Sadly, the immortal lyrics, “You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling” describe a number of accountants and their attitude about the work they do. Over the years, I’ve met a great many accountants who are good at what they do but are not getting to do what they love. If this sounds like you, you are not alone. There is a cure for these accountant’s blues and there is a community of passionate accountants who are sharing some of the key ingredients for their passionate formula. Passion is the natural outcome of connecting what you are good at with what you love to do.
Ingredient No. 1: Love your clients.
Let’s start with what you love. If you are like most of the practitioners I know, you love to help your clients succeed. But here’s the problem. Even though you are a stellar provider of compliance services, there is a huge disconnect between just getting the work done and helping your clients increase their success. You need to do more. As David Maister says, “Love your clients to death!” He didn’t say “Account them death!”
Love equals passion. If you really love your clients, get passionate about their success. But first you need to ask them some questions. What is their definition of success? Is it more money in the bank, more time with their family, retiring sooner (retiring at all), is it starting another business, or some other grand scheme? Until you fully understand their goals, you can’t be passionate about their success. Sounds easy enough, until you actually think about doing it.
Believe it or not, I’ve heard accountants say they are just not comfortable talking about anything beyond traditional accounting deliverables. I have also heard accountants admit out loud that they don’t want to ask clients questions about their goals or business issues because that might lead to them asking a question they can’t answer. See ingredient #3 for how to cure this fear of questions.
Ingredient No. 2: Have confidence.
For many, the number one thing that gets in the way of helping clients, is their lack of confidence that they can actually make a difference in their business. For example, what if the client is struggling with managing their operations, attracting the ideal customer, training their people, or some other everyday business issue? How does your training as an accountant help with those issues? Very well, thank you .
You see, accountants are made to measure. You have highly honed accounting/measuring skills that you can apply across all areas of business performance, not just finance. Rather than being concerned about the solution to a given problem, focus on the activities that impact the problem. Then apply your accounting skills to measure them. Before long the answer to their issues become empirically clear. Remember this: You can’t manage what you don’t measure! Most business owners are not measuring anything at all or they measure too much so nothing is important. You have the skill to connect day-to-day activities with financial outcomes. You can create feedback measures that drastically improve the quality of information available to decision makers.
Ingredient No. 3: Ask good questions.
It is always better to be interested than interesting. Be curious! Good questions are the hallmark of an effective teacher. The best teachers lead their students down a path of critical thinking to discover the answer themself. Socrates paved the way for what we refer to as the “Socratic method of consulting.” Whatever issue comes up in your client’s business, you can start with one simple, non-threatening question, “Is it a People or Process Issue?” For example, if the owner says, “we can’t seem to get our product out on time.” Rather than jumping in with a solution, ask the people or process question.
But don’t stop there. The next several questions relate to context and consequence of the issue. Does it happen some of the time with some of the people? Does it happen all of the time with all of the people? Does it happen with just one person? Why is it more critical now? Has it ever been better or worse? What other areas of the business is this issue affecting? What other areas of the business are impacting this issue? What is the economic and cultural impact of not fixing this issue? What would an ideal outcome look like? How would you measure it?
Ingredient No. 4: Focus on facilitating a process of discovery; the process is the deliverable.
Unlike the role of “expert” that you have played in the past, the role of a passionate accountant is to focus on growing the skills and abilities of the organization. You do this by involving the team in finding the answers to their own issues. In short, the process of Socratic consulting is the deliverable. Much like a good therapist, your role is to help your clients tap into their company’s innate wisdom, not hand out a diagnosis and walk away.
Ingredient No. 5: Love your clients.
It bears repeating. If you focus on doing whatever it takes to help your clients succeed, they will begin to see you as an important part of their future success. Even if you are not sure how to help them address a specific issue, and you have run out of good questions, be a good listener. They will usually find the answers on their own with you as a sounding board. By the way, connecting a client with a subject matter expert when they have a problem outside your area of expertise is also a powerful expression of your passion for their success.
Bottom line: If you are not getting to do what you love every day, if you are not waking up excited about what lies ahead, your personal health, the health of your clients, and by extension, the health of our economy is at risk. Being a Passionate Accountant means applying your accounting talent to help others reach their goals. The profession often is teased about being “bean counters.” Passionate Accountants embrace that idea and apply their skills to count all kinds of beans, not just the financial ones.