Jennifer Wilson

In my CPA Insider blog this week, I challenged firm leaders to evaluate their “old school” practices and shift toward more engaging, motivating and even “cool” ways of operating as a means to retain top talent.   One of the ideas we’re hearing cool firms employ is the elimination of mandatory Saturdays during busy season.  When I’ve shared this in group settings at CPA conferences this fall, I literally hear a gasp of surprise because it challenges one of the most fundamental elements of public accounting – tracking, measuring and valuing time.  In this blog, I want to explore the possibility of eliminating mandatory Saturdays – which does NOT mean eliminating overtime in most cases — and discuss ways that might help make this “new school” idea work and make public accounting an even cooler profession for our up-and-comers.

To get us started, I want to address three mental shifts I believe your leadership team will have to make to get to the place where you can give up Saturdays:

  1. Most firms feel that they need a certain number of total charge hours per person (varying by level and role) to meet their top-line revenue goals.  I want to challenge this and suggest that what firms really need is a certain amount of revenue charged, realized and collected per team member (or per client, depending on your viewpoint) to meet their revenue goals.  So, as you plan for busy season, consider viewing your objectives to be (a) realizing and collecting a certain dollar amount per team member (which will vary by role and level) and (b) meeting specific client service objectives in terms of deliverable production (timeliness, accuracy, exceeding client expectations).
  2. When you make that leap, your firm will also have to empower your team members to work anytime they can; anywhere they want to meet their revenue and client service objectives.  I realize that this anytime, anywhere work philosophy doesn’t work for all team members – especially those in their first year or two, certain administrative staff and those who simply cannot keep focused without the structure of their office work space.  That said, many, many professionals are capable of working from home, while traveling, or from other locations and can produce high-quality work and perhaps be even more productive working remotely.  Your firm must provide a mechanism for these self-directed people to do just that – or they will go to work for a firm that will.
  3. A related philosophy must also be banished:  the attachment to “face time.”  For many Baby Boomers, there is a direct correlation between seeing someone’s face at work and believing they are committed to their job, clients and the firm.  Many partners I know speak in terms of people they value as “putting in the time” and others they question as “never coming in early,” “not staying late,” or “not being here as much as others.”  When I ask whether these people work from home in the evenings, whether they are meeting their goals, etc., there is often an acknowledgement that their performance is not suffering – but the Baby Boomers still question their measure compared to others who spend more time in the office.  Be careful not to measure office or face time over the more important measurement of deliverables and results generated.

So, if you can begin measuring contributions and results, supporting anytime, anywhere work styles and giving up some of your face time expectations, then your firm may be ready to make the leap that some new school firms are making – eliminating mandatory Saturdays during busy season periods.  Instead of mandating specific work days and hours, firms are instead:

  • Establishing specific revenue and realization goals for each staff member – broken down into a weekly number, and then providing a means for the team members to track their progress against these goals.  If a firm cannot supply this billing information timely, they can use charge-hour objectives as the weekly target so that team members can manage their calendars and commitments to ensure their weekly goals are met.
  • Establishing goals for client deliverables like turnaround time goals, filing objectives and work flow targets such that there are clear metrics to ensure that backups do not occur.
  • Teaching all tea m members practice economics, so they understand the drivers of firm growth and profitability and so they understand their part in contributing to the financial well-being of the firm.  This is a must if you’re providing charge-hour goals so team members understand that not all charge-hours translate to revenue and that they need to achieve a certain realization percentage to achieve the revenue goals for the firm – many team members do not understand this concept!
  • Ensuring that the performance measurement and reward system for team members incents meeting their financial and client service objectives.
  • Investing in technology to enable access to client workpapers, files and production systems anytime, anywhere with performance that rivals the performance of office access.
  • Investing in communication protocols that provides for “on call” support of managers, principals or partners who are available to provide “tech support” to staff members who need help when working remotely, including identifying who is on call on which shifts of the weekday evenings, weekend days and evenings and having those people be available via text messaging or Instant Messenger for assistance so those working “odd hours” can remain productive.
  • Assigning specific people to measure and report on departmental and firm performance against goals on a weekly basis during peak periods and making adjustments to your work approach as needed if deliverables are not being completed or financial goals are not being reached.

If your firm isn’t able to get the buy-in needed to abolish a Saturday requirement this year, take steps toward it by implementing one or more ideas from this blog.  If you have already announced your intention to move away from Saturday mandates, definitely review these ideas with your leadership team and discuss specific changes you’ll need to make to ensure your success.  And, if your firm is a pioneer in this area and has some experience working through busy seasons without the Saturday mandates, please post to this blog with additional thoughts and ideas that can help all of us make this move successful.

Gratefully,

Jen