Are You Supporting Team Members Who Want to Create Their Own Opportunities?

Advisory | Glenn L. Friedman | Mar 05, 2020

Younger generations value flexibility in the workplace. The prospect of going to an office each day from 9 to 5 or later and doing the exact same things day after day isn’t exactly appealing. This is why many industries have adopted policies that allow flexible schedules and remote working. Sterile rows of cubicles have been replaced by open, dynamically designed workspaces that encourage collaboration and innovation.

The accounting sector has been slow to embrace this kind of work environment and many young people have shied away from the industry because of it.

Of course, providing your team with the flexibility they crave requires more than redesigning the workplace and allowing people to work from home. Accounting firms need to create a culture in which leadership is not only open to new ideas, but also enthusiastic about supporting and cultivating ideas that have promise.

The first step in creating a culture where ideas are freely shared is to ensure that team members feel comfortable approaching leadership. Leadership should live an “open door” environment where they are accessible. Before team members will trust that they can share their ideas, they must first trust that you will be available to listen.

As CEO of Prager Metis, I consider the ability and willingness to listen with an open mind to be one of my most important leadership responsibilities. When someone raises their hand with a new idea, I believe that person deserves to be heard. Their idea should be given genuine consideration, not lip service.

At the very least, leadership should listen to a person who expresses interest in going to a seminar to learn about an emerging concept that could represent an opportunity for the firm. At most, if you’re truly committed to encouraging your team to forge their own path and create their own opportunities, you should provide a means to develop good ideas and enable people to pursue their passion. At the end of the day, no “ask” should be off the table. Additionally, leadership should also be able to rely on team members to be proactive and innovative – this communication and forward-thinking is a two-way street.

At Prager Metis, I want to ignite the passion in the people who are motivated to try something different or chart their own course. That means creating an entrepreneurial culture that’s flexible enough to explore non-traditional paths. If someone is seeking the opportunity to explore and learn about a new avenue, they should be afforded that opportunity.

More than simply giving the green light, leadership needs to actively support those efforts. At Prager Metis, I work in collaboration with our Chief Strategic Innovation Officer, Chief Success Officer, Chief Human Resources Officer, and our culture committee to evaluate and cultivate new ideas and help team members hit the ground running.

One member of the Prager Metis team asked if he could spin out his business with the services he provides into a separate entity. He didn’t think the traditional CPA model was the right fit for the organization he had in mind. He has proven to be correct. His new business has grown significantly and created a number of opportunities for cross-marketing efforts.

At the end of the day, it always comes down to people, listening to what they want to achieve both personally and professionally, and helping them maximize their potential.

Preparing for an Uncertain Future

Nobody knows exactly what the future of accounting will look like. However, I can say with confidence that accountants will be trained differently. I see the future firm including many non-traditional specialties within the traditional model. In fact, universities and the AICPA are already beginning to focus on skillsets that involve more analytical thinking and problem solving rather than simply calculating numbers and complying with regulations.

The future of an accounting firm should be heavily influenced by the next generation of leaders, not just current leadership. Organizations often get trapped in a model that says people should just focus on the work, billings, and collections of today. However, I believe that we should instead be exploring new ways of thinking, incorporating experience, wisdom, and out of the box ideas with an eye towards the firm of tomorrow. Rather than waiting to pivot when leadership transitions, conversations about the future should include both current and next generation leadership now.

As Prager Metis partner Rich Feld once said to me, “Clients value what they want more highly than what they need.” The next generation of accountants, with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), will be trained to identify and even predict those “wants” and create customized, high-value services for each client.

The role of technology will continue to grow with accounting firms as it already has in other industries. I recently spoke with a doctor who explained how AI has enhanced the diagnosis of breast cancer. Rather than relying solely on human analysis of diagnostic imaging, AI feeds mountains of data into algorithms, which compare known breast cancer data with a patient’s test results. This is leading to earlier, more accurate diagnoses.

If AI can detect breast cancer, I have no doubt that it will be able to prepare a tax return in the very near future.

I don’t say this to minimize the role and importance of what we think of as the “traditional” accountant. There are still plenty of new team members who want to progress from entry-level accountant to partner, and I firmly believe in maintaining a path that allows them to do so. But it is important that we as leaders recognize that alternative paths exist, and that these paths can benefit both the individual and the firm.

Meet Michael Durant, Senior Accountant, Financial Literacy Teacher

While taking accounting classes, Michael Durant became involved in community outreach programs. He realized that many children didn’t understand financial basics such as credit card interest rates and the importance of saving money. Michael quickly developed a passion for teaching financial literacy.

Today, Michael visits high schools, colleges, community centers, and more to educate young people about essential life skills that aren’t being taught in most schools. He has even walked kids through the process of starting and managing their own business. Michael has also invited other members of the Prager Metis team to participate in his workshops and presentations.

Not only is Michael making a real difference in children’s lives, but he has learned to explain complex concepts in terms young people can understand, using real-life scenarios that are relatable to the average person. This is a skill that Michael has been able to use in practice every day as a senior accountant at Prager Metis.

Meet Peter Goodrich, Tax Manager, Cryptocurrency Taxation Specialist

Peter Goodrich studied physics in college but decided to switch gears and pursue a career in accounting. His long-term goal is to bridge physics and accounting models for forecasting and projecting numbers. When he decides to pursue this, Prager Metis will support him. In the meantime, however, we are cultivating Peter’s interest in blockchain and cryptocurrency.

This is an area of accounting that can be confusing and even controversial. More specifically, crypto-taxation is a new wrinkle that buyers, sellers, and traders of cryptocurrency must learn. The government and regulators are still studying cryptocurrency and introducing rules on taxes, capital gains, reporting requirements, penalties, and other issues.

Peter said he would like to explore cryptocurrency and crypto-taxation and make it one of his areas of focus at Prager Metis. We supported his initiative to expand his knowledge of cryptocurrency, which is still a mystery to most accounting firms. Today, Peter is able to share his newfound expertise with our clients.

People, People, People

There is no greater competitive advantage than a team that is productive, motivated, and innovative. I can’t stress enough the importance of investing in people and building a culture in which new ideas from anyone across the organization are welcomed, valued, and cultivated.

Whether people are looking to reinvent themselves, become a thought leader in a new area, or take a non-traditional path in their career, leadership should listen and support the implementation of those ideas that make the most sense.

Empower your team to create their own opportunities and pursue their passions. Your firm and your team will benefit now and in the future, making your world, worth more.