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Strategies for Developing Middle-Level Managers

Published by Summit Marketing Team on Mar 15, 2024 6:00:00 AM


The Young CPA Success Show: Episode 14

Leadership Advisor Chris Williams joins Hannah and Joey as they delve into the challenges and nuances of middle-level management in the accounting industry. They discuss the lack of management education, the importance of emotional intelligence, and the difficulties faced when transitioning to managing managers. The conversation also covers the need for structured leadership development, the value of empathy in leadership, and the benefits of continuous learning. Additionally, they explore the advantages and challenges of remote work and the impact of leadership on work environments.



Intro (00:00:00) - Welcome to the young CPA Success Show. If you're a young accounting professional, this podcast is your ultimate guide to navigating your early career. Join us as we share valuable insights, expert advice, and practical tips to help you kickstart your path to success and excel in the accounting industry. Let's embark on this exciting accounting journey together.

Joey (00:00:23) - The thing I enjoyed about your, it was one of your YouTube shorts that was talking about looking at the rise in productivity that we've had over the last. I mean, it's been 50 years. I mean, and the premise of technology goes back. You can find it in the 20s where people were like, hey, Industrial Revolution is coming. And guess what you're going to get to do? You're going to get to not work. That didn't happen for various number of reasons. But you pointed out that, like, well, there's, you know, this massive rise in per labor capital productivity percentages and we have not seen the corresponding rise in wages and your point was, was very simply put, which is.

Joey (00:01:06) - All it took was this massive upheaval event for people to be like, wait a minute, as Hannah loves to say that math ain't math in on this conversation. And the thing that I hated about how we framed it was we took this thing that, to me is a systemic and structural issue and a management issue, and we reframed it in such a way that's like, these are bad employees. And I'm like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. You're framing this thing all wrong. We have not done well as a management team. If this is the global widespread response to what the heck are we doing?

Chris (00:01:42) - Right. And here again, I mean, I hate to keep harping back on the same things, but here again, this is not new. So, if you look in the 20s, with the rise of the unions, for example, when unions first started showing up, the companies tried to say to the workers, you know, no, no, no, no, you're the broken ones here.

Chris (00:02:04) - We're not broken. You're broken. Right. And it took, you know, coalescing as a group in order to, to, fight against the unfair wage practices, unfair labor practices, kids working in factories. I mean, all that stuff is thanks to those things. And at the time, the corporations were sending out these really strong messages about how, no, we're the job providers and we're the. And then, of course, you see it again in the 80s with Reaganomics, with trickledown economics, right? This is a theme that just keeps on keeping. You know, that's not the that's not as good as the math, not math. And but Jit's you know, history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. Right. That's the same sort of thing.

Joey (00:02:48) - Did you happen to see this was we're going to date the, the recording date a little bit here.  did you see that thing that came out of Australia a couple of weeks ago where one of the I can't remember who the.

Joey (00:02:59) - It was the CEO of a prominent company down there where he was like, I just want 50% unemployment rate to remind the employees that the employers are in charge. And I was like, man, this is just why. Yep. This is one of the things why it's so hard sometimes to sit in a role that we sit in where we work with businesses, we work with people, and we see the structure and we see what it could be. Right? Like there is a total situation where. We can create this wonderful thing where products, goods and services are being sold and people are being able to provide value and utility and all these different things. And it could be this wonderful, wonderful system. And then someone says the thing that we're not supposed to say out loud and it's like, oh yeah, that's a problem.

Chris (00:03:45) - And, and I when I read that, I was reminded of that classic old line, the beatings will continue until morale improves, right?

Joey (00:03:54) - Floggings on Tuesday, by the way.

Joey (00:03:56) - Yes.

Chris (00:03:57) - It's just,  the problem was he, you know, employees were getting uppity, right? Employees were, you know, taking control of their lives. Oh my gosh, heaven forbid. And that's a lot of what we've seen in this whole remote work movement here. Right. Which is employees standing up for their own individual rights. The thing that's different, however, in the remote work thing is that because everyone works differently, because every single person is a unique individual, there are different preferences. So there are people who really do prefer being in a community and being in an office and being able to chat around the coffee urn and those kinds of things. There are people who absolutely abhor that and just they are their best selves at home, you know, zeroed in on a screen they can put in, you know, just amazing productivity hours.  at home, there are people who adore being able to do it in a hybrid fashion, right? You know, a day or two a week.

Chris (00:05:04) -  And the problem is that you've got employers who are sort of drawing conclusions from one of those things or the others. And the worst thing is the managers, like Marc Benioff last week saying,  you know, everybody's got to come into the office. But here's why I hate coming into the office and why and why I don't come into the office. I go to one of my six homes or, you know, out on my yacht. I mean, you know, come on, you've got to realize that it's an individual thing.  individual the key to managing effectively. In my mind, one of the major keys to managing effectively is to look at each person as an individual and find out what they're really good at. Right? Some employees are really good communicator, some are terrible communicators, some employees like clear and direct and immediate feedback. And in fact, I've known employees who do not hear feedback unless you practically beat them on the head with it. Other employees get really hurt when you treat them that way.

Chris (00:06:05) - So they need the sandwich as it's called. Right?  There are employees who are really good at phone messages, right, who prefer an oral way. There are people who want their camera on people who don't want their camera. Every single employee is different. Every single person's way of learning is different every. So what if you're a good and smart manager? What you're doing is looking at that person and figuring out a bunch of those things. They like this kind of feedback. They like, they really prefer working at home. And so we got to figure out a way to make working in the office when they need to be comfortable for them. You've got you've got to look at each individual and figure out how you can get the best out of that individual. And what's fun about it is once you do that, once you invest the time to do that and learn who those people are, you build up this great trust relationship because they feel heard. They, you know, you get great responses from them.

Chris (00:07:03) - Things start working with them, and then you go to this other person and it works with them. And suddenly as a manager, it's no longer trying to herd cats. It's this great set of good trust relationships that work with everybody.

Hannah (00:07:16) - Chris, did you play sports in school by chance?

