The Modern CPA Success Show: Episode 19
The first weeks after hiring a new employee are extremely busy and important to their success in the future with the company, which is why we are sitting down with Zack Montroy, Jody Grunden, and Adam Hale, COO at Summit CPA to talk about the process of onboarding a new employee.
Listen to learn about what the first 90 days look like after a new hire.
Jamie Nau: Hello and welcome to today's podcast. Today's podcast we're replying to an email from our friend Jacob. He was curious about our onboarding process for new employees, especially those first 90 days. So I am Jamie, and once again I'm joined by Zach and Adam, because they're the best people for this topic. Now we're going to talk about several different areas but I think the area we want to start is kind of on the HR front, and what Zach does during the onboarding process. So Zach, if you want to start and kind of go down the road of what you do for those you first bring on for employment?
Zach Montroy: Yeah, you know, I think one of the things that we want to make sure of when we have a new team members starting is that they really understand who we are as a company and how we operate. And, you know, I think when we talk about the success of an individual on our team, we know that those things are clearly communicated to them from the start of their employment at Summit. So the first couple of weeks of an employee being on our team, we really fill up their calendar. We want them to spend as much time as they possibly can with our team. We want them to spend as much time as they can getting up to speed on our technology, the processes that we use for our clients. So, you know, the first couple weeks I spend an hour or two with the new employee just talking about core values. We you know, we live and breathe by our core values. This is how we operate. This is what makes us unique as a company. And so this is kind of part of infusing our DNA of who we are onto a new team member. So we talk about, you know, our six core values of curiosity, humor, collaboration, adaptability, empowerment and candor. So we go over those, and not only just the words and the definitions that we've come up with, but what does the operationalized behavior look like behind each of those core values. We talk about what that behavior is when we are living into at our best, and what that behavior might look like when we're stressed out and needing to make sure we realign. So we do that. We have new team members spend time with our partners, with Adam and Jody, hearing the story of how Summit started and really understanding who we are and how we work as a company. Both of those guys are really unique and different. So we want to make sure that they understand our leadership and understand really how to relate well with each other on the team. And so, you know, from a cultural standpoint, we do that. We talked a lot about assessments in our last podcast in during the hiring process. We're using those really to get data. We're using those to really understand who the person is. Now, we've brought them on our team. We want to use these as a point of investment in them, and in their personal growth and development. So with emotional intelligence, we're going to go over that with them in depth. We're going to help them understand the results, what their strengths are, what their blind spots might be, and really help them understand how to continue building this skill. How to use it working with their clients, how to use emotional intelligence and working with the team. We talked about Kolbe and instinctual drive and disk. So with our pod structure, with our cohort structure teams sort of working closely together, we're facilitating a meeting at the beginning of their time at Summit to really understand not only their own style, their working style, what's true for them, but then their working style of their team, and introducing them to their team and sort of facilitating a meeting with that group to better help each other understand how to work with each other. How to communicate and in really trying to set them up for continued success in their role at Summit.
Adam Hale: Yeah, I think one of the unique things there to Zach, is you said not only do we do it for them to, you know, for self-awareness, but then also with the team. But we also do it with the client as well. We use my desk, my everything desk, I think is the technical name for it. We use that to identify, you know, clients that they might be working with as well. Just as kind of some more background information that maybe doesn't show up on a financial statement.
Zach Montroy: Exactly. Yeah. We are doing a lot of work right now even to really identify what's the working style for each of our clients so that when a new employee comes in, when the team is working with a client, they understand how to communicate best to them. They understand, you know, what's probably going to be most effective in that relationship with that client so that we can serve that client best.
Jamie Nau: Yeah, I one of my favorite things, and I talked about core values earlier on is, I feel like all of our core values are both external and internal. So if I'm thinking about my any core value, I can think about how does that apply to a client, and how does that apply to other employees? Adam do you want to dig into that a little bit. You don’t need to walk through all the core values, but just for those curious about how that kind of came to be, and how you express that to our new employees.
Adam Hale: I mean I think the biggest thing is exactly what you said. I mean we have the definition, we have the word, everybody kind of knows what it means. You know, in terms of humor, I'll just grab one, it's really important to us that you can take a joke here because we're always teasing each other, giving each other a hard time. Zach, I heard him say that I was unique and different. I know what that means, man. I know what that's code for.
Zach Montroy: I'm just trying to be candid with you Adam.
All: Laughing [in audible]
Adam Hale: There's another one. thanks. In a passive aggressive way, thanks. You know you’ve got to be able to joke and have fun around here. I mean, that's what we do as a team all day long. Likewise, we like to exhibit that same core value with our clients. So you know, we're not the stuffy accountants, and I don't think most people these days are anyway, but we try to bring that personality and bring all those core values to our clients. So having hard conversations, being candid with them, you know, cracking up, having a joke. We usually start out the first few minutes, just kind of, you know, having a good time with all of our clients. So it's just important to live it out, you know, not only internally but externally, as Jamie mentioned.
