Changing The Mindset of the Construction Industry

When it comes to accounting in 2019, it’s important to move away from the “this is the way it’s always been done” mentality. Also, perhaps nowhere is that philosophy more prevalent than in the construction industry.

I chatted with someone who knows this better than anyone – Owen Wyss, the Financial Controller at Thompson Concrete Construction, as well as the Vice-Chair of Finance for the Ohio Society of CPAs. Part of Wyss’ job is getting people within the industry to think outside the box and find new, more efficient ways of working with the numbers than how it’s “always been done.”

“It’s a different world,” Wyss said. “And a lot of people when they’re interviewing an accountant for a construction business, nobody can figure out the debits and credits. There are still debits and credits. That’s just a given. Anyone can pick it up that’s got a good accounting background, but it’s a different world from the perspective that it’s a different way of doing business. There’s not much planning. There is a lot of, ‘That’s always the way we’ve done it.’”

The different managerial levels within the construction industry are partially to blame for why accounting within the industry requires a different way of thinking. With owners, contractors, and sub-contractors, there are various self-interests all vying for priority. This can complicate everything, especially within the finance department.

According to Wyss, aligning all these self-interests is the only way to move the industry forward, and to cut costs. For as long as different self-interests are pitted against one another, construction companies are going to struggle with efficiency.

“Owners are pushing margins lower, you know, which obviously should drive the general contractors to push costs lower, which ultimately should drive the sub-contractors to push costs lower,” Wyss said. “But I believe what you’re seeing is just shrinking margins because there’s not a great effort to look at how we can make construction more efficient.”

To increase profitability within the construction industry, Wyss said it’s helpful to take a look at a couple of examples in other industries.

“I’ve been talking to our guys, our leadership here locally, just about the Toyota way and Honda way a lot, and how they worked with their manufacturers and subcontractors that weren’t within their plants and forced down their ways to realize better margins and more profitability,” Wyss said.

Wyss also floats his ideas about how to streamline accounting within the construction industry from his other leadership positions: He is on the board of the Construction Financial Management Association and is the Vice-Chair of Finance for the Ohio Society of CPAs.

Just like he does from within his industry, Wyss pushes his professional organizations to step outside of the way things have “always been done.”

He’s active in trying to transition organizations he’s a part of away from the standard individual “membership” model and more towards an organizational membership model.

“I think the other big change and evolution that we’re going through, and this is going to take years to perfect… moving from compliance-based learning to a place where we’re working and consulting with organizations on their training needs and bringing customized learning solutions to them. From that perspective, you can see us moving slightly away from our membership model and even more towards mainly an industry or business model.”

Transitioning any organization from the way things have “always” been done to how they will be done in the future can be a process – whether you’re part of a construction company, or on a board of a professional organization. However, starting that process sooner rather than later – and having someone like Wyss on board who’s pushing change from the beginning – can be hugely helpful.

Click here to listen to the entire podcast interview with Owen Wyss.

Why Your Employees Leave & How to Keep Them Longer

If your firm or department has struggled with employee turnover, my latest podcast will be of particular interest.

My guest, Cara Silletto, whose mother was actually a corporate accountant, is now a workforce retention guru. Her company, Crescendo Strategies, works with companies to reduce their employee turnover, and to bridge the generational gap within the workplace. (You can listen to our full conversation here (https://petermargaritis.com/s2e7/).

The hot topics Cara deals with certainly appear in our segment of the world: Accounting firms and corporate finance departments alike all deal with some of these same issues: Gaps in understanding between the millennial generation and Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. Constant turnover within their workforce. A judgment of millennials for not being “loyal” enough. The list goes on and on.

So how do managers in the finance world fix this? A little flexibility goes a long way. Gone are the days when employees were content with mandatory Saturday hours: Instead, employers are finding ways to empower their staff to make their own schedules.

“It’s not that they’re expecting any less out of their people, but they’re giving them the flexibility to bill those hours any time during the week,” Cara said. “If they want to pull later days, or come in on Sunday or Saturday night, work from home, wherever they can hit those billable hours, they can still do it. But they’re not requiring people to come in from nine to noon every Saturday morning anymore because you don’t have to do that.”

As a retention strategist, Cara gets plenty of calls from various companies: But the most common type of accounting firm or finance department she hears from are those who are “set in their ways,” who have policies that they haven’t revisited in years. They are the ones who call Cara and say, “We can’t recruit anybody.”

Put simply, the old way of doing things isn’t working any longer: Times have changed, and the next generation of workers isn’t loyal to a company, just for the sake of being loyal. Today’s workers stay in jobs where they feel appreciated, have scheduling flexibility, and see multiple avenues of promotion.

Flexibility is advancement is one lesson the accounting world can take to heart, maybe even more so than the others: Today’s employees aren’t necessarily going to stay at a firm for years on end, waiting for the day they’re promoted to partner. That’s why we have to be flexible with creating multiple avenues of advancement. Sometimes that means taking into account employees’ unique abilities and creating a position around those talents.