Chris (00:07:19) - Oh yeah.

Hannah (00:07:20) - Yeah. Okay. I have a point in asking that question. So I played softball in school, and I remember the first time that I got the defensive Player of the year award. I felt like that for me, was the first time that I felt like leadership saw my value on the team, and that was very fulfilling for me. And it was something that set me on this trajectory of wanting to be sure that leadership saw my value in the workplace and everything that I did. So I think we've all probably worked for people who aren't seeking out and trying to learn these qualities about us and really build us up in that way. So what would you

say, especially to a young professional who wants to communicate their value to leadership, wants to position themselves as the most valuable employee of the company? How do they communicate that effectively to leadership?

Chris (00:08:08) - Well, there's a couple of different ways.

Chris (00:08:10) - One of the ways, my favorite way for an employee to communicate their value to their manager is by providing a value exchange with their manager. That's one of the things that I think employees, they tend to look at their manager as sort of. All push. I'll get, you know. And you can you by engaging in a value exchange with your manager, you provide a ton of things. So one of the things I recommend to every single employee is figure out what your manager's hot buttons are. Figure out how your manager likes to communicate. Figure out how your manager,  you know, what are the ways you can communicate best with them. Because again, they're all individual human beings. And so what I recommend you do is spend a little bit of time trying to pull yourself out of your own body and put yourself in your manager's shoes. Geez, I wonder what are the things that are driving them crazy? I wonder what are the things that are making their job difficult, I wonder? One of the things that they, you know, they've got 400 things on their plate.

Chris (00:09:10) - Are there things on their plate that are falling off the wayside? That, and one of the ways you can ingratiate yourself to a manager is look and say, you know, there's this huge companywide thing we're supposed to be doing and nobody's paying any attention to it. I wonder if I could just go spend 20 minutes a week on that thing and move the ball on that at all, and your manager will look at you as somebody who has seen a problem, figured out what the issue is, try to do something about it, solving it and making more progress against it. And that that will show you as somebody who thinks not only great about your job yet, you can kill it in your job. You can be the best person whatsoever in your job, but that you understand the whole company's perspective on the issue, right? The whole organization's perspective. And you will ingratiate yourself to that manager forever. They will look at you as somebody who's being part of the team, who's trying to be helpful, trying to be of value.

Chris (00:10:05) - Right. It's this value exchange we both need to have. And like it or not, we're all people, right? And as a manager, you're just like, oh, I've got so many things on my plate. Imagine how amazing it is for an employee to come to you and say, hey, I got this thing done. You just go, oh my gosh, you did. Oh, I've been worried about that for months. That's so cool. That's one of my key recommendations to employees.

Joey (00:10:32) - So there's a lot to unpack here. And I think, you know, we basically covered 100 years of modern United States capitalism there in the first five minutes. There's a lot that we can talk about there. I'm curious if you can either validate or refute, depending on how you feel about this, something that I've been kind of kicking around in my head for a while as I think about. How my career has gone, what I've seen with friends and co-workers myself, my wife and her role in public accounting as she's kind of worked up the thing.

Joey (00:11:05) - I'm curious what you think about management education in America. Do you feel like we are adequately preparing our managers for the actual what the job actually should be? Or are we just kind of saying, hey, you're pretty good at your job? I'd like more people to be like you. So good luck. Figure it out. You got people under you now.

Chris (00:11:27) - It's, it ranges from the pathetic to the poor. Mm. Okay. Management education ranges from. You know, I got a team. I, you know, the manager just quit, and I got a team of 11 people in. The superstar is Fred. So Fred is suddenly the manager, right? Which is the absolute worst thing you could possibly do because Fred is the superstar. Maybe because Fred is a loner. Fred is the superstar. Because Fred is really good at his job. Not necessarily because Fred has any concept of what being a manager is about, right? Yeah.  so so that alone is painful, right? We take very frequently, we take the best performer and we take them out of the one thing they were good at and make them do something they've no experience at doing it right now.

Chris (00:12:13) - The best companies, particularly big companies, are really good at manager 101. Right. They can take that person. They can give them some training. They'll send them to some conference, they'll do some one on one training and whatnot, and they'll get them from that first leap, that individual contributor to manager role. Right. And they can get them there. And that education is actually pretty widespread. That's all over LinkedIn and everywhere. Manager 101. There's a lot of choices there. Once you get above that, it becomes a vast desert of management training of any kind. And it falls into basically two categories. One category is, filled with memes and emotion and, you know, a servant leadership and all kinds of stuff, all this phrasing or whatnot, or just, as you said, figure it out on your own. Try and find some mentor who can help you figure out what it means. And the biggest leap I did a video and a podcast about this some time ago about this.

Chris (00:13:18) - To me, the biggest change, everybody thinks that the change from being an individual contributor to a manager is the hardest leap as you work your way up the chain, but I would argue it's the next move that is the hardest move. The move from being a manager to being a manager of managers suddenly changes everything and is an incredibly difficult transition to make. And it's difficult for a bunch of reasons. First of all, you cannot direct the actions of people, right? You're directing the actions of people through people. So you have to figure out a way to convince your manager, your employees who are managers, how to do something direct. You can't micromanage around them or you will, you know, screw things up. You are also likely getting all kinds of pressure from above to make changes, and there's huge expectations in you to make changes or progress in the organization. That is really, really difficult. And third, there's nobody teaching you how to manage managers, right. So you that second move, that first move, as I said, there's a lot of help in the world.

Chris (00:14:26) - The second move, there's virtually none. And the place where I am spending most of my time. The other interesting thing, by the way, is there's a ton of help at the very top. You can go on LinkedIn, and you cannot swing a dead cat without hitting somebody who calls themself the CEO Whisperer or a CEO coach or whatever, right? There's all these people. And by the way, a one out of every 100 of them have ever been a CEO. But that's a whole other subject entirely. But there's all kinds of people who want to teach the CEO something because they think that's where the money is. What I'm focusing my consulting work on, and where I find the most pain is in that sort of director to I call it C-suite wannabe, that middle, upper middle area of many organizations where there is absolutely no support, absolutely no guidance or help or. And if you try to find mentors, if you can't get a C-suite person who wants to help directors figure out how to do their job, there's just no support in that area at all.