Jamie Nau: No, I think and that's a great point. It’s a great way to think about the core values. That's the way I've always thought about them as well. Kind of digging into the calendar a little bit more. So Zach talked about his aspect of it. So obviously, as the director of the accounting group, when someone in my department starts, really the calendar for me, I try to meet with them the first day. I sit down with them and I explain kind of just the working office, kind of like the office tour. So we have a virtual office. So I kind of explain to them some of the ways the virtual office works, and what certain emojis mean, and all that stuff and how exactly how that works. I kind of give that virtual tour, and then I just walk them through a very high level view of all of our tools. These are the things you're going to be using in your first two weeks here. It's on what we call a change log, and basically inside of there will be the clients they work on, and all the projects they are working on and any communication that is needed between the CFOs, directors and the seniors. So basically I kind of walk them through that and how they'll be spending a lot of time in there. I spend a little bit of time on JetPack Workflow. I spend a little bit of time on all of our tools that we use at a high level. But then the other part that we do is we have process owners, and so specialists for all the tools we use. I think I've mentioned this in a previous podcast that we're always changing, and we're always moving and we're always dynamic. So we want to make sure that people understand the tools we're using. So basically when we have a new tool we take on, for example the recent tool we took on was the Cash Flow Tool. We are actually going to have the owner of the Cash Flow Tool in as a guest here pretty soon. But when we first took that on, we had someone who was the expert on that. So that way when a new person is trained, they're not having me walk them through everything. They're having someone else serving as a peer walk them through that tool. How it works and how the input works. Again this person may be coming in with only four clients, and none of those clients might have cash flow, but at least they have now seen the tool. They understand how it works, and they know who they can go to for questions. So that's the other part of the calendar. We fill a lot of their hours up with these trainings, with specialists on all of our tools. That includes bill.com, Sococo. Any tool that we use a lot they're going to get trained on in just an hour of starting, and they will ask questions on that.
Adam Hale: I think the cool thing there is as they get exposure to a lot of different people on the team and then they know who to go to for those specific things. So I know when we were brick and mortar, and I think this is a big thing that a lot of firms do is they have a mentor. Well the only problem with that is, one, the mentor is not always available. The mentor doesn't always know everything. It's one of those things where it's fine, they'll pass you off to different people as needed. That works out okay, but I think this really exposes people to a lot more people right out of the gate. It gives them that go to list and they don't feel guilty about going to them for that specific thing because they're already designated as the expert of that tool. They're the one that is trained and coached them on that.
Jamie Nau: Yeah, definitely. The other part of it is the experts take responsibility for that tool. A lot of our experts really take pride in the tool that they are the owner of. They have slides put together. They have videos of certain aspects of it recorded and so on. The other part that we always worry about is, yeah we have in about 20 hours of meetings for trainings for these tools, we probably have about 10 hours of meetings where they're introduced to the client and they're learning about that. What are they going to do at lunch time when there's no one around and they have nothing to do? In a brick and mortar office you can just go ask someone. When you're in a virtual office and a new employee is like, what should I be doing? They can just pop in to a folder and say, I want to learn more about Bill.com. There's videos in there. There's write ups, there's slide shows, and they can go and just learn a little bit about it. So the tools expert and owner are also responsible for keeping those updated, which I think has been a big, big win for us.
Adam Hale: Yeah, I mean definitely the three legged stool is, the culture, the tech and tools. Then the other pieces, the client background that you were talking about, you know, making sure that they're spending time with their CFO or whomever, you know, depending on what level the person is so they can get a feel for who the client is leveraging some of the information that Zack worked with on the culture side, and then reviewing financials and things of that nature. I think that's important. We kind of took the mentor concept there and we have somebody on our team that's just designated to just be available for somebody, because what we found, especially in a virtual environment, I think this is true, if you think back to whatever you just started a job, you always kind of spin a little bit and you are waiting for that person to become available. Rather than have somebody sitting there for a couple hours, so they are done with the videos now it's time just to get work done, we want them to get unstuck fast. You know, we don't want a five second question to hold them up for an hour. So we have somebody sitting in their office pretty much all day every day. Whether it's people that they're working with on these specific things, or if there's not, there's like this person that just kind of lurks in the mist that they can go hang out with a couple hours a day just to make sure they're moving along. That's been helpful.
