Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Staff Performance Advice for CPAs

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Staff Performance Advice for CPAs

Article excerpt

Effective ways to motivate and manage employees.

Accounting students typically never take a college course in human resources management. Yet when they enter the workforce--especially in small or medium-size companies--they often find themselves assigned to do double duty: as finance managers and de facto personnel directors. If you've been selected for HR responsibility for your enterprise, don't consider it a burden; instead, recognize that it's an acknowledgment of your managerial skills, and thus a career boost. In addition, you'll be pleased to know that recent innovations in the performance management part of the HR task can make that part of your job easier. And, as a bonus, if you introduce those changes, performance of the entire staff is likely to improve--another plus for your career.

In recent years, many professional HR directors have begun to question the traditional performance management processes, and in their place they're introducing procedures that are both easier to administer and appear to generate far better results.

For example, consider the traditional performance appraisal ritual. Instead of continuing the hidebound, "check the box, write a comment" ritual, some HR pros are introducing systems that integrate the company's mission statements, vision and values into performance-evaluation procedures. In addition, the new processes identify and incorporate directly into appraisal forms the core competencies for each employee. Also, they're no longer requiring managers to make judgment calls on workers' performance; instead, managers are asked to report on what's called "behavioral frequency"--that is, how often the individual performs at the highest, or mastery, level. That may seem like an insignificant shift, but it produces results that are hardly insignificant.

Another example is peer review. In this particular approach to alternative dispute resolution (ADR), employee grievances and complaints about inequitable discipline, policy snafus or unjust terminations are heard and resolved by a panel of coworker peers and company managers--with the employee's peers forming the panel's majority. And with ADR, majority rules--that is, the panel's decision, even to return a terminated employee to the job, is final and binding. More on that later.

Consider also the area of discipline. Many companies today reject the notion of punitive responses. Instead, they have adopted processes that concentrate on building employee commitment and demanding individual responsibility--even going so far as using a fully paid disciplinary suspension as one tool.


From a career-building point of view, these new approaches provide growth opportunities for the CPA in business and industry and in public practice. For CPAs serving as CFOs or vice-presidents charged with managing both the financial and the personnel side of the business, familiarity with new directions in performance management--will open doors to leadership opportunities. Likewise, CPAs in public practice can be seen by their clients as more valued business partners.

When senior managers developed a strategic plan for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT), they insisted on incorporating it into its employee appraisal system. In addition, after identifying the core competencies expected of all 5,000 of its employees--from highway maintenance workers to financial analysts and directors--the managers insisted that these competencies be formally assessed in the appraisal. The competencies included leadership, technical knowledge, quality, learning and strategicsystem thinking.

Instead of merely defining each competency, Mn/DOT's appraisal form describes the behavior of a master performer in each competency area. For example, in the quality-competency area, master performance includes such phrases as "recommends improvements to systems," "uses measures to assess how well a job is done," "can explain how measures used benefit the customer" and "recognizes when `good enough' is good enough and when it's not. …

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