The Blog for the Digital CPA

John Engels
Founder and President, Leadership Coaching

The Comfort of Certainty

Like most humans, I have a strong bias towards certainty.

When my wife became pregnant for the first time, I rushed to a bookstore to purchase three books on how to get ready for a baby. Reading the books calmed me down. I now had confidence that I now knew how to behave in the delivery room, change a diaper, speak in a soothing voice to both baby and mom.

Of course, it turned out that I didn't know much about any of these. In the delivery room, I offered ice chips – a "sure bet," the book said – at exactly the wrong moment, and the chips went flying. My first diaper change was what you might call a smear job. It would have been more sanitary to not change the diaper at all. As for my soothing voice, I found that I could only produce that unnatural state when I thought to produce it. Almost never.

The books offered some good suggestions, but the confidence produced by my reading – "Now, I know what I'm doing" – proved to be an illusion.

Emotional Comfort Food

Certainty – "emotional comfort food" – is always available to reassure us that we are right, and that we know what we're doing.

A "certainty" mindset baits us to believe that an anticipated graduate degree will lead to exciting career opportunities, that a long-term marriage will happily last for a lifetime, that a major financial deal will anchor a year of growth and that a founder's euphoria about his adult child joining the family business will be vindicated by that child becoming a strong leader. "It's going to happen the way I've planned it," we think to ourselves.

But as the diaper and the delivery room examples proved, certainty is not a reliable assumption. While "thinking I know" initially buoys confidence, it often disappoints.

The Land of Getting Real

Assuming we are right, and "feeling sure" are automatic, entrenched tendencies not easily counter-acted. We hold on to our certainties like babes with blankies.

Combating such a powerful bias requires entering "the Land of Getting Real," pushing ourselves to think about information we don't want to think about, consider possibilities we would rather conceal, and pay attention to data that disturbs our comfort.

It's one thing to notice the over-zealous religious beliefs, faulty relationship premises and bad business decisions of others. It's another matter to observe certainty suppositions in ourselves.

The Land of Getting Real offers the possibility of frightening and refreshing honesty with ourselves, about our own phony certainty. Taking the journey into this land proves how something uncomfortable and upsetting can make us stronger.

Consider these examples:

  • The leader of a large religious congregation decided to "come down from the pulpit" and share with his congregation his doubts about God. While at first he feared such exposure, his decision proved a breakthrough in reversing the remoteness many experienced in approaching him. One senior church member said, "I guess if everyone were certain about God, we wouldn't need faith."
  • The co-head of a family business stopped pretending that he knew what was best for the business just because his dad anointed him as successor. He pulled together his siblings and cousins, soliciting their ideas and hopes for the future of the business. This effort gave him new and useful data; more importantly, it reduced the pressure he felt to produce answers he didn't have, and created valuable give-and-take dialogue with other family members working in the business.
  • The head of a medical practice recently told me: "People treat us (physicians) as if we know more than we know. In the past few years, I have found myself saying 'I don't know the answer to your question,' or 'I don't have a simple response – it depends on many factors.' The vast majority of my patients respect that candor as long as it is genuine and not avoidant."

These examples share a common trait: each one of the subjects confronted the limits of his/her awareness and knowledge. Remoteness, cockiness and claims of expertise decreased. Relationship connection increased.

Yet, not everyone wants to question their certainty. When he heard my suspicions about being sure, Roy, a long-time client, pushed back:

Roy: So what am I supposed to do, pretend I don't know anything?

John: Why pretend? I'm saying look closely at your convictions and try to examine your assumptions for any fakery.

Roy: Such as what?

John: Do you ever catch yourself sounding sure of a view or decision, when, upon closer examination, you are not actually certain at all? Or closing off ideas from others because your idea is supposedly sure-fire?

Roy: It sounds like a lot of work to think about this all the time.

John: Is that a problem?

Roy: I'm not sure I have the energy to examine everything I feel reasonably certain about.

John: "Everything" might be asking too much. What about looking at how certain you come across in one or two important relationships?

Roy: I think that could have some merit.

"Could have some merit" might be an under-statement.

Come to think of it, I am certain about one thing: Just because we happen to be parents, presidents, partners or politicians doesn't mean we know what we're talking about.


