Abraham Maslow, the man who gave us Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, once said, ‘The only happy people I know are the ones who are working well at something they consider important.’”
The man who gave us the above quote is Brad Hams, author of Ownership Thinking: How to End Entitlement and Create a Culture of Accountability, Purpose, and Profit. I absolutely loved his book. So much of what Hams had to say aligned with what I’ve always suspected: that employees who love what they do propel their employers to greater heights of success.
I believe that as CPA practice owners, we have a responsibility for creating – and maintaining – high levels of motivation within our teams. When team members are apathetic about the firm’s performance, that is our fault.
Admittedly, though, we may have our work cut out for us. While working as a corporate executive in the 1980s and 1990s, Hams recognized a trend in employee attitude – what he defines as a sense of “entitlement”.
Employees who feel entitled, says Hams, believe they are entitled to a paycheck just because they show up for work. They aren’t particularly engaged in what they’re doing and couldn’t care less about how their work impacts the company.
The result? Miserable employees and companies crippled by an uninspired workforce.
While entitlement may be a trend, that trend doesn’t have to hinder your CPA practice, thanks to Hams’ concept of “ownership thinking” and your commitment to cultivating it within your team. Ownership thinking conditions employees to “own” their jobs – to strive for progress and feel invested in the overall success of the company.
Hams believes (and so do I), that deep down, most “entitled” employees really want to feel engaged with their jobs. It massages the happiness center of their brains and boosts self-esteem. (So once your team begins to see how good ownership thinking feels, maybe it won’t be such an uphill battle against habitual entitlement thinking!)
So what is ownership thinking? Hams breaks it down into three major components:
The Right Education – Teach employees the fundamentals of business and finance, including how your practice makes money. It’s equally important to explain to employees exactly how their work adds value (or takes it away) from the firm.
The Right Measures – Get employees thinking in terms of measurement. Share with them the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that you, the owner, follow. Promote an environment of high visibility and accountability, where everyone gets to see how the firm is performing and understand how their day-to-day efforts impact on the bottom line. Don’t be afraid to “show the numbers” to employees. Hams warns that this kind of secrecy stunts growth.
The Right Incentives – Create incentive programs that tie practice performance with employee rewards.
In his book, Hams acknowledges that most companies keep score with financial statements like income statements, cash flow statements, and balance sheets. However, financial statements aren’t ideal for keeping score of CPA practice employees for a number of reasons, including these:
- Financial statements are historical documents. By the time they’re available, it’s too late to do anything about the results. Hams describes this as “managing the business through the rearview mirror”.
- Even in a CPA firm, many people are not particularly savvy when it comes to reading financial information.
- Financial statements tell you nothing more than the score at the end of the game. They don’t tell you what occurred leading up to that score. So financial statements yield limited value when helping to improve employee performance.
According to Ham, employees do better when they’re focused not on detailed financials, but rather on activity-based measures that drive financial results.”
In other words, we need to focus on the most critical (and measurable) activities that our people engage in every day that ultimate drive our practice’s financial performance.
Examples of KPIs that are employee-performance compatible:
- Cost per marketing lead
- Cost per sale
- Lead captures
- Lifetime Value of client
- Employee error rates
- How long on average it takes to do a particular task, and if that number is increasing or decreasing
- Ratings by clients
- Average Client Value
Align employee rewards with KPIs like these. Get them excited about plunging error rates, an influx of glowing reviews and testimonials, increased task efficiency, higher profits and more.
When your employees learn to think and act like practice owners, they will become enthusiastic, engaged participants in the financial performance of the firm – and that inevitably accelerates practice success.
Meanwhile, they’ll also enjoy a sense of achievement and well-being that’s entirely missed by entitled “zombie” employees who merely clock in, clock out, and wait for payday.