Chris (00:15:29) - And so that's been the sweet spot for my coaching work and the consulting work I do. And it's also, I think, the place where there's the biggest gap, where there's the biggest skill set gap.

Joey (00:15:41) - So and, I unintentionally did something that you did a great video on, on Qualcomm on your YouTube channel where you were talking about bring solutions, not problems. I brought you a problem and didn't provide you a solution. And I'm curious in terms of what you're seeing there because I, I agree and I know we've talked about this offline too where we feel. Like that. Middle management, especially upper middle management, is the most difficult job that you can do in an organization, hands down. Yeah.  what are the best companies doing to solve that in terms of is it a structural change? Is it as simple as right person, right seat, or is it a combination of. And maybe that's the maybe that's the secret sauce where they're like, we're not going to tell you what we're doing because it's working.

Chris (00:16:32) -  I haven't found anybody who I think is hitting the ball out of the park. And excuse me, I've done a lot of, consultation with a bunch of different companies.  You know, I have right now, one of my favorite clients is somebody who is,  a a senior director, in a, let's just say it's a fortune 50 company whose name you would recognize, whose products you have in your kitchen. Let's just say that, and, the amazing amount of, of nothing that happens at that level as far as support and training and understanding and coping, and there's just nothing there.  and I am still the one thing I do see happening in some organizations, and it's really precious few is HR organizations, HR in those organizations who are really working to try to do some succession planning of some kind and manage to get the leaders in the organization to actually take a critical look at who is doing what in the organization.

Chris (00:17:37) - But they frequently don't do it. They do it sort of in the what happens if I die tomorrow thing, not in the how are we going to grow this person? How are we going to teach them to do better? How are we going to build them up? The what happens is the HR goes to those senior leaders, the C-suite, and says, okay, we need to do some succession planning. And the C-suite leaders are thinking, I can see a yacht in my future. So, yeah, let's do some succession planning. And then the HR person says, great, so here's what that means. And the C-suite person says, oh, great. Okay, I'll give you a list a ranked ordered list one two, three, four, five. And that's who you pick when I leave. And no no no no no no no. You need to be going to the junior people and developing them into people who you would want to be on that list. And it tends to be people think that list become becomes through osmosis through some kind of.

Chris (00:18:30) - But I just don't see it anywhere. And again, some of it is math, right. There's a bazillion manager, 101 clients in the world. There's a, you know, the pyramid gets very small and very narrow at the top. That's one problem. So why would I, as a business person, target a smaller and smaller part of the organization? But there's another interesting problem that I've run to in my consulting work is most of those people who are directors C-suite wannabes don't think they need help. Or embarrassed to go for help or will not. For example, most of my clients, the vast majority of my clients, pay for it out of their own pocket, even though they have thousands and thousands a year of budget for my kind of services. But they don't want to go to their manager and say they're hiring somebody to help them learn how to do this better because of embarrassment, because of looking weak, because of any number of things.  it's really interesting if I get somebody, if I get a client and I have one right now, a guy who's, a senior leader out of a company out of Finland who has managed to get his work with me, paid for by the company.

Chris (00:19:53) - It's almost like he doesn't need a lot of my help. Because he's self-aware, because he understands the things he needs to learn. All I'm really doing is reinforcing stuff. They already know the people who really need help or to embarrass to ask for it, and particularly to embarrass to make the company pay for it because they need their bosses approval, and they don't want their boss to know that they're struggling.

Hannah (00:20:16) - So it's interesting that you bring up that about being self-aware, because that's what I've been thinking about as you're talking, is that it sounds like there's also a gap in emotional intelligence in that, in that level there. Why do you think there is such a gap between the executives and this middle level that people are struggling so much?

Chris (00:20:36) - Well, the emotional awareness thing is fairly interesting because, and I, I struggle with this a lot.  emotional awareness is seen by many people, particularly old school people, and I'm an old person, so I will, you know, own this.

Chris (00:20:53) - But it's seen as weakness, right? So being emotionally available and vulnerable and aware and thoughtful and so,  it's seen as a, as a sign of weakness, you know, you're not the strong hard gonna, you know, take no prisoners kind of manager. Right. And, and, you know, that that hurts us in so many ways. It disadvantages women in the workplace who are often seen as not people who have that kind of, you know, no holds barred approach or, and there's all kinds of things. There's it's got not just women, but it also has cultural implications because their cultures, like in Japan, where that isn't seen as really strong, but they also don't do much openness and vulnerability there. I mean, it's just it's really a problem. The other problem, though, is I try to then invoke these kinds of conversations, you know, you really do need to pay attention to it. And what I get is complete and total shutdown.

Chris (00:21:52) - I get eyes rolling back in their heads. They don't want to hear about it. Don't no no no no no no no. All of a sudden you're talking, you know, mindfulness and squishiness and stuff like that. And they don't want to hear about it. So what I've found is very useful is two tactics. And one is what I've talked about already, which is just to insist that leaders talk about people as individuals. Right? If you can talk about somebody as an individual, it gets very difficult to not be connected to that person in ways that are tangentially emotional. In other words, I understand how you like feedback. I understand how you like to learn, and if you do that, you do become emotionally connected. The other way I do it is that I talk in strict, hard business terms and back my way into the emotional impact, and I do that in a bunch of different avenues. One of them, for example, is when I'm talking about diversity and inclusion, I the minute I use that phrase, all of a sudden half of my audience will shut off, whether it's in person or they just they don't want to oh gosh, woke.

Chris (00:23:01) - And, you know, they don't want to hear about it. But when you talk about diversity as better quality products that reach a wider range of audiences that have better, economics involved is if you can talk about if your team is a broader base, you will reach a broader audience, right? If you talk about it in those terms and business terms, you can actually break through the wall. That is this emotional wall that I'm holding up. I, I don't know, did that answer your question? 

