01 Jun How to Hire and Manage Great Admin Staff
You can divide staff into four categories: administrative, entry-level preparer, advanced preparer and manager.
I’m tempted to state that administrative employees are the most important people in your firm. I won’t go quite that far, but your administrative staff are every bit the face of your firm that you are.
They can soothe anxious clients or enrage them. They can keep everyone else productive or they can paralyze your firm. Admin staff create either lubrication or friction for your workflow. I wish I had clear, simple answers for managing them.
Ideally, they’ll work out the way our person with 15 years’ tenure did. We found Leslie when the firm she worked for was sold and the new owners moved the business. She didn’t want a longer commute and my partner, Paul, snatched her up. I can only remember the names of a couple of her predecessors. There were many, and each reduced my lifespan by a couple of years. Repressed memories keep me sane.
Most of our clients prefer dealing with Leslie to me. I prefer dealing with her to me. I would like to claim a subtle genius behind that, in that I don’t have to talk to as many people, but she’s just a better person than I am. She has a manner that walks the fine line between resolve and politeness. When someone lies to her, her countenance changes and her glare vaporizes the offender.
Leslie manages our 8879 and e-filing process. No process is more important. After all, if returns don’t get filed correctly, preparing them was simply a waste of time. For the past few years, she has just worked during tax season. Imagine that. What bat doodoo-crazy person just wants to work tax season? I prefer just working May through December, but no one is giving me that choice.
Here are some signs that the person you have hired isn’t a Leslie. Avoid people who live with their ex-mother-in-laws. Avoid people with close family connections to heroin dealers. Avoid people who have stolen from prior employers. Avoid people who mumble insults under their breath at partners. Yes, we could hear her.
Finally, when a client calls you and before saying “hello” goes right to, “Don’t believe a word she says,” fire that person – and the client – and her little dog too, Dorothy. We did a background check and found that she had driver’s licenses under a number of names in a few states, and an ex-husband trailing her. Her life would have made a great reality show, but that’s not what we’re into during tax season.
Before I need therapy all over again, here are some tips on managing admin people.
First, back off. Then back off some more. No good admin person can or will deal with a micromanager. Tell him / her what you want, when you want it and how the result looks. If you don’t get the right result, repeat the process. After a few failed attempts, you might then fairly conclude that you didn’t hire the human equivalent of Lassie. Timmy’s going to die in that well. Fire your admin person and hire someone else.
Second, create repeatable processes and then create some more. We have procedures for handling 8879 forms and e-filing. We have a process for recording customer payments. We have a process for scanning client documents, both at the beginning and the end of tax preparation. We have a process for posting client tax returns to our cloud-based client center.
My wife and I have a process for making the bed. I’m serious. Well, it’s more like her process. This process improved all of our lives, according to her.
Creating processes accomplishes two important goals. First, systemization speeds task completion though repetition and familiarity. Tasks become automatic. Second, strong processes protect you against any non-Lassie employees you may have. If you have more than one admin person on your staff, I guarantee that you will have varying levels of competence. The Lassies don’t need to rely on well scripted procedures, but the not-so-Lassies need tasks clearly defined and thought out in advance.
Third, don’t consider admin staff as less important and inferior to “professional” staff. I hate the “professional” designation. Firms poised to thrive in the 21st century live and die with admin staff. They are your future.
Napoleon supposedly said that an army marches on its stomach. Logistics matter in CPA firms as well. Repeated failures in your workflow processes because of poor admin capabilities render the best “professional” staff useless.