21 Sep How to Create Good Managers
Good managers are a special breed. They possess that most valuable, difficult and rare of skills – the ability to review others’ work.
Review skills require deep technical knowledge combined with an extraordinary attention to detail. And that’s not all. They need dazzling communication skills to be able to deliver criticism gently.
Great review skills are essential for great managers. They must review others’ work with fresh eyes. You can build good review skills with standard processes and checklists, but fresh eyes are the real key.
I take a short mental break after every tax return that I review. It’s not a long break. I just stand up and walk for around 20 seconds or so. I don’t want my thoughts about the last return contaminating my thoughts about the next one.
Good managers are skilled at reading balance sheets. They understand concepts like ratio analysis and know how to use it. They know financial reporting and tax rules. They understand entity selection criteria. Hopefully, your advanced preparers know a lot of this as well, but these skills are essential for managers.
Managers must handle a workload comprised of many small tasks that need to be switched to and from quickly. During tax season, I live my life in 15-minute increments. For 15 minutes, I review a return. Then I get a return ready for a preparer. Then, I access our project management system to review a client’s return status. This is the life of a manager.
Amazing technical and time management skills aren’t enough for good managers. They need the communication skills of former President Bill Clinton when it comes to clients and staff. He could talk a turtle out of its shell. There are other analogies that I could have used. During tax seasons, managers need this ability.
How do you get preparers to understand they need to pick up the pace, maintain high quality and be happy, happy, happy? How do you tell a newbie that he really screwed up a return without making him shut down? This is what a manager does.
Where do you find good managers? You create them from your advanced preparers. I would like to write that you can hire them, but that’s like hunting for unicorns. Good managers come from preparers you have trained.
People whom you have trained have two advantages over the rest of the universe. First, you trained them in your values, workflow and procedures. Second, you trained them in your values, workflow and procedures. They drank your Kool-Aid. They get it, or you would have fired them.
Managers reveal and promote themselves.
When you let advanced preparers review the work of others, you are asking them to step forward and develop new skills. Promote the people who develop review skills and demonstrate superior workload management skills. Breed your own unicorns. Sorry, that’s just how it works. There is no “buy or build” dilemma. You can only build.
Here’s one caution in working with managers. At first, they’ll tend toward hoarding work. By that, I mean they’ll work first on returns for which they are the primary client contact. They want to make certain their clients get outstanding service to the detriment of other firm clients.
About the 10th of April, you may find managers falling behind on reviews while they work on their own late clients. I give them this piece of advice, which I heed personally as well. If you don’t have your own clients’ returns virtually done by the 5th of April, you are in big trouble. After that, the volume of reviews to be completed reaches avalanche proportions, and something isn’t going to get done. We can anger a couple of clients or we can anger a whole bunch when reviews don’t get done in favor of completing the manager’s personal favorites.
There is a way to combat this tendency: Give managers team incentives based on team billing goals, not individual goals. If a manager has a choice between spending an hour preparing a return or reviewing four returns, the math works in favor of the team incentive and the four returns get reviewed. Four completed returns yield a higher bonus than one. The manager’s clients get assigned to staff, where they belong.
Here’s a final word on incentives and bonus plans. Set up individual billing incentives for preparers and team billing incentives for managers.