Hannah (00:23:31) - You know, it really it really did. And you bring up another emotion that and I have actually had a guest on the show to talk about is empathy. It is an emotion that I struggle with a lot, like I've had to put a lot of work into empathy, and it's one piece that I think in my mind as a manager at that level, that you've got to be an expert at empathy and put the work into growing in that way to be able to connect, like you said, with the person on an emotional level, to connect with them as an individual.

Hannah (00:24:01) - Do you see that being a value for that level of leadership?

Chris (00:24:05) - Exactly. Of course it is, right. And that goes back to this treating people as an individual. Right. If you it's almost impossible to sit down with someone and listen to them and have a conversation with someone and not have some. I mean, you've got to be a you've got to be a complete stone to not have some level of empathy with them. But I will tell you that if I do exactly what you just described, which is if I have a conversation with someone about empathy, immediately they shut down. They just immediately don't want to have that, oh my gosh, you're getting squishy and oh, you know.

Hannah (00:24:38) - Feelings, right?

Chris (00:24:39) - Right. I did have feelings.  I didn't, I did not. I frequently get the impression, although I haven't had a client tell it to me yet, but, you know, I didn't hire you to be my therapist, right? Is that. But here's the trick to it.

Chris (00:24:55) - All I do is I. Instead of talking about empathy, I talk about listening. I just I focus on what you really need to do is make sure that you're opening up time to listen, that you're hearing what they're saying, that you're not immediately responding with an answer when they say something that that you let them talk. You listen very carefully. You process for a second and then you talk. Right. If you do that, it is by that is in fact empathetic, right? It is paying attention and listening to what they're doing. But listening is something I can talk to a hardcore leader about, and they can get that. If I use the word empathy, they don't even want to hear. They don't listen to me. Right?

Joey (00:25:41) - Well, there is some hope for the future though, because anytime I go talk to high school kids and in and around Albuquerque, here where I live, that is the number one thing I say, which is, y'all, I'm not I'm not going to hire for skills.

Joey (00:25:55) - You know, I'm hiring for emotional intelligence and empathy, because if you've got those two things, I can teach you everything you need to know, you're going to be fine. But you can't teach someone who knows all the stuff, potentially, how to be an empathetic leader, how to have that emotional intelligence if that's not there. That's changing, and that is always received a lot more positively with the youths than it is, you know, maybe a little further up the up the age chain. But even, you know, even sometimes in, in my generation, in my, in my mid late 30s, we're not always great about it.

Chris (00:26:35) - I like that I if I could add two more items to your list.  When I'm interviewing someone, I'm looking for three things out of that person. And one is the I'm passionate about learners. Right. I want to know somebody who is willing open has demonstrated the ability to learn, wants to learn, is thirsty to learn. That's why I did a video a long time ago on about a year ago on my one interview.

Chris (00:27:03) - Question is tell me something you've learned in the last 48 hours, because they and I don't care if it's business or home or, you know, I've learned how to cook leeks. Great. Tell me about how you do. You know. What do you know about leeks? Tell me more about Lee. But if you're just a learner, right. That means all those skills. Things are noise. And particularly in this world today, where, you know, if you tried to if two years ago, you said, I'm going to hire somebody who knows everything about AI, they would have gone, well, you know, there would have been 11 people on the planet now they're everywhere. Right? So you so hiring for skills is silly and a waste. And all those people who are doing all those programming tests and whatever, I just think they've got the wrong answer. Right. They should be hiring for people who can learn. The second thing is I really, I saw a video recently that was just so empowering, which was take the smartest human, you know, they are ten of ten on the skill set.

Chris (00:27:56) - They are just absolutely amazing ten out of ten. And if they can't communicate it, if their only ability to communicate is a three out of ten, they look like a three out of ten to everybody else, right? It doesn't matter how smart they are if they can't communicate it. So you need the three skills I look for when I'm trying to hire somebody is I want somebody who's a good learner. And that is number one with a bullet, right? You know, learner and passionate about something I don't care what. But if they can show me they've been passionate about anything, I can convince myself that I can make them passionate about. What we're working on to is they have an ability to communicate. Right. That's incredible ability to put their ideas and thoughts into words in some way. And a co-parent of that is thelistening skill, right? Is the ability to listen. And you know, you can call that empathy, emotional intelligence, whatever you want. I really think if the, the, the skill that is worth it or that you can test is the ability to listen, right.

Hannah (00:28:56) - And in thinking about listening, what a world we live in that we have to rephrase empathy to leadership as listening. But here we are thinking about that too. So my, I had my first therapy session ever in my life, about six months ago when I lost my best friend, and it was one of the best things I'd ever done for myself. But I feel like generationally, therapy in general is so looked down on. And just your week if you consider therapy in that way. But I genuinely think that leadership people in leadership roles could greatly benefit from regular therapy sessions.

Chris (00:29:35) - Well, and that's why I and I'm sorry for your loss.  I have a similar. We lost our middle child.  about 5 or 6 years ago. My wife and I went to our first therapy ever after that, and just the ability to get some of that out, to have those conversations was incredibly empowering. One of the things I, I would argue is, I think almost everybody could benefit from some form of therapy and, and by that.

Chris (00:30:08) - But it can range, right? It can be. I've got a really good solid friend group who we all talk about everything with. Right. It could be, you know, right. Narrative therapy on the other end. You know, I am a broken human being and I got a lot of work to do. It could just be maintenance level work. And that's part of what I do. And, and many people in, you know, sort of the, the executive assisting coaching. I hate that word because coaches anyway we can go besides but I call what I do consulting. But in any case,  but a lot of what we do is give you an opportunity to have a voice. And this leads to one of my favorite things to talk about with people, which is do not go out in your life as a leader. If you're trying to find, do not go find a mentor, right? Do not go knock on somebody's door. Do not use your company's mentorship program.

