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Transcript: Tamera Loerzel

May 1, 2019

MAUREEN DINGUS: Welcome, to Leading Forward, the Virginia Society of CPA's podcast where we focus on innovation, leadership and the CPA profession. I'm your host, Maureen Dingus, and I invite thought leaders for short, casual conversations on topics and trends important to the success of the CPA profession. On this episode, we're talking with Tamera Loerzel from ConvergenceCoaching, a national leadership and marketing consulting firm. She's going to talk to us today about the results of the ConvergenceCoaching Anytime, Anywhere Work Survey. That's a mouthful. So welcome Tamera.

TAMERA LOERZEL: Thank you. Thank you for having me, Maureen. I appreciate it.

MAUREEN: Yeah, so when we talk to leadership type folks, we like to start off with hearing about a little bit about your leadership journey and how you got to the point where you're passionate about leadership and want to work with other folks. So any, any particular milestones and your journey that got you to where you are today?

TAMERA: Yeah, that's a great question. It's always fun to reflect on that and see what those milestones are. And I started in marketing and I have a degree in marketing. And so my career was developed by helping CPA firms develop technology practices, consulting practices in their firms with a vendor that I worked for, and we were helping, you know, develop those niche practices and teaching CPA firms about niche practices. And I also worked for a top 10 firm managing their consulting practice along with their marketing because at that time, 20-some years ago, there wasn't a national practice and one of the things I discovered, both internally within a firm, but also in working in coaching with firms to build a niche practice, what we found is we can put all the effort and resources in marketing and strategy is missing. And so we had to say, you know, what, how do we have leadership come together and be unified in the direction that we're headed in firms that are made up of partners and multiple owners, and how do we take people along and develop people, which has evolved over the years as well. So we started, you know, with marketing and then had to focus on leadership and had to focus on organizational development. And you know as well as I do talent is the number one challenge for firms today. And I think that leads us into our discussion about anytime, anywhere work.
MAUREEN: Yeah, absolutely. that technology is really the cornerstone of what makes a lot of this possible. So you've seen it from the inside, it sounds like. this survey that you all have done is that have you been doing it for a while or what's in the history of the survey?
TAMERA: Yeah, so this is our fourth version of the survey and we are doing it biannually. We started out annually. We've moved to biannually on the last version. And we had 175 firms participate across the country of different sizes, really to provide their insight and their practices as we've been evolving flex and moving towards what we call anytime, anywhere work in our ever-increasing virtual world that we have. And it's been really exciting to be able to see what firms have been able to take advantage of, in enhancing their flex programs and looking at both place and time. And that's why we call it anytime, anywhere work. We have to look at both place and time and what makes it available for retaining and engaging their people for finding people and also makes a huge difference in expanding their geographic reach for clients. And so that has just been amazing to see. And so this last version, we had 175 firms participate.

MAUREEN: Yeah, I can't talk to a group of firms without hearing them say, "Staffing is our number one issue." And then you start to talk about this topic and they kind of hesitate of, well, how would you do that? And how are you fair? And how do you know they're working? So there are a lot, there's a lot of, I'd say, maybe a disconnect between how this can really come to be a positive thing at their firm. And there's a lot of hesitancy and a lot of fear, but it sounds like you're making inroads, it's really starting to starting to change. So kind of on that note, what were what were some of the top findings that came out of this year survey?

TAMERA: Well, a couple of key findings. One is remote is up and when I say remote, I am including both the ability to work from home or work from another site besides at the office and having the flexibility to be able to do that in addition to having what I would call remote workers. So somebody in another geography and one of the things that we've been helping firms do, you could take baby steps. And so, you know, each firm is at a different place. And this idea of remote and you know, I don't know them, we always say start with the people that might be leaving, maybe their spouse is transferring, or, you know, maybe family is pulling them back to the Midwest, where I'm from, and how can we keep them? They're a known quantity, they know the culture, we know what their strengths and weaknesses are. We know how to deploy them, let's not have them leave the firm. And that in itself was a big step. But now we're seeing firms actually hire in other geographies, especially for a lot of the specialty industry niches experience that we might need or technical experience. And then I'm not constrained to my local market. And, you know, that's both for large cities, people in large cities. And, you know, the pay might not be commensurate for what it is for rent and the cost of living and so I can go out beyond that, or in small cities, firms that are in small cities and they might not have the talent available to them.

