Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Young Professionals Corner: 'The Perfect Manager'

Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of guest posts from young VSCPA members dealing with topics of interest to young professionals. If you'd like to write or have a topic you'd like a future blogger to cover, please email VSCPA Academic & Career Development Coordinator Tracey Zink.

By Marian Millikan, CPA
Manager, Cherry Bekaert LLP

2013 was an exciting year for me. It was the year I was promoted to manager at my firm. I look back to my journey almost six years ago realizing that I’ve learned and grown so much. What I also remember is what I told myself six years ago, what I promised myself I would never forget: how it felt to be a staff accountant.
I remember sitting at my desk with my first tax return project, terrified that I was going to mess everything up (and from what I remember, I did). My eight hours of work somehow didn’t save, my return blew up in front of my face as the software crashed and I was in tears. Over the next few years I figured things out, I learned the valuable lesson of periodically saving work and I became more confident in myself.
It was my second year of being a staff when I realized while learning how to prepare returns, maneuvering the software and communicating with clients, that I also had to learn to work with management. To be able to take direction, understand what was needed of me, and perform the job. There were many times in the beginning I missed the mark. I thought I understood the project, but it turns out I didn’t. To me, that was failure, and it was stressful.
I eventually figured out how to work with different styles of management. In ANY industry or field you will have different types of management, whether you are in public accounting, private industry or government. You will have your micromanagers who check in with you every hour on a project, and you will have your managers who give you a down-and-dirty rundown of what needs to be done, and your job is to provide them with the finished product in perfect form. You have those that have the urgent, last-minute projects all the time . You have those that spend the time to walk you through a project and spend the time to teach you the tricks of the trade. The types are endless. It was my second year as a staff I envisioned what the perfect manager was. It was actually pieces of each of these individuals. Fortunately I was around highly competent management, but they were all different in the styles they used to manage. What IS the perfect manager? From a staff's view, what would that look like?

It was then I made it my goal. I wanted to remember what those who I would be managing wanted from me. I wanted to remember myself six years ago. So when I was promoted, I asked. I asked staff what they wanted in a manager, and here are some things I heard.

Qualities of the “perfect” manager (a staff's perspective)

·    Be direct: Let us (staff) know how long a project will take, so if I’m going down the wrong path, I know to stop and ask for advice before spending hours doing the wrong work. You will not receive the work you wanted, and I will be frustrated I blew the budget. Break down the project in steps if possible and be direct in what your expectations are for each part. This will keep us on track and on budget.

·    Be approachable: Foster an environment where staff can feel comfortable asking questions. This doesn’t mean to let us take the easy way out, but be inviting, challenge us at times to research the issue and then sit down with us to go over the solution. We want to learn, and we won’t if we don’t feel comfortable reaching out to you.

·    Teach Uu: Investing time in your staff will breed confidence and better performance.  Use corrections as a learning experience, not as a way to point out failures. Instead of making a correction, show us the correction, and tell us why you are doing something a different way.

·    Give feedback: Spend as much effort giving positive feedback as constructive feedback. Find time to take your staff for a coffee or a quick lunch.  Let them know one-on-one what they can do better and what they are doing right.  We can’t fix what we don’t know is broken, and we all need a little cheering section sometimes.  We need strategies for doing the job better

·    Be respectful: Most staff come in knowing that a manager has a lot more knowledge than they do. Respect is mutual and we learn by example, therefore a good manager can breed other good future managers if they create an environment where egos are checked at the door. Teach each of us to be the best we can be and let us grow in our careers by leading by example and creating a nurturing environment. 
So there you have it. New managers and old managers, put yourself into your staff’s shoes, and even your old shoes (if they still fit). I will always look back to where I came from, and how I got here. What things I stumbled on, and how I can help my team learn and grow in their careers.  I will always make it a priority to think more about others through my role as a manager, and less about myself. I may not ever be a “perfect” manager, but if I can help my staff be the best then can be, strive to continuously improve, and motivate them to exceed the goals they set for themselves, then I’ll consider myself a successful manager. 

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