Chris (00:31:01) - Do not find a mentor. What you want is a whole library of mentors. You want six, eight, five, whatever it is, people that you know and respect who are in positions that you find valuable, who are smart and. Thoughtful. Who listened to you? What a concept, right? I mean, you want a range of those people for a whole bunch of different reasons. My favorite one is a story from my life, which is I at early on had a mentor, and that mentor managed to do some really terrible things, take their entire reputation down and me with it right by association. Right. So and but that person also had different skills than I did, grew up at a different time in the business than I did. So one mentor is not healthy, right? You need several and you can compare and contrast. Well, this person said I should do this. This person said I should do that. What makes more sense? Which finally, I hate to keep talking about what I do as a consultant, but what I tell every one of my clients is, I am going to when you come to me, I'm not going to ask you, what do you think you should do? I'm going to tell you what I think you should do.

Chris (00:32:17) - You're an adult. You can decide whether or not my advice fits you, is smart. You compare and contrast, but you can decide to follow my advice or not. But I'm not going to just, you know, ask you what you think you should do, right? I'm not your I am not really a therapist. What I am is one potential mentor in your stream of mentors, right? But again, in many ways that is therapy, right? It's just the opportunity to express ideas in a place where you know you're not going to get. And because I'm not in your company, I'm not a risk. And so you can say whatever you want to me, and you can tell me how much you think your managers are owed and all those other things. Right.

Joey (00:33:01) - One of the things that I love that you talk about on your YouTube channel is some of the pitfalls that we have in, in remote work and hybrid work and those types of things. And it gets back to something that I've felt a lot in.

Joey (00:33:16) - And this is, this is here's my trauma. Not to get into therapy, but I had a teacher one time in high school who tried to get me kicked off the golf team because I was missing too much class. I just, you know, I was on the newspaper staff, so, you know, and then obviously golf tournaments and stuff and, you know, I was I was good but not great. But it was something that I, you know, I enjoyed doing and did a lot of and because of that, in the springtime, I missed a lot of class. And this particular professor.  in my mind judged their performance and their value as a teacher by how many people were in the class on a given day. And thought the only way somebody could be good is if they're in class every day and could learn the stuff as if they're in class every day. And that reminds me a lot of some of what I see in the remote workplace, which is the only way I can manage, is if I can sit here and see what everybody's doing.

Joey (00:34:20) - Like, I see that person's working. So I must be a good manager. I can't see my remote team, so maybe I'm not as good of a manager. How do we solve that problem? Is it does it come down to training? Does it is it a mindset shift? Do you feel like that's something that you see a lot of in places that are struggling with the remote environment?

Chris (00:34:42) - Well, it is the core of what's underlying remote work.  at a remote work problem and the return to office thing. I mean, let's be clear. There's a systemic piece underlying the return to office thing that we cannot and should not ignore, which is many of these companies have invested millions and billions of dollars in class A office space in very expensive places. And, like it or not, some of the upper level management team have invested in the REIT, the real estate investment trust that owns the building. And so they're worried about losing their class A office space lease, you know, so there are financial incentives around that.

Chris (00:35:25) - There's also a whole lot of lack of empathy to bring that up. Right. The Marc Benioff of the world who say I you know, I can't work in an office, but you've got to write. I mean, that's like, come on, let's be clear. But one of the ways I try and do that is I, one of the ways I try and fight it. And I got to admit, I, I don't win this argument very often, but I make it almost all the time, which is. So you've got you're telling me that when you've got a sea of cubes filled with people, you know exactly how much they're working by how often they go to the bathroom, right? You know that. I mean, which is just a complete lie, right? The best performer doesn't look any different sitting in a cube than the worst performer does. The worst performers, you know, on Etsy. Or they are talking with their neighbors all the time, or they are drinking their coffee and staring into space or playing Wordle on their phone or.

Chris (00:36:18) - Right. I mean, and you have no better visibility to that problem or very limited, better visibility to that problem. When you're looking out at a sea of cubes than you do when you're looking at a zoom screen full of people. So the answer to the remote work problem, it's interesting. I'm in the middle of I'm developing a presentation right now or fine tuning a presentation right now. I'm doing next week for the state of Pennsylvania on this very issue. The answer is you've got to treat remote work and local work, as I call it, remote and local as, as similar and almost identical in nearly every way. So you have to establish great metrics for what the expected outcomes are. You've got to hold people accountable for those outcomes, not the inputs, not how many keystrokes they're doing, but how many customer complaints are going away. You've got I mean, it's got to be very much an outcome-based thing and you really shouldn't care. Again, this goes back to the individual.

Chris (00:37:20) - You really shouldn't care how an individual accomplishes that task. One of the there's all these great stories, these horror stories about, my gosh, there's somebody who's got two jobs and they're working two jobs. And my answer is, hey, if this person is killing two jobs remotely, more power to them, right? If both managers are happy and they're getting what they think is a week's worth of

work out of both of this person, and they're two different jobs, who cares, right? What you care about is that they're getting the work done. I don't care what you do in your off hours. So the real issue is you've got to hold people accountable for what you're trying to hold people accountable for, which is the results of their work. And whether they're in person or remote. It doesn't really matter. Now. There's a whole lot of components that go into that, like how do you communicate and what does your communication style look like. And here again, it goes back to the individual.

Chris (00:38:16) - Right. You've got to figure out how do I motivate that person who's in a camera rather than sitting across the table from me? And sometimes that takes things differently.

Joey (00:38:25) - Well, I think it's a great point you made there too, which is some of the skills that you need to be a great remote or hybrid workforce manager would also improve your management as an in-person thing like that. I think that's the thing I kept thinking about was the fallacy of it, all right? Where it's like we take comfort in this familiar nature of, you know, what management used to be 100 years ago, which was, well, I'm standing on the on the production line and I'm seeing how all these things are going down. And as we've moved from a production-based society to knowledge work and those types of things like naturally we're going to revert to what we thought management was, knowing that there's no way to determine, to your point from the set of inputs, what the output is going to be. You have to focus on the outputs and whether you're getting the, you know, the outcomes that you're looking for from that process.