Matt West
Account Executive, CPA.com

The Power of Video

Opening my inbox, I'm constantly bombarded with an overused and ineffective methodology of communication, that at one point, was innovative. Step into the time machine: I remember being in my college computer lab (in the basement of the honors dorm, on the old DOS machines) sending my first email. My how things have changed. I even remember the first time I sent an email from my phone. I was on a Boeing 737 at the gate awaiting to be pushed back.

Back to present: We are living in the wonderful golden age of technology where it pays to be on the forefront, while staying weary of the bleeding edge. To that end, we are still people wanting to communicate with others. Technology improves the mechanics of communication, however; sometimes what is missing is the human element. We can’t ignore, until West World becomes a reality, we are still communicating with other people.

In this golden digital age, we have Facebook, texting, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and many more emerging social media platforms. We have more opportunities to communicate than ever before…is anyone truly listening?

Let's look at some facts, people trust what they can see. Seeing is believing. When we read emails automatically generated from a server, we can see and assume, the message is lacking authenticity as it’s probably not addressing any of our needs. The message is usually bland, ubiquitous, and aiming at a small open rate of 2-3%. Normally, we will tune these messages out, much like tuning out commercials as we did 10 years ago (before satellite radio). [I get a chuckle when I get an email from my purported long lost relative who left me millions, but all I need to do is give my credit card to unlock the funds]

If only there was a way to splice technology into the human needs of communication. This technology would include visual, nonverbal, verbal ques, tonality, eye contact and many other features people rely upon when having face-to-face interactions.

Obviously, this technology has been around for quite some time and in many electronic venues, but not until recently did it impact the world of email. When was the last time you looked at tools available for more effective communication strategies via email?

Video emailing is one of those "I wish I thought of that" ideas, much like Bitcoin, Uber and all the wonderful emerging technologies. Video email instantly and effectively records a video message and inserts a video link into thumbnail within the body of your email. The video is then stored on a remote server which is secure and the content is controllable by the end user.

But wait, it doesn't just end there. A good video email system has wonderful metric tracking. You can see how many times your video has been watched and how engaged the end user was in the message. What's more, you can see if the recipient watched the entire message or at what point did they drop off.

The video email system I use, is Covideo. I started my use of video email in early 2013. At that time, it was bleeding edge technology, with slim adoption. What astounded me, was my video email open/watch rate hovered around 70%. My custom and personalized Video email message was received 70% of the time I sent it, versus 2-3% when using regular email. Four years and 3,000 video emails later, my open rate has increased to 90%. The result points to a mass adoption of video emails.

Opportunities for using video email? In my opinion, the prospects are endless. I was sitting in a CPE session last month, when a partner of a large firm said "if only I could attach a video message when I send out my engagement letter". Sir, that technology does exist.

Personally, I use Video email in three main categories: initial introductions, alternative to voicemail & sharing praise or recognition.

All the time, I get the response of “wow, what a cool technology!!” It gives such a strong message that I'm propelled to the forefront, I've mastered technology and most importantly I'm human being.

My advice is to take some time and review all the emerging digital communication tools out there and then use them.


Samantha Mansfield
Director of Profess- ional Develop- ment & Commun- ity, CPA.com

Mentor, Mentee Relationship - How does it work?

The first time I was asked to be a mentor, a wave of honor and panic washed over me. Someone wanted my input on their career path and success; I was humbled they would ask me. Then, the anxiety of, what does a good mentor do, set in.

Over the course of my career, there were a number of people I would say served as mentors to me, and all had very different styles and approaches; some more effective than others. As the mentee, I owned what I got out of it, and sadly I did not leverage those opportunities to the max because I wasn’t sure what was too much to ask of a mentor.

Recently, I was at the Digital CPA Conference and the speakers shared excellent information that helps the mentor and mentee have better expectations and have a fruitful relationship:

You are not there to answer questions; you are there to ask them.

  • Now who is that statement geared to? If you said mentee, that is true, but I’m also speaking to the mentor. A mentee should come with questions, but a quality mentor should ask the mentee challenging questions back. No one knows you better than you. No one knows the full details of a situation better than you! So no one better than you, mentee, to develop the solution. This does not take the mentor off the hook! You have to be engaged; ask the questions you know the mentee has to address. What would you have wanted someone to make you look at to make a better decision? Your inclination will be to share, “This is what I would do…” Though that is comforting to hear, is it what your mentee should do?