“I love when organizations create multiple paths for advancement,” Cara said. “You hear a title like senior advisor or something like that, which tells me that person is so good at what they do, but they probably shouldn’t be managing people, and that’s fine because they can still be promoted, and they can be a mentor or advisor for somebody else, or for a team, but they don’t have the direct responsibility of leading and managing others.”

Even for more entry-level employees further down the food chain, it’s important employers offer robust training opportunities. Today’s workforce won’t tolerate taking a job and then not being appropriately trained for it.

And important to remember, too: When you invest in your employees (whether that’s training, hiring, or retention efforts), you’re investing in your firm or department as a whole, too.

 

Future-forward philosophy can pay dividends in the accounting world

It’s not hard to find where the “stuffy” stereotype of accounting has come from: boring offices, firms inflexible with their rules, and an overall stiff work environment for so many accountants. 

But that’s why I’ve been so impressed with DeLeon and Stang, a firm that takes all those stereotypes and throws them out the window, creating their own future-forward culture. I talked to Rich Stang and Brad Hoffman, partners at the firm, about what makes their office so different from other accounting firms. 

One of the core components of DeLeon and Stang — one that might initially sound sacrilegious — is taking care of employees first, clients second. “If we take care of our staff first … there’s not as much turnover,” Rich said. “And so that’s ultimately going to be good for the clients as well.” 

At DeLeon and Stang, the firm has made an effort to put that employees-first philosophy into practice. The team goes out to happy hour together, letting loose and having fun, even if it’s 4 p.m. on a Friday and they’re “supposed” to be on the clock. 

The firm has also instituted unlimited paid time off — a policy still in the beginning stages but that lets employees know they have options for when things happen in their lives. Employees also have the option to work from home sometimes when they don’t have client meetings.

When employees feel comfortable in their work environment, they start to naturally have each other’s backs. Accounting doesn’t have to be cut-throat or boring. It can just be fun, and a work environment where people are happy to be there, like at DeLeon and Stang. 

From that environment comes less of a need for staff oversight. 

“They’re starting to really buy into this teamwork approach,” Brad said. “So they don’t want to let others down. So there’s a lot of them holding each other accountable. And you’re leading, not managing, which is way more fun. You’re encouraging, you’re strengthening. You’re not standing over top of them telling them what to do.” 

That kind of flexibility extends to virtually every aspect of DeLeon and Stang — including the reasoning for their latest location, in Frederick. The partners realized many of their employees lived in that area and were spending significant portions of their days commuting. 

That new office – in addition to being convenient – also builds on all the aspects of an accounting firm no one would expect. Having those elements attracts better candidates, which is just another example of the firm’s future-forward philosophy. 

“We want to be the first to the race with the Millennials, because they’re going to be the future of the firm, and they want cool space, they want flexibility,” Brad said. “We’re here to accept and challenge the Millennial workforce, and want them part of our team.” 

You can listen to our full podcast here

How Accountants Can Be More Future-Forward In an Evolving World

Trying to keep up with innovations in technology is a challenge in any industry—but maybe even more so in the accounting world. It’s a very formulaic business, with (traditionally) little wiggle room when it comes to trying new things.

That’s why talking with Amy Vetter was such an eye-opener. She’s a CPA, a certified information technology professional, certified Global Management Accountant, a yoga studio owner, and the author of two books. She also is an expert when it comes to helping the accounting industry look toward the future, and find ways to fortify itself against any technological changes.

Change is certainly coming. AI, machine learning, and Cloud Accounting are all evolving and shaping the future of the industry.

“Anything like accounting that’s as structured as it is, AI machine learning can enter because there’s a structure to program into a system,” Amy said. “What artificial intelligence is basically taking our own business intelligence and trying to program that into a computer so that the computer can start figuring out those things.”

The most helpful thing for accountants to remember? Despite increasing technology that can seemingly do your job for you, AI and machine learning don’t have one crucial piece: They’re not human beings, and can’t provide the relationship that accountants can.

Accountants don’t just have to be numbers whizzes (a quality that can be replaced by a computer). They should realize their status as “cherished advisor,” as Amy puts it. There’s value outside of simple number-crunching.

“What you want to strive for is to be cherished – that your clients can’t imagine not having you as part of their business because you are providing so much value,” she said. “That the money is not the issue. It’s like you’re an integral part of their business.”

Contrary to popular belief, artificial intelligence can actually be helpful to accountants—not just something that’s going to steal their jobs.

“It actually frees up our time so we can spend more time with our clients,” Amy said. “It doesn’t bring our value down. What it does is give us the information quicker so that we can start analyzing it.”

Seeing all the technological changes within the accounting industry as a positive can be difficult. That’s true for anyone — but especially accountants.