So that's very exciting. I think that's one of our biggest findings. And along with that is remote, working remote, doing more client service remote. So for example, doing more of the audit remote, I want to say let's do remote audits. But that will have people have a lot of fear. But again, if you can take baby steps, we already have the client's information, if I can start working on that client and not be constrained about when I'm scheduled to go out there. It provides a lot more flexibility on the team and our resources. I can work on audits in tandem, instead of having them have to be linear, which constrains our resources and our audit department you know, so looking at our all of our services, but that's one example is on the audit side, but we can look at tax client accounting is a huge growing niche in firms today and that is very conducive for working remote in all of the different technologies that are available for firms to use that their clients can tap into and then again I can have resources, you know across, you know, the nation, if you will, be able to access that and work and so they've really embraced remote in that specific niche of client accounting and outsourced controller shifts and CFO services, a huge, growing consulting service.

MAUREEN: So it really sounds like it's it can be twofold it's not only retaining employees but you're serving your clients in different ways that might actually improve their satisfaction.

TAMERA: Absolutely. And the other thing that we don't always think about is while we talk about our talent being younger we talk a lot about our millennial talent and now we're going to have Gen Z coming in, we're trying to figure out what that means. We forget our clients are also changing and while they might not be, the millennials you know might not be the decision makers in many of our clients they are starting to become decision-makers and for sure influences, influencers of our clients. Succession planning isn't just happening in the CPA profession, it's happening in our firms, clients. And so we have to figure out how do we engage and correspond to communicate and work with our next gen client as well as our next gen talent. So it very much, you know, goes hand in hand.

MAUREEN: Right. Right. Right. So speaking to some of the trends that you're seeing with the anytime, anywhere, so maybe not the people that are full-time remote workers, but the people that want to maybe do a day or two or or certain certain types of advantages. What what are you seeing in that area?

TAMERA: Well, one of the things that we would like to see an improvement that the survey showed is, wow, 99 percent of firms have flex policies, less than half of them are one-off and so for your example that you just gave worrying that, you know, I might want to work three days a week or maybe I want to work full-time during busy season and part time during the summer, which is the ideal, by the way, given our cyclical nature, especially if you're in tax or something, but they're kind of on an exception basis. We would like it to be more broad broadly available, broadly known, and that we try to figure out how do we have it work for what our talent needs for how we serve the clients and the engagements that we need to fulfill on and also for the client and so if we can approach it from that way, then we can start to see you know, where people can work three days a week. Or I was just on a coaching call with one of my clients in our leadership program and she does 80 percent time and it scales so during busy season, she's 80 percent of what that target you know, time or effort is during tax season and then it scales back down during the summer and then it scales back up. And I think that's something that we don't often talk about the leadership doesn't often talk about with employees is that flex is two-way. And so sometimes leaders feel burdened by flex, or that I'm the only one giving as the leader, the leadership team is the only one giving. But it's because we're not being honest about what we need, and how do we make it work for both and managing those expectations and checking in to see how that works.

So that's one thing.  The second piece, though, about the visibility of it, we see people leave firms because they don't really know that it's available. And so if we keep it secret, or, you know, we're afraid if I, you know, let John do it and then Mary wants it and then what about you know, Danielle, we get worried about that. So we don't make it public. And instead we should say, Listen, this is what we have available. If you have a need or requirement, you should come and you should talk to us about it. And here's some examples of how you know, it can work and so just that much promotion and transparency, I think, would have, you know, people feel like they can actually participate in it and they don't have to go down the street to the next firm that's offering it. And there is going to be a firm down the street that is offering it, so.

