Successful Employee: How to BE

Avatar photoMarc Rosenberg, CPA / Sep 15, 2022

One of the great things about my job as consultant in the past 20 years is the opportunity I’ve had to work with over a thousand CPA firms to learn their best practices…and also what not to do. I have created hundreds of handouts and templates based on these experiences. (These handouts have been incorporated in one or more of the 16 books we have published on CPA firm practice management: here). I revise these handouts quite frequently when I learn something new or when an existing practice becomes passé.Employee holding a star.

Enter the subject of this blog: How to Be a Successful Employee. One of the most important duties of partners and managers is to help staff learn and grow, and to coach them—both formally and informally—on how to advance in the firm. Based on my work with great firms and their managing partners, here is a summary of what leadership expects of their staff.

Partners and managers should review this list, add anything you think is missing and remove items you are not comfortable with. Then, use this as a guide to counsel your staff on how to be a successful, important team member. This summary is much more important at the earliest stages of someone’s employment with your firm, especially in the first year or two. Share this list with your staff to impress on them how to be a great team member.

1. Attitude is everything. Technical performance is merely ante to get into the game. The differentiator is attitude. Getting things done. Your boss should enjoy working with you.

2. Be known for being proactive, doing more than asked, volunteering. Be known for your reliability.

3. Don’t come across as aloof. If your boss thinks you are not engaged, you will soon be out. Take ownership of your work. Think and act like it’s your company instead of you being an employee.

4. Give people timely responses, whether by phone call, email, or text. Don’t ever forget to respond. Don’t forget assignments and tasks. Have a system that prevents you from forgetting. Always keep a detailed to-do list.

5. Scouts’ motto: “Be prepared.”

6. Operate on Lombardi time. Legendary hall of fame football coach Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers was known for his toughness and high standards. One of his rules: “If you don’t show up 15 minutes early for a meeting, you’re late.” An edgier version: “If you show up at a meeting 5 minutes early, you are already 10 minutes late.

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7. If you don’t understand how to do an assignment and you’ve first tried to do it on your own, ask questions. Ask for help. Don’t spin your wheels.

8. Never go to a meeting or to the boss’s office without a memo pad to take notes. Don’t rely on your memory. If you don’t take notes, your boss will think you’ll forget important things.

9. Demand performance feedback, not just formal annual reviews but project by project. Feedback is the breakfast of champions; otherwise, you will repeat your mistakes endlessly.

10. Never disrespect the boss. A hard thing about being an employee is tolerating your boss’s imperfections.

11. When given an assignment, ask what the deadline is, so that you will be timely.

12. If you are light on work, tell your boss and ask for more. Show them that you like to keep busy. Everyone loves proactivity.

13. Appearance matters. Dress appropriately for your internal and external clients.

14. Work ethic: Don’t be a 9-to-5er, and don’t let others pick up the slack all the time. Put in the extra effort and hours when your team or clients need you to.

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