance, she reminds that managers need to be aware that they are primarily responsible for the level of fulfillment and personal development of their team.
Though some of the feedback can be harsh, it’s often necessary. Sharon Bleibtreu, director of human resources at Sax LLP, says “it is extremely difficult to have hard conversations and provide criticism to subordinates — but it is truly necessary for the growth of the individual and productivity of the team. It is important to be respectful and thoughtful with your approach, but giving constructive feedback is vital for long-term growth.”
Opuda likens the role to that of a teacher. “I believe that to be a successful manager, you should try to emulate a teacher because the two roles have many similarities. Like teachers, managers are tasked with sharing consist of patience, good communication skills and adaptability. She explains, “even though you might not have all the answers, you can use your experience to guide employees on how to go about solving problems. Above all, it is your job as a manager to be a resource for others.”
Building Your Network
What goes hand in hand with communicating to internal staff and superiors is communicating with your peers in both formal and informal settings — in other words not just networking but building your network. Most CPAs at the manager level know how to network, but they could use some advice in how to hone in on what sets them apart from all the other managers out there. “Many new managers struggle with this area for a variety of reasons,” says Aspir. “CPAs tend to be more introverted and likely uncomfortable with networking.
But to grow as a person and a professional, you must be willing to step out of your comfort zone. I once heard at a great line at a seminar, ‘Life starts at the end of your comfort zone,’” he said.
What’s the best way to build a network? Public speaking engagements are a good place to start, according to Aspir. These will help establish one’s brand and further help the company’s brand and develop business, he says. Getting involved with local charities and joining their board can also help.
For managers, balance becomes a priority especially when you add in additional extra-career/curricular activities into the mix. “It is because of this that client relationship building and expansion of your network is critical. Having a great team as well as support and/or a strategic referral source makes networking, communicating and client development feel less like work/ sales and more like a hobby and a joy to be around people who get you,” says Anevski.
And for those millennial managers, balancing work and life activities is often one of the most important skills to have. Millennials may often have to ask for more flex time on the job, for example, but if granted, they consider it a major perk. According to the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey, “among those who intend to stay with their current employers for at least five years, 55 percent say there is now more flexibility in where and when they work compared to three years ago. Among those looking to leave within the next 24 months, the figure is only 35 percent.” Employers that offer more flexibility than they did three years ago are achieving greater profitability and providing work environments that are more stimulating, healthy and satisfying for this age group, the report says.
Millennials, more so than other groups, tend to judge this perk as a condition to stay in a job or they may consider going elsewhere. As the Deloitte survey explains, “those less than satisfied with their pay and work flexibility are increasingly attracted to the gig economy.” Indeed, part-time or non-traditional employment is attractive to millennials based on the flexibility. However, the gig economy can both help and hurt this group of workers. As the 2018 Forbes article, “Why the Gig Economy is the Best and Worst Development for Workers Under 30,” explains, “for the unemployed, the gig economy represents both opportunity and challenge. Because lots of small, part-time jobs are available, even non-full-time employed workers can find gigs to help make ends meet.” However, since these jobs are typically more affordable for employers, it can be harder, it explains, for millennials to find the full-time jobs they crave.
Looking for More
As Aspir notes, even at the beginning or middle of your career, it’s important to start thinking about where you aspire to be, even if your daily projects do not lend themselves to that kind of thinking. “If you want to be the boss one day, you must act like a boss. This means being fully invested in your company’s success. You must take complete ownership of a project from beginning to end. Understanding project profitably is key to the company’s success.”
Eileen Monesson, CPC, owner of PRCounts, adds that a good approach that managers can take is to ask, “Who can I help today?” instead of, “Who can I sell to today?” She adds that employees, in general, will be more comfortable and successful if they focus on contributing to the success of the people they meet, not just themselves.
Andrea Diaz, CPA, ABV, MST, is an accountant at SKC and Co., CPAs, LLC. She is a member of the NJCPA.
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Sean D. Stein Smith
Dr. Sean Stein Smith, CPA, DBA, M.S., M.B.A., CMA, CGMA, is an assistant professor at Lehman College. He is a member of the NJCPA Content Advisory Board, Student Programs & Scholarship Committee, Emerging Leaders Council, Nonprofit Interest Group and Accounting & Auditing Standards Interest Group.
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Learn more from Sean D. Stein Smith:
Sharon Bleibtreu is the director of human resources at Sax LLP. She has over 20 years of experience in performance management, employee relations and succession planning, and she consults on management of strategic staffing plans, compensation, benefits and internal training.
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This article appeared in the September/October 2018 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.