“When we are given a standard or regulation, we’re really good at changing,” Amy said. “But when we’re given like, ‘This is where the future is going,’ but there’s not necessarily a standard or a checklist of how to get there, we drag our feet a bit in this profession.”

The solution? Remembering the standard that doesn’t have to be written down: Keep building relationships with clients. Be a human, not a computer. And learn how to become the “cherished advisor” that every accountant has the power to be.

To listen to the full interview, click here

 

Brain Science Tips to Engage Any Audience

Attracting — and retaining — an audience when you’re a speaker can be a challenge. People get distracted by phones, sometimes aren’t interested in your topic, or, worst of all, you feel like they don’t like you.

But there are pieces of brain science speakers can use to get the most of their time in front of an audience.

Dr. John Molidor, a professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University and past president of the National Speakers Association board of directors, visited the “Change Your Mindset” podcast. And he was full of brain-science tips for speakers to incorporate into their presentations:

Mix story and emotion with data and facts

We’ve heard plenty about “left-sided” and “right-sided” brains (brains that are more analytical and data-driven vs brains that are more emotion-driven). But as a speaker, you have to learn to touch both sides. Our brains crave an integration of both pieces.

Some presentations and keynotes are naturally more numbers-driven or more story-driven. But if you find yourself leaning too far to one side, try targeting the other side of the brain.

“Talk to both hemispheres,” John said. “Tell the story. Show the emotion. Give the data. Give the numbers. Both of them the brain processes, and it actually would like to have both.”

Be consistent

It may feel natural to want to switch up aspects of your presentation sometimes — font, headers, symbols. But our brains naturally gravitate towards patterns. Once the brain is able to find that comfort in a pattern, it’s better able to pay attention to other things (like your presentation). If there’s no consistency to your presentation or slide show elements, your brain is going to inherently be too distracted trying to find a pattern that it doesn’t retain the actual information as well.

Use an F-pattern on your slides

No, this has nothing to do with using salty language.

Eye pattern studies have shown the ways in which our eyes naturally move when looking at something new. So presenters could benefit from using that science. Typically, our eyes move in a pattern that looks like an F: up and down, then left over the top, and then in the middle. When creating slides for a presentation, it can be helpful to keep that pattern in mind and keep the important text higher up.

Incorporate brain breaks for your audience

Naps to increase learning potential? That’s just one brain tip John shared. To put it simply, the human brain is not meant to be a machine when it comes to retaining information. We have to give it a break every now and then if we want it to actually perform optimally. One of the best ways to help your brain learn something, John says, is to give it time to rest directly after.

Of course, you don’t want your audience napping during your presentation. But you can still incorporate pre-planned breaks into your time on stage.

Cater to the brain’s need for visual elements

Use pictures to break up all the text you want to get across. “The visual cortex in the back of your brain is a huge amount of real estate,” John says — so take advantage of it.

“Death by bullet points” is not the way to go: So be sure to include pictures that will help illustrate all your main points.

Eliminate unnecessary words

Did you know that your brain sometimes naturally fills in words and letters that are missing? Even if two letters of a word are switched, your brain will naturally unscramble the letters and read the word as the correct word (like if “please” was spelled “plaese,” your brain would still read the word the same).

So how to translate that knowledge as a speaker? Take out unnecessary words — your presentation doesn’t need every “a” or “an.” John has even been experimenting himself with taking some verbs out, in an effort to pull audience members in and have them actively participating in the presentation.

Remember that your audience’s brains need oxygen

Much like the human brain needs frequent breaks to keep up its productivity, it also needs oxygen. John incorporates “fact or crap” sessions, where he invites audience members to yell out whether they think a particular sentence is true or not. Telling a joke (laughter brings in oxygen) also works, or encouraging everyone to get up and stretch.

Get out of your own head

This tip is the simplest at its core, yet often the hardest for speakers to do. If you focus in on the one person in the audience not paying attention — or not exhibiting overtly positive body language — instead of the 50 other people who are engaged, your brain will take notice. John equated this to your cells eavesdropping on what you’re sending your brain: “If you’re sending your brain sort of this negative information or positive information, your cells tend to pay attention to that,” he said, “which then can cause a chemical reaction.”

So staying out of your head (and all the worries and scenarios your brain has cooked up) will help in any speaking scenario. A particularly helpful mantra to remember is the one John uses before his speaking engagements: “I will tell myself all I can really do here is share what I know. That’s so much easier for me to go, ‘I’m just going to share,’ versus ‘I hope they like it,’ or ‘Are they getting it?’ or ‘Oh, you know I’m not getting the reaction I wanted.’ In the end, am I sharing it and am I doing it in a way that’s real? I’m not judging myself as I do it.”

To listen to the entire interview with Dr. John Molidor, you can click this link and download it from my website or you can download the episode on C-Suite Radio, iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or Google Play. Just search Change Your Mindset with Peter Margaritis.