MAUREEN: Right. And it also sounds like the firm then has some parameters that they know they're working within. So it's not just, oh, I have to give everything up. I have to do everything that everyone asks because they really thought through.

TAMERA: Yes, and that's another finding. Sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off, but that's another finding that we found is that most firms need to update or create their policy around anytime, anywhere work and flex policies and again promoted and transparent and should do that on a more regular basis. And And to your point Murray that you were just saying, that's a place where they can incorporate their parameters and their expectations and then it really still does become a little bit one size fits one. We say that a lot in our talent development. It's one size fits one, but there are still those parameters or guard rails on both sides that we can say how do we figure that out?

MAUREEN: Right. At least it's a starting point for the discussion.

TAMERA: Exactly.

MAUREEN: One of the items that I saw in the survey that I'm already hearing about our our members that are saying they are working on Saturdays and it sounded like that was a hot topic in the survey was mandatory Saturday work. So can you talk a little bit about what you saw from your from your respondents?
TAMERA: Yes, gosh, that was a hard one for firms to give up. We see firms struggle with that we were just having a dialogue about that internally convergence coaching this last week and it comes up and I think every leadership training every retreat we do coaching calls is how do we move away from mandatory Saturdays? Our mandatory work periods is not always Saturdays, but Saturdays are very, very common in the accounting profession. And what happens is that people feel like I have to, you know, so for the face time is required for recognition of my effort. Instead of managing to the expectations that I have number of tax returns or number of audits you're going to be involved in and manage or number of clients you're doing monthly, you know, book work and payroll for on the client accounting side, let's start measuring beyond time. I don't think time is going away anytime soon. We would like to see that start to, you know, move away. But for sure, let's add other measurements in addition to time we still have to have the effort. We have to use that to figure out capacity and resources that we need. We have to figure that out for scheduling but then let's manage on what the expectations are to get the work done and then have as much flexibility as possible for where and when back to anytime, anywhere work, I get the job done. And so that means not scheduling lunches on Saturdays. That means not scheduling our staff meetings on Saturdays. You know, if you need to plan something for a client that is set up front of the kickoff meeting, so that people can know, you know, these two Saturdays, I'm on these two assigned audits, let's say I have to go out and do inventory on one and I have to go out and there's a, you know, client meeting on another one, it's planned for. And then if they want to work Friday night, or they want to work Sunday, or whatever it is, and I need to, you know, I'm going to work, you know, until 9:00 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, that they can schedule that for what works for their life and you know, how they need to work. And, again, back to remote work, I can go home, have a meal with my family, you know, participate in sports, to the choir concert or whatever it might be, put my kids to bed, have a glass of wine with my spouse, and then log back in. And so again, just having that flexibility in all of this really requires us to be better managers, really requires us to step back and do better planning and make sure we have those expectations laid out and that we're managing against those expectations and you know how checking their responsiveness and, you know, how are we going to communicate with each other? We should be doing that when we're in the office anyway, we could all do a better job. I know I, you know, I could do a better job of delegating. I'm always looking to see where I can be more specific, but remote work, you know, anytime, anywhere work forces us to do that. It just forces us to be better managers and better planners.

MAUREEN: Do you find that maybe this might seem to be natural to new firms that are starting up younger folks that are creating their firms that maybe have moved away from some of the firms that weren't as open to this, but kind of our legacy firms that are established. How are they are they struggling with this a little more because they are they're just used to doing that they'd have traditions or, you know, kind of their norms and practices. So how, you know if, how are they moving beyond this? What are some steps that they can take to move beyond kind of the way that they've always done it?