Chris (00:39:17) - Well, also focusing on the outputs has a really interesting side effect, which is that there are a bunch of your people are not robots. Right. And so there are people who will. Do different things to accomplish the same output, and you may not have thought about it right? You may have people who are better at creating an outcome through some way you had never thought of before, but you give if you say, all I care about is the output, all I care about is the result. You're allowing them to find a bunch of different ways to solve for X, right? To solve for that output. And so it may turn out, I mean, I have a anecdotal conversation with someone who I promised I'd never repeat again, who says I do my I do, I can get my week's worth of work done in about 11 hours, and so they scatter that over a few days in a week and they can kill it. And they are getting great performance reviews because they're killing them.

Chris (00:40:13) - And it's because they have managed to figure out they they've got their time block. They're very anal retentive and they got their time blocked out just exactly. So when they know if they do this and then they do that and they did it, it did. And so they put in three hours in a given day, and then they take the next day and they only answer meetings that they have to. And then they do 3 or 4 hours the next day and then right. And they figured out how to do 11 or 12 hours, an entire week's worth of work and 11 or 12 hours because they've hacked the system, as it were. Well, cool. That's great. What my response to that is you should be teaching other people how to do that, right? Wouldn't it be great? So that's the focus on the outcome is the is the thing. And as a manager you really need to say, okay, this is what I need for an outcome. And then by the way, if you say, look, I really need outcomes to go up by 20% and you've got somebody who's doing 12 hours, they'll go, okay, I'll give you another two.

Chris (00:41:09) - You know, it, it it's.

Joey (00:41:12) - Well and the sad part is that's something that person's probably to your, to your point earlier about being afraid to go to certain things. That person is probably afraid to share the secret because they're like, well, I'll just you know, I'll either, I'm either going to lose my job or they're going to sit there and say, well, we're not getting a full 40 hours from you. This needs to change in. Instead of you know, that to me, it sounds like that person is realizing what technology has been promising for 100 years, which is here's how you're going to be able to get out of this and start enjoying your life a little bit more. That should be applauded, not chastised.

Chris (00:41:49) - Right. And I think that's one of the places. I mean, there's a whole bunch of places where remote work works for a bunch of people, right? One of the best I mean, the clearly the best thing is the lack of a commute, right? I'm not sure there's a single person on the planet who there are people who like a commute only because it provides a segue between their home life and their work life, and they do a little bit of a code switch as they climb into their car and they say, okay, I'm working, work, work.

Chris (00:42:14) - But there's nobody who needs a 90 minute commute to do that. Go right. There's not.

Hannah (00:42:19) - Miss a commute, that is for.

Joey (00:42:20) - Sure, right? I was one of those guys. And the code, the code switching happens the second I walk out that door, right? Same thing happens. It just happens in five seconds instead of 25 minutes.

Chris (00:42:30) - You don't need 90 minutes to do it or a half an hour commute to do it. So that's one of the things. But the other thing that has been just absolutely amazing and you and in many cases the leaders have the leaders who are insisting on back to the office have this and don't realize they have it, which is the ability to take care of stuff like my kid needs to has a doctor's appointment. So I got to go pick him up from school, take him to a doctor's appointment, take them back to school. Right. That's 90 minutes or 2 hours out of the middle of your workday. That, if I was in an office, would be completely impossible to have accomplished in any way, shape or form.

Chris (00:43:06) - But if I'm working remotely, I can start a little bit earlier in the morning, or I can wrap up things later in the night or whatever it is, right? But I can make that work. The thing that is frustrating is that, you know, Marc Benioff has got a got a nanny who's taking care of that, or they've got help or whatever. They have all the luxuries to be able to do. That time and flexibility that remote workers take care, you know, take advantage of and has changed many of their lives. The other thing I have heard at least a thousand times from people is the ability to be there when their kid comes home from school that, you know, even if it's.

Hannah (00:43:46) - Absolutely.

Chris (00:43:47) - Even if it's only 15 minutes, hey, I got a rush in, I got another meeting or whatever. The ability to have a connection with your family is so vital. And. And there's no way, again, if I've got a 90 minute commute that happens at 730 and I'm putting the children to bed when I'm done.

Chris (00:44:06) - Right, which is just it's a completely different world, right? Remote work is I have always it's very interesting and people call me a liar for this. But I was a remote work fanatic, you know, a decade ago and before the pandemic, I was seeing these little signs of companies who were moving, moving a. A little bit more. And the minute the pandemic hit and everybody went home, I remember distinctly turning to my wife and saying, this is going to be the best thing in the world. The world is going to change to understand that remote work can actually work. And of course, there was a backlash, but we went from 2 or 3% of people being remote before the pandemic to 100% being remote, and then we've crept back, but we're going to get to the point where it's 20% of white collar workers or something like that, which is a change that would have taken us two decades to get to at the old pace. So it was a huge deal. And, you know, no, I, I am not going to be that manager who says what we need is 100% unemployment.

Chris (00:45:09) - So no, I am not going to be the person who says, yeah, we could really use another pandemic to send everybody home. But I think we've made significant progress on what remote work is. It also advanced the tools. You know, everybody got better at doing it. Managers figured out how to make it work, at least most did. We learned how to manage how to be remote, right. Which, you know, before that it was like, I don't know how I'm going to do that. Well, not you. Do you know how to do it? It wasn't that hard.

Hannah (00:45:38) - So I was on a boat in the Grand Cayman this summer, and I was talking to this couple like I always while I was.

Joey (00:45:46) - I was on a boat in the Caribbean.

Chris (00:45:49) - That was I was not.

Hannah (00:45:52) - Okay. Well, I was sorry about Charles.

Hannah (00:45:54) - Look, but I.

Hannah (00:45:54) - Was in, so.

Hannah (00:45:56) - I was on vacation, my family. But I was talking to this other couple who was two.