Jamie Nau: Yeah, I think it's been very helpful. I think to that point, what we learn is with every new employee onboard, there's something we can take away from it. There was a recent change we made was, you know, we had an employee we just hired, and it just worked out that that employee was working with only one CFO on five clients, and they got up to speed so quickly that we were like, what was the secret here? How did this person figure stuff out so quickly and why? Well, it's because they had someone they could talk to 100 percent of the time, and had access to a 100 percent the times that they never got stuck on any questions because they were working on all the clients together. So that's when we kind of created this role where basically one of our employees who understands all of our processes, understands all of our tools and is just a really good at explaining stuff, designates nine hours of his week, or he's just sitting in the conference room available for questions. So that way people aren't spending time spinning their wheels, and they can go in there and ask a question. That's been something we have changed to. I think the point there is, we are constantly, just like in everything we do, constantly evaluating this process and trying to think of ways to make it better. We're not sitting on our hands at all.
Adam Hale: Yeah, it's definitely not perfect by any means. It is always evolving. So far that seems to be the good approach. And it all starts with the calendar. I think that we had intentions of doing all these things, and we had always done it before but being really deliberate upfront with that calendar, booking off the time, telling people this is what you're accountable for. Then you Jamie, you can look at that calendar and go, hey this isn't full. What's this person going to be doing this other ten or fifteen hours? Because, you know, eventually people find their way into their work and they're fine. They don't need that. But that first week or two, especially in a virtual environment, I think it's true for brick and mortar as well, they just need something constantly to keep them going.
Jamie Nau: I spend a lot time that first month looking at their calendar and then checking in with them probably every other day just saying, what's going on? What's new? Are you keeping busy? Do you have any questions? I think having me in this role, just watching that constantly and again, especially those first two to three weeks to make sure they're not getting bored.
Zach Montroy: Yeah I think, Jamie, just going back to a point that you made, we're always iterating the process. I think one of the best mechanisms that we have for that is the feedback process that we have. We are really intentional. I think Summit is one of the most intentional places I've ever seen with making sure that new employees have a really intentional, very consistent feedback tool. What we do there is every two weeks we meet with a new employee and every person who works with them. So people who supervise them as if they're a senior account, their CFO, peers that they're working with, and we ask them a couple of questions. What should this person start doing? What should they stop doing, and what should they continue doing? So we're reinforcing the great things they're doing. We're talking about things that maybe they need to start doing. You know, maybe this is the week for wanting to throw them in the deep end a little bit. We're talking about things that maybe they need to improve on. Things that they're maybe being short sighted on. This is a great tool for encouragement as well. This gives them real time feedback. One of our core values is candidness. So for the first 90 days, we're meeting every two weeks with this person, and then we meet sort of every three months after that until their first year. Then we kind of get into our normal review process from that point. I've just learned not only is this a great feedback tool for them, but it gives us great feedback in how they're doing. Helping us understand things that they need. Making sure that we're even asking those questions of them, that they're answering for their self themselves and for the team during that process as well.
Adam Hale: I think that's the funny part. Speaking of evolving process, you know, the start, stop and continue that he's talking about. We always ask them to self-evaluate themselves. Like what they should start and stop. It wasn't too long ago, but one of our team members misinterpreted that and started talking about what we need to stop, start and continue with. And I just thought it was kind of cause, like, you know, he sat there and gave us, like, kind of like two or three minutes on what we needed to be better at with him. And we're like, you know what? That's a good addition. So now you give us one of yourself. You know, we want a little bit of self-evaluation, but then yeah, go for it. Give us one or two for being candid. Let's unpack all of it. So I thought that was kind of a cool addition that we didn't really expect going into it.
Zach Montroy: Absolutely.
Jamie Nau: Yeah. I think the biggest thing about it is these meetings are quite short. It's not like their hour long meetings. I think they're scheduled for 15 to 30 minutes. It's a very small time investment that we get a ton out of. I think we talked about in our last podcast, it's a big investment to hire someone. So you want to make sure they work. So this is a big part of it. Within those 90 days, we want to make sure that they're on the right path, and we have them set up for success. So that's just, you know, 50 minutes every two weeks. It's crazy. What a world difference that's made for us. That's been a really good change. And at this point, just getting the feedback of what I'm missing during my onboarding is this. There is a ton of software, how am I supposed to learn all that in the first two weeks? So that's kind of how we came up with the experts. From the feedback we get, and it has been super helpful during that process.
Adam Hale: Yeah, from my perspective, I mean, some of the more frustrating things is whenever people complain about other people not getting stuff done and then, you know, it's like, oh, well, clearly Jamie's not working out. We got to let him go. But nobody gives him the critical feedback that he needs to either improve on. And sometimes it's just not a good fit. Like, it's not a matter of like, oh, I didn't know. It's like I mean, you're just not going to work out. But the whole point of these is to also be candid, which is why that core value training right when you come in, because some people take them as attacks. So you know, they're definitely not meant to be. I think the team always struggles with a stop anyway, you know, because the person is new. They like them. They're the one that helped hire them in a lot of cases. So they always have really positive, encouraging things to say. So it's not like a beat up meeting, but whenever you do have to have those critical feedback sessions, you want to make sure that obviously they've had the training and self-awareness going into it. So they don't, like, take it the wrong way. Like I said, the biggest thing is for us, and I know it frustrated Jody, my partner as well, but whenever somebody would be like, okay well we got to let Jamie go. Then Jamie's completely taken off guard and surprised that we never mentioned anything. This avoids that.