TAMERA: I love that question. It's multifaceted. So the first is to start talking about it and make a commitment to what our culture is. And that's where the leadership, you started this call by asking about leadership and how I got involved in leadership, and this is an exact example of where we have to be unified as a leadership team about what we're committed to around flex programs and around anytime, anywhere, work remote, Saturdays, all of it. And that is one of the things that the survey also showed this year for the first time we asked a question about whether or not, you know, the Saturdays are optional, or are they optional in in word, but I don't feel like they're really optional, like I have to show up or I'm going to, you know, be in trouble. And so it's that kind of support that we have to have from the leadership on down, So that's the first thing. And then second — pilot it. We are big proponents, we don't have to eat the entire elephant. We don't have to have the entire firm start. And so let's figure out how can we pilot maybe we pilot non-mandatory Saturdays in tax, maybe we pilot remote workers, by somebody who's going to move and, you know, let them you know, let's have them pilot it. And they can give us feedback about what works and what doesn't work and what we, what do we need to do about meetings and communication and making sure they're invited to stuff so that we don't forget about them. You know, find places that we can pilot it, that's my number one recommendation is, you know, figure out what's next. And that's one of the things that we like about the survey. There's a whole bunch of ideas and things we can be doing around flex and anytime, anywhere work. Some of it, you know, some firms are doing and doing well, you know, and then you just have to say, what's next for us? Is it the Saturday, you know, optional Saturdays are not mandatory Saturdays, you know, is it looking at metrics other than time? Is it more remote work? Is it updating our policy and communicating and more and sharing more success stories? Those would be a few ideas that I would suggest to work, you know, firms can look and say, Where can we start next to enhance our, you know, flexibility.

MAUREEN: And you know what, when you're saying what's next? I think that might be key, because I've heard some of our members say what's next, but almost in a bad way, right? You know, it's like, well, yeah, what's next? We need to keep moving this along and keep progressing and keep trying, because that's what's expected. That's the way the world is. And you're right, they'll they'll find it down the street. So asking that question, what's next is it sounds very powerful.
TAMERA: Well, it's, it's really a great mindset. You know, we're all about change for change agents. And so we're always looking to anticipate the change that we need to be addressing next, and then our profession, there is so much change happening. We're just talking about one little teeny-tiny aspect of talent as a whole bunch of other, you know, aspects of talent with learning and, you know, how our model is going to change and our resources and, you know, with the automation and technology and all of those changes. And so it really is about evolution and how can we keep it moving forward and you know, there are days that I would like to say, "Can we just, like, stay the way we are right now, please can we just maintain?", but then I gotta get going because I have to stay competitive. I had this day engaging I have to stay appealing and, you know, make sure that we are looking at what the next thing is that we can provide for our team and for our clients. And I think you know, back to the leadership, you know, looking at the leadership aspect of all of this and anytime, anywhere work that's one of the things you know, around the unity is we have to say we have to progress. It's easy to say "I didn't have this. I didn't have 12 weeks of maternity leave." And I know now firms are looking at paternity leave or unlimited PTO, or, you know, a lot of those other programs here that we're looking at. And, you know, I have feelings like that, too. But it doesn't matter what, what is needed today, and what is the market offering? And what are we trying to provide, you know, for work-life integration today, I said, come from that and then say, "What's next?" And how can I provide that and balance it with our financial model and balance it with our client commitments and balance it with our resources that we have in technology, so it's not in a vacuum but being more transparent about that and talking about it and supporting it, you know, helps us get there.
MAUREEN: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Tamera, thanks for really diving deep into this survey. We're going to provide it to our members so they can really look at it because there's there's so much more that that we didn't get to cover, so I'm going to make sure that they have access to that, but before we do wrap up, I want to ask you a couple more questions. So what do you think our business leaders, CPAs, need to be thinking about in this next year, whether it's this topic or any other topic? What's kind of the the hot thing on your mind right now?