Hannah (00:45:59) - They asked what I did for work. I said I worked as an accountant remote. And this guy, he's like, I could never like we did that during Covid and we could never, like, I need to see my employees. Like, I don't feel like there is productive whenever we're in this environment. There's some that work hybrid and I just don't like it. I could not change his mind. I was, I tried, but I could not change his mind. And I think that all of that circles back around to. He said he was a supervisor for a company in New York City, but he he's all that circles back around to leadership in terms of if he had been taught as a leader to focus on the outcome and to measure the outcome, how different his mindset would have been about how he views his staff as they're working remotely.

Chris (00:46:45) - Yeah, I one of my best friends, is a very, very senior person at one of the largest tax accounting firms in the country, whose name I won't mention.

Chris (00:46:54) - But, they one of the senior most respected tax accounting firms in the country. And he lived here. I live outside Seattle, and he lived here outside Seattle. And he and his wife got tired of February and Seattle. And so they moved to Houston. Right.  and but he's still running the exact same practice. He was running out of Houston and I said was, you know, that a big change. I actually had him on my podcast a while back.  and, and he said, he said, no, it's actually improved it because it's proven to everybody in the world how much better it is. And he is getting much better employees. So his group of employees is worldwide. Well, actually mostly countrywide because US tax laws are so arcane. But he has employees who work for him, who live in New Orleans and in New York. And and there's one person, apparently, who has a house outside Yellowstone, right? And there's I mean, they're and they live wherever, and they fly to their clients, right? Of course they do.

Chris (00:47:55) - And they spend time with their clients. And but his point was, if we had an office in downtown Seattle, they'd be flying to their clients. Right? I mean, it was the only difference is that he gets a better pick of, of, of candidates to choose from because they can work remotely. And this is a guy who's my age and has realized the incredible benefit and the incredible benefit of managing and building a team remotely. And yes, they have. The key thing about remote is nobody can do 100% remote, 100% remote does not work right. You cannot. There are one of my favorite examples is WordPress, the company that makes the website software WordPress has been around since 2004, so it's going on 20 years now. It is 100% remote and has been 100% remote since it started. But they recognize and so they get their people together at least once a year and sometimes 2 or 3 times a year. So my suggestion for people who are managing remotely is to figure out why you want to be local, why you need people together, and you need people together for a bunch of different reasons.

Chris (00:49:10) - Some of them are to solve some important crisis problem that you've got. Sometimes it's for ideation and creativity. Sometimes you've got to figure out, how are we going to handle this new project or this new thing. And so let's get everybody together in a room. Sometimes it's just to see other people's faces and get to know who they are and build some level of trust or whatever. But no, being 100% remote is not a good thing. But you can certainly get away with being 90% remote, 95% remote. And it's fun looking at companies that have figured out different ways to do this. Atlassian is largely remote and they're very successful, and they've got, one of their people who's in charge of that effort is on LinkedIn, Annie Dean. And she's incredibly powerful at talking about how they've made remote work for them. I love to see companies like Smucker's last in the last few weeks, who've decided they're in rural Ohio. And recruiting people was always incredibly difficult because you'd have to live in rural Ohio to work at headquarters.

Chris (00:50:11) - Right. And so now what they've decided is they're going to have some days in which you have to be in the office, and it's up to you to get there for those days. But other than that, you can live wherever you want and work whatever you want, do whatever you, you know. So there's companies that are figuring this stuff out and they're going. Going to be successful. And again, I almost don't care how you figure it out. I hate the you know, everybody's in the office Tuesdays and Thursdays because that's weird and screws people's lives up. But I there's all kinds of different ways to skin this cat. And this goes back again to the individual thing. Right? Get your team together as an individual group and decide, okay, you know, some of us need to be together more often than that okay. So we'll do it. Instead of doing quarterly meetings, we'll do monthly group media meetups or whatever it is that works for your organization. I'm sorry. I'm I will climb down off my soapbox.

Joey (00:51:05) - Well, you're kind of preaching to the choir for us because we, you know, obviously we both been. And my wife was like you, she was a remote worker before the pandemic, and we kind of reveled in people starting to figure it out. We're a little concerned about how quickly it seems to be swinging back the other way. But I you are correct. Coming from a real estate background, there are some underlying things going on there. The thing that I think is interesting and it's incumbent upon those of us who, who know to kind of help do this. There is 100% of business case to be made for hybrid and remote workforces. I live in a place in New Mexico that historically has not always had the resources available as some other states to handle education, to handle infrastructure, to handle things like that. This is the biggest opportunity for this state outside of possibly getting to harness the 262 days of sunshine that we get a year for solar energy and those types of things. Rub it in, I know.

Joey (00:52:04) - Well, I love that he said he's from Seattle, because the biggest missed opportunity in Albuquerque's history was Bill gates. Wanted to put Microsoft down here in the 1980s, and a local law firm couldn't approve the debt structure. So, you know, they stayed in Seattle.

Chris (00:52:18) - And, first of all, I've lived in Albuquerque. I've lived in Santa Fe. Oh.

Joey (00:52:23) - Okay.

Chris (00:52:24) - I do know that part of the world,  I will tell you that it,  I want you to come up here for any time between July and October, when it's 75, and not a cloud in the sky with snowcapped mountains and the ocean not far away, and tell me that Albuquerque is a better place to live. But anyway.

Joey (00:52:43) - Oh, no, no, it's I I've been to I, I have visited Seattle in the last week of July 1st week of August. It's the best. It's let's get that very clear. It is the best.

Chris (00:52:55) - I will tell you I will tell you that the middle of February, in which we get like 7.5 hours of daylight and it's 40 degrees and drizzly, that is not fun.

Chris (00:53:05) - But as I've said, I grew up in the Midwest, and as I've said to every one of my Midwestern friends, when it's 40 degrees and drizzly here, it's eight degrees and snowing where you are. So I will take that. You know, I do not have to shovel the drizzle. So anyway, so.

Joey (00:53:22) - That sounds like that sounds like Manhattan, Kansas in February, which I have experienced because then it's eight degrees and the snow is blowing sideways.

