Seeing Is Believing

by | Jun 24, 2015 | Culture, Leadership

Joey Havens

This blog is the third in a five part series adapted from the AICPA White Paper, Becoming the Firm of the Future, which is available here.

When someone tells us one thing and then we experience or observe something much different, what do we believe?  What they tell us or what we are experiencing? Of course, we trust what we see and what we experience because that is our reality. 

The disconnect between what our team members see and what we say is the primary reason the accounting profession, and most businesses today, are struggling with culture and attracting talent to their team.  We are telling our team members and our recruits that we have changed, that we offer flexibility, that we believe in results not seniority. However, the experiences that people are having, the behaviors they are observing, and the way we are managing people has gone primarily unchanged.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing us today is flexibility and empowering our team members to integrate their careers and personal lives.  A recent survey of CPA firms reported that 94% of firms say they offer flexibility. A second survey of CPA firms reported that 88% of firms say they offer flexibility.  So, no matter the source, the overwhelming majority viewpoint by CPA firms is that they offer flexibility.  But, if this is representative of CPA firms, if most businesses say we offer flexibility, then why are our employees not buying it?  Why would Millennials in the PWC’s “NextGen: A Global Generational Study” reveal that the accounting profession is not worth the sacrifice? Those who are exiting our profession talk about the lack of flexibility and the hours worked as reasons for their decision.  It’s obvious that this continues to be an issue, especially for female leadership in public accounting as we have been unable to significantly make an impact and increase leadership at the highest levels despite having the flexibility “policies.”

In our firm, we have offered and implemented career balance arrangements for years—decades even.  We promoted them in numerous ways, including sharing who is successfully using one.  We have offered formal and informal flexibility for as long as I can remember.  However, a recent survey of our team members revealed that only about 27% percent had flexibility like they needed under our old mindset of flexibility. How is this possible?

It’s simple, yet complicated. People believe what they see, not what we say. It is the experience, not the policy, that makes something real for a person. 

For the most part, the business world is working just like we have always worked.  This leads to fear or guilt when team members actually do request what they need or desire for personal flexibility.  Middle management is managing and talking just like they always have. Can you blame them? They “put their time in” with little flexibility. So their experience conflicts with this new “policy.” Our people are watching and mimicking upper management behaviors, noting how those before them became successful.  Very seldom do we find flexibility as an attribute that stands out in the partner group. 

Until businesses begin to LIVE flexibility, communicate, and manage their teams with flexibility, we will continue to fail to provide a culture that is attractive to Millennials and our bandwidth of female leadership will continue to suffer. I like to say the “Guilt Vampires” will continue to suck the life out of our organizations as no one believes it’s really okay until they see it happen at the top. Truly, seeing is believing! 

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