TAMERA: Well, I definitely think as we've already said, talent is number one, and just figuring out how do we continue to engage and develop our talent differently, probably faster. And then right behind that is how do we use technology to do that and to empower our team and also to work with our clients. And so I think the other thing in 2019 firms are going to be looking at around technology is, you know, data analytics and data is king and how do we get our systems together to be able to have information that we can use technologies like artificial intelligence and you different, you know, data analytics data analytic tools that are out there. So, I think that is definitely something that, you know, firms are working on. And, and that also has a hire difference and we're going to need different kinds of resources in our firms, not just, you know, CPAs, and so trying to figure out what those kinds of resources we might need, you know, data, data market research and data analytics, you know, all of that, engineers, you know, firms are looking at it as engineers, business consultants. And so looking at the consulting services that we're providing, and, you know, moving the shift away from compliance.

Compliance is still bread and butter, but how do we move away and again, pilot it, figure out where can we start with our consulting services that our clients need, who are ideal target clients today, that's another thing you said about, you know, some firms that are traditional firms and it's harder to change versus firms that might be starting up or new is trying to figure out what those services are. We have to figure out who our ideal target clients are today so we can figure out what those consulting services are and, you know, manage watching the economy we just don't know what's going to be happening with the economy. I mean, we're on the longest run of an up cycle and you know at some point it probably has to right size and I know that scary to talk about, but we have to watch that and you know manage that and figure that out as we're looking at all the costs and investments and, you know, where's our upside, you know, in rates and buildings and our leverage model and marrying all that together at the same time.

MAUREEN: Yeah, so that's a busy 2019, right?

TAMERA: It is a busy 2019, and it's only Feb. 4 today!

MAUREEN: So kind of on a lighter note, what have you been reading or watching or doing for fun that you'd like to share with all of our listeners out there?

TAMERA: Well, that's a fun question too. Well, so I bought a book over the holidays called Make Your Bed First, and it's from somebody in the military and I can get you his name and you can post it for the members, but he's been speaking and writing about the simple things that you can do to have your day go and your life go the way you want it to, and focus on the important things and the discipline of doing so. And it's a very, very simple book. And so I've been enjoying that and playing with that and you know, waking up to my bed being made because my husband read the book, too. So that was fun. But let's just looking at how does that impact you know, my organization and my priorities and what's important and so I really enjoyed that a lot, you know. And then, I'm in Minnesota and so I have taken up winter running if you want to call that fun — I'm not sure, the polar vortex that we just had, but that's been a blast to be able to just have an outlet and group of amazing women that I run with and I'm a leisure runner, I'm not a marathon runner, but you know, just to be able to have that, you know, social bond and, you know, the ability to be outside and enjoy where I choose to live for right now, and I'm just been loving that this winter.
MAUREEN: That's, that's wonderful. I'm, I'm what you call a leisure runner, too, and I never regret a run only the ones I don't do, right, no matter how cold it is?

TAMERA: Exactly that we were about to say the same thing — no matter what the temperature is. And that's how I felt Friday because we had to give up after that cold last week and it was a little bit bitter. But this weekend was beautiful. And we just loved it. And so, yes, I have to tell myself that when I don't want to get in the car and go for my run, you know. I think if I went like that, and leadership, too, Maureen, you know, it's those things that you know, we don't — we regret not doing things versus doing them and it's getting that momentum and getting started. And so I just think that ties back to so much of you know what, you know, I've been talking about this afternoon. I just think that it just reminded me of that. It's like I didn't want to have to invest in changing you know, our learning models because of technology or testing anytime, anywhere work or the Saturday thing scares me and I don't know how to work in that because I worked a different way for the last 30 years, but, you know, we we don't regret it when we do it and so we just got to get out there, strap on your shoes, lace them up, tie 'em up, put on the you know who the whatever you need to engage with —

MAUREEN: Another layer on, right?

TAMERA: That's exactly right.
MAUREEN: Well, Tamera, thank you so much. You you've been so patient with us. I know you had some technology challenges making this happen but I'm glad I'm glad we stuck to it because it was a lot of fun. Alright so thank you everyone for tuning in today to Leading Forward. Thank you Chip Knighton for getting us, getting us running and we will see you next time.

TAMERA: Thank you very much for the opportunity.

MAUREEN: Bye bye.