Chris (00:53:29) - Yeah. The problem we have being so far north we it really it gets dark. It you can go to work in the dark and come home in the dark. And boy that that gets old very quickly. Yeah. But back to your other point. This is an opportunity for a whole lot of areas. For example, Boise, Idaho. My daughter and her family live in Boise, Idaho, and it is filled with people who have moved there. It's a beauty if you're an outdoor enthusiast and like skiing and mountains and hunting and anything like that, Boise is an amazing place to be because it's a very vibrant city where there's a great nightlife and lots of stuff going on, a lot of young people around, but you are at half an hour from world class outdoor recreation, right? So people the biggest problem they had during the pandemic was the thousands and thousands of people moving up from California and other places to be there because they have great infrastructure, great, you know, internet and those kinds of things.

Chris (00:54:24) - And people could be there remotely. So but it's given opportunity to places like Albuquerque. I'll never forget driving past there is a huge research lab on Maui. And the first thing they did was install incredible internet, right? Because what they wanted was people to move to Maui and be able to work remotely. Right. And so there are this is a huge opportunity for people to live where they want. Again, goes back to the individual. Like, I mean, I am not moving to Boise despite our children begging me to move to Boise because of any number of things, not the least of which it gets 106 in the summertime. But, it should be up to individuals to be able to live and work where they want to live and what works for them. And there are people who have to be near parents who, if they want to take care of parents, or their people who want their kids to have a given kind of an education, or they're people who, you know, I lost I lost one of my best employees when I was a manager at Microsoft, one of my best employers.

Chris (00:55:27) - Always was a very religious Jewish person who was very disappointed in the fact that he could not find a community, a rich Jewish community. So he moved to Brooklyn. Right. Which is and but I lost him as an employee because of that need for him, which I completely understand. Well, today, I wouldn't have to lose him, right? He could live in Brooklyn and still work for my team, right? Yeah.

Joey (00:55:55) - Well, Chris, I think we could talk to you for like three more hours about these things. But we typically like to end with something a little bit, a little bit lighter. And I feel like we've learned a lot about you. But one of the things that we love to ask people is, you know, for all of us, we've got our work life and those types of things. But to get back to our idea of the individual, which I really think Hannah is going to be our theme for today's show, is like how to let your individual, you know, your individual ness shine.

Joey (00:56:22) - We talk about what your and is you're obviously a management consulting and provide some really wonderful content that I've really gotten to enjoy on your YouTube channel and your website and the TikTok and all those different places. What's your and.

Chris (00:56:39) - I am always filled with an. And I have a lot of different aunts.  I have had a passion for things that go fast for a long time, and one of the things that is completely, weird and out of step is that for about a decade, my daughter and I used to drag race, which is, so I built for my daughter, an 1100 horsepower dragster. You know, one of those long, skinny things with the big, fat rear wheels that, she drove, I built, I tuned, it went from 0 to 60 in 0.7 seconds. It would do the quarter mile and 180 miles an hour, in just over seven seconds.  and then I built a version of that car that I could also drive.

Chris (00:57:27) - And so she and I traveled the northwest racing, an 1100 horsepower dragster, for a for, as I said, for about a decade. And, I just truly, for some reason, the, the combination of the technology and the speed and the adrenaline and the was just amazing. And I sold that car a while ago. But about two weeks ago, I bought myself a nice big motorcycle and I'm going to do some. I was.

Hannah (00:57:54) - Gonna say, I.

Hannah (00:57:55) - Feel like going that long with that much adrenaline and living off of that, surely you would have had to find something to replace it by.

Hannah (00:58:01) - Now. So it sounds like and.

Chris (00:58:03) - It was really kind of funny. I went to my wife and I said, you know, I've had motorcycles all throughout my life, but I sold it about 25 years ago, and it's been sort of a sort of a crux in my side. And I turned to my wife a couple of weeks ago and I said, I'm going to buy another motorcycle.

Chris (00:58:18) - And her answer was, of course you are, you know.

Hannah (00:58:21) - Not surprised, it sounds like.

Chris (00:58:23) - So you're probably going to see some videos from me in the not too distant future of me sitting, you know, sitting next to a motorcycle on some, you know, North Cascades Highway, hillside,  looking out at the world.

Joey (00:58:39) - So there's I was gonna say there's a few better places to drive a motorcycle than that part of the country, so I

Chris (00:58:45) - It's amazing.

Joey (00:58:45) - I'm a son of an insurance agent, so I the anti motorcycle gene has been, you know, driven into me. But I can share I.

Chris (00:58:54) - Have a, I have a, large motorcycle with plenty of it is not the biggest problem with motorcycles is being seen. And I can promise you that this big guy on this big motorcycle does not have much of a chance of not being seen so.

Joey (00:59:11) - Well, Chris, thank you so much for joining us today. As I kind of mentioned your website and all of your contents, there's a wealth of knowledge there.

Joey (00:59:19) - What's the best way for folks, both young CPAs as part of this office? But maybe, you know, less young CPAs who are looking to level up their management skills. Where can we find more out more about you and get in touch with you? If we're interested in learning more.

Chris (00:59:35) - Well, CLwill.com CLwill.com is the place to go. It's, CL will is something I've been known as for many years. If you go there, there's all kinds of things. There's how you can get in contact with me. I do speaking, I do one on one consultation, of course. And there's a huge library of that points to all the videos I've done over the last couple of years. I've done something in the neighborhood of 220 videos. they range from short ones on my YouTube channel. I've got ones that run at eight, ten, 12 minutes, that kind of thing. So there's a combination of short information and more in-depth stuff, and I'm doing more all the time.

Chris (01:00:17) - So that's the best way. There's also plenty of opportunity to get in contact with me there. So CLwill.com is what I'd love people to go and take a look at and find what you're looking for.

Hannah (01:00:28) - Fantastic. Thank you so much for being with us Chris.

Chris (01:00:31) - Thank you very much. I really appreciate you reaching out to me.

Outro (01:00:34) - If you're a young CPA looking to develop in their careers, we're always looking for great people. Visit our website for remote work opportunities with Summit Virtual.CFO, or find all our open positions at Anders CPAs and advisors.


Strategies for Developing Middle-Level Managers with Chris Williams

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