 
It will get uncomfortable

  • John Engels said, “Why do you want to keep others from discomfort? It is what helps us grow and develop, and helped us get where we are.” How true is that!? We have to learn to think through and deal with challenging situations. The mentor should coach the mentee on the questions to ask themselves, therefore, training how to analyze and think through similar situations in the future. Mentee, your mentor is NOT there to give instant gratification of an immediate answer. We are in a world of on demand, but some things just take time. Simon Sinek (spoke at 2013 DCPA) recently recorded a video discussing millennials in the workplace and called out there is no app for building skills, relationships and trust (highly recommend watching this video). Be patient, mentor and mentee, depending on the situation, it may take you both a little while to find the answer.

 
Diversify

  • Mentors can be of all ages, social standings, and professions. Don’t create a stereotype in your mind, but look for a diverse mix of mentors. This has been something I was quite blessed to have and look back with appreciation.

 
As we venture into 2017, set a goal to establish mentoring relationships, be it formal and informal ones. If you need help finding a mentor or mentee, AICPA is piloting a program; check out the process – all are welcome. A good mentor is a coach, not an advisor. Be the best coach and be an attentive student.

What was the best attribute of one of your mentors?


Andy Childs
VP of Marketing, Paychex

Paychex Provides Tax Season Tools and Resources

When you become an accountant, you add a fifth season to your year. Nestled between winter and spring is tax season, a busy and often stressful time when accounting professionals need all the resources they can get to stay on top of critical payroll, tax, and HR issues that could impact their clients.

Paychex knows that acting as clients’ most trusted advisors during tax season and year-round can come with immense pressure; that’s why we’re offering a helping hand in the form of easily accessible, informative tools and resources built specifically for CPAs’ unique needs.

Here’s a rundown of helpful tax season resources from Paychex:

  • For an accountant, the right knowledge can make all the difference in increasing productivity levels and building client relationships. Powered by CCH and provided by Paychex, the online Accountant Knowledge Center features federal and state tax resources, payroll and HR news, free online CPE courses, CCH tax briefings, 150+ financial calculators, the Master Tax Guide, and more.
  • The nature of tax regulations is that they change every year. The robust 2017 Online U.S. Master Tax Guide, published by CCH and accessible through the Paychex Accountant Knowledge Center, reflects federal taxation changes that affect 2016 returns, provides answers to tax-related questions and explains the new rules established by court decisions and the IRS.
  • Part of being a client’s most trusted advisor is having all the necessary information at your fingertips. Paychex Tax Facts provides access to federal and state-specific payroll and retirement rate information, allowing accountants to customize a client-facing version with their firm name.
  • The 2017 Federal Tax Key Facts and Figures includes everyday reference information, such as tax rates and deduction information, that accountants will find valuable not only during tax season, but all year long.
  • With client permission, the Paychex Report Library provides accountants a single source for more than 160 easily generatable and exportable reports, including employee earnings records, W-2s, federal and state tax returns, and more.
  • Again, with client permission, accountants can access payroll, retirement, and benefits data any time, from anywhere with the Paychex Flex® Mobile App for smartphones and tablets. The app allows accountants to view their Paychex data, customize report favorites, and easily view and toggle between multiple clients.

For more information on the resources Paychex can provide you and your firm visit www.paychex.com/accounting-professionals.

Andy Childs is the vice president of Marketing at Paychex, a leading provider of human capital management solutions for payroll, HR, retirement, and insurance services.


Pages

Recent tweets

RT @CConfirmation : Best of luck to Confirmations APAC. Delighted to be a finalist for #Innovator of the Year @ 2017's @CConfirmation #Innovator
CPA.com (Yesterday)
"Certainty – "emotional comfort food" – is always available to reassure us that we are right" https://t.co/CCucMnHbCe
CPA.com (Yesterday)
#DCPA17 agenda will be available soon! Topics include AI, Implementing #DCPA17 , CAS 5 yrs In, & more! https://t.co/kY3QUi9HTU
CPA.com (2 days ago)
5 wys to make more money with existing clients https://t.co/0OekLgrjvb @Intacct #DigitalCPA
CPA.com (2 days ago)
CPA.com (3 days ago)
 

Introducing your Comprehensive Guide to Accounting Firm BPO Software