Jamie Nau: So this is I got a question for you on this one. So oftentimes we get into these meetings and if we do the you know, obviously we have two negatives that are kind of the start and stop. Then continues to the positive part, how much of the feedback that we get on those starts and stops is developed? You know, things you can develop verses things like personality traits that you can't develop out of people.
Zach Montroy: That's a good question. Most of the time I see our team really being helpful in helping them understand what's the issue. You know, at the end of the day, making sure it clear is kind and clear is unkind. Are we being really clear on expectations? So you know, oftentimes at the start for example, it's sort of, hey, I want you to start doing this because I know you're now comfortable with this tool. Or I know you're now comfortable with this client. Then oftentimes the stops are, you know, hey, I noticed you kind of did this thing this way, or you said this in a client meeting, we want to make sure that we're not doing that. I would say the majority of the time they're hard or soft skills that are technical or, you know, sort of the people skills that can be developed. They're not, you know, like things that you can't change about yourself. Like, we're not going to go into that. If we do, that's why one of us is there to kind of help direct that conversation. Then too, I think sometimes pushing our team, you know, the team that has been there for a long time with this new employee, to make sure they are being candid. You know, if in a coaching session a CFO says something to me about an issue they're having with a team member, we're in a start, stop and continue, they don't have that conversation, I don't struggle with candidness as much as Adam. So, you know, we're going to say like, hey, you know, I know you've been having some issues here. Let's talk about it. We want to make sure that we are being really clear, really kind about how we're delivering that message. But the whole goal is to help people succeed in this role. To give them the tools that they need to do that, because it's really expensive to hire the wrong people. So we want to do everything we can to help make sure that they can succeed in their role.
Jamie Nau: Yeah I think just to your point there, I think the other nice thing about having these meetings every two weeks, is if we give them one feedback, you know, okay you missed three deadlines last week and we just we need you to get better at that. We can't miss deadlines with clients. Can we help you get organized, or help you understand deadlines better? And then the next two weeks we meet with them and they got 100 percent better, then that shows that they are willing to adjust, they are willing to learn. They kind of have that growth mindset instead of just like sitting around pouting and being like, oh, missed deadlines, I'm not going to make it here and something, you know. So I think that's the other thing I think we learned through our process of meetings so frequently is, do they have that growth mindset? Are they going to take this seat back or get better because of it? So that's been super important for us I believe.
Zach Montroy: Yeah you really see the adaptability coming to light there. We're even embodying collaboration there as well.
Jamie Nau: For sure. So I am going to through our email address out there real quick. So like I said at beginning of the podcast we got this email for a topic and we ran with it pretty quickly. We're always looking for topics, always looking for things to talk about. We appreciate that email and we'd love to get some more. So that email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear from you to help us make our show better. So a couple of minutes left here. Adam, Zack, any other thoughts you have about our onboarding process that we haven't covered yet? Or any other thing our listeners should know?
Zach Montroy: I would say documented. We have really worked hard at that. I think that's really been helpful to make sure that we're not missing anything during the onboarding process. There's a great book, First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins. It was published by Harvard Business Review Press. Just a great book for onboarding leaders having new, especially if you're hiring leaders, having them even read that during their first three months. You know, there's a lot of great tools out there make sure that you're making use of them.
Jamie Nau: Great point.
Adam Hale: I would just say that you just can't overstate it. I guess this is mission critical to success. You know, those first 90 days, just like it is in working with you clients. Onboarding is so important. So just be deliberate. I probably overuse that word a little bit, but that was kind of the point with our calendar. Just being very deliberate about making sure that we do everything that we say we're going to do. And including the documentation on the back end, just to make sure that we give everybody, you know, all the tools and opportunity to succeed as much as possible. It's in our best interest and theirs.
Jamie Nau: Those are some great points. My final thought, Zach kind of reminded me of this, if there's a book or two that really embodies your culture, your company, or something that you kind of use as a founding principle, definitely throw that their way. You know, I was just talking with a new employee today and was recommending a book to her. I think that gives them an idea of what you're going for. You know say this is a book that we try to follow when it comes to our clients. You should definitely check this out, and make them read it, because again, in those first two to three weeks the majority of new people coming in are going to have time than they will later on when they start getting busy. So it's a good time to have them read those type of things. Alright, I appreciate you guys coming in again, and talking about this topic. Hopefully it has been helpful for all our listeners. Thanks guys.
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