Improv Is No Joke Podcast Episode 9: The YES AND Mindset with John Barlow

I’m very happy to introduce my friend John Barlow today. He is a brilliant thinker, an empathetic automotive engineer and a masterful practitioner of the “Yes, and,” mindset.

John is an accidental engineer. He started his career as a principle engineer at Honda 22 years ago, while pursuing a career as an acoustic engineer. He doesn’t exactly fit the stereotype of an engineer, and he brings an empathetic perspective to the engineering and design process. “I think you can train your brain to use both sides of the brain simultaneously, but if you try to do two tasks with one side at the same time, I don’t know it works so well.”

John shares the different aspects of his unique perspective on engineering:

  • Have a wider viewpoint – Learn the different ways people want to use a vehicle (or any product), even if they can’t tell you how they want to use it
  • Be empathetic to other people – Be empathetic to how people do things, use things and want to use things.

John has tactics for imparting empathic processes upon his fellow engineers: Build a logical storyboard and try to show a trend. Try to imagine the future by considering the past – some things that sound unrealistic might happen

John’s position involves imagining how people will use products and technology in the future. Part of this is attempting to establish the relationship between human and machines, because the more of a relationship you can build there, the more trust there is in the technology. “As technology is starting to provide services to people, you don’t want it to come across as a machine. You want it to be more personal than that.”

“Because people are so busy with their lives these days, I think part of that forces the, ‘Yes, but,’ culture.” John sees how the mindset can impact every part of your life and the people you are around. However, if you can take a step back and look at things from a different perspective, you will realize that it is more effective, and more empathetic, to use a “Yes, and,” approach.

I’m extremely grateful to John for taking the time to talk today. He is one of the most empathetic people I have ever talked to, and he really understands the benefit of a “Yes, and,” mindset. I can’t wait to have him back on the show again.

Click here to listen to the episode

Improv Is No Joke Podcast Episode 8: Pam Devine Show Notes

Pam Devine has graced her presence as the guest on today’s show. She is from New England but now has her life in Baltimore. Her favorite quote is from Tom Hood that is, “L is greater than or equal to C.”

She has been part of the Business Learning Institute, an affiliate of the Maryland Association of CPAs. This organization focuses on leadership, strategy and communication, the skills that make better business professionals. Learning is what give the organization a competitive advantage and has the saying “The learning curve is truly the earning curve.” The organization gives the team within an opportunity to grow by attending various conferences. The organization is also redesigning their office environment in a way wherein it can promote a more collaborative open learning environment expose to different levels from CEO to junior members.

One of the important conferences in topic was the Bersin Conference, which talked about leadership. It talked about learning architecture and how learning has changed from more than just education. In order for an organization to have a truly competitive learning environment, the conference introduced the Four E’s:

  • Education
  • Exposure
  • Environment
  • Experience

It discussed also the way to think about a systematic approach to learning encompassing all of the Four E’s. Pam gave the CPA Day in Annapolis event as an example. Here, CPAs get to have a new environment outside the office to learn. CPAs can be exposed to meet various people and legislators and have the opportunity to understand what is going on in the legislative environment. Lastly, CPAs gain the experience at the end of event.

It mentioned also the importance of making the architectural learning environment work, which is composed of curious employee, network employee, holistic employee, agile employee and innovative employee.

Pam would like to share to the listeners of this podcast the quote “Train your people and they are 92% more likely to stay and be loyal.” It is better to invest in one’s future and gain loyalty.

Click here to listen to this episode

Improv Is No Joke Podcast Episode 6: Steve Sacks Show Notes

Steve Sacks is a right-brain thinker in the left-brain world of accounting. I first met him when he attended one of my workshops in Las Vegas, and since then we’ve had many spirited discussions centered around leadership and communications. It’s great that we’re able to continue our conversation here for the audience.

Steve’s always been more enamored with what happened to generate the numbers in accounting rather than the numbers themselves. To him, a financial statement a few months after the fact doesn’t add any value, and because of this he got into consulting. Through consulting, he can offer real help to his clients in the form of advice or direct action steps that need to be taken.

He’s looking to differentiate himself from other consultants in the field. He wants to go from just offering advice and a report to helping the client implement and get to the next level. “Identifying problems is not enough.”

Steve believes that the accounting profession is really a relationship building profession. When you meet with a prospective client you want them to leave the meeting knowing that you care and want to be a partner in their success. You can only do this by listening and asking great questions. You’ve got two ears after all, so you should be listening twice as much as speaking. Ask a question, listen to the answer then deliver on what the client wants. That’s what builds great relationships.

In all accounting firms now and in the future, we’ll be relying on the next generation of associates to help build the business. It makes sense to bring the younger, newer staff into meetings to learn from the conversations of the more experienced partners. “You gotta bring up the next generation sooner rather than later.” They should pay attention to the questions asked and the way the clients react.

Steve also believes it’s of extreme importance to foster in the younger generation an intellectual investment in the firm. Our management styles need to change to be more collaborative in our efforts, actually working with our new associates to create a more interesting and imaginative workplace. The younger generation doesn’t take too well to the rigidity of the old ways.

This also has the effect of developing the company’s culture. We need to walk the walk and talk the talk, and being in-step with our nice and inviting marketing collateral. “Culture will be the determining factor whether you’ve created a home for that future star or not.” It used to be that job jumping made for a toxic employee, but now we’ve got to expect it and do everything we can to get them to stay.

Hiring practices need to be improved as well, and interviewing has become a lost art. It’s important to get the right people on board, as well as on-board them properly to the company. Steve recommends that every new associate be assigned to a mentor within the firm, and be given a career roadmap right from the start. Also, skip the yearly formal reviews as this should be an ongoing process throughout the year.

Steve gave us many of his insights into the future of leadership with accounting firms. There’s so much that he discussed that we all should be trying to implement. My thanks again to Steve for the time that he gave us today. If you would like to listen to his episode, click here

Improv Is No Joke Podcast Episode 5: Karl Ahlrichs Show Notes

I always enjoy speaking with Karl Ahlrichs, a human capital consultant and a far-thinking and future planning individual. He comes on the podcast today to discuss some of the storms he sees coming on the horizon, particularly where HR and the next generations of employees meet.

Even though our current economy is far greater now than it’s been in a while, Karl sees quite a few potential problems on the horizon that we need to be prepared for:

  • Baby Boomers – due to the recession of 2008, many of these people delayed retirement to rebuild their nest egg. Many of them are now ready to leave and hit the beach.
  • High Performers – they’ve driven the country’s productivity to unprecedented levels, but now they’re looking for the next challenge. They’ll be ready to migrate jobs soon, so we need to figure out our management style and plans so we can attract new ones and keep the old ones in place.
  • Social Media – sites like LinkedIn will attract high performers away from you by enticing them with great challenging opportunities as well as being a source of candidates for recruiting companies.
  • Digital Natives vs Digital Immigrants – this is a great way to divide the world when looking to hiring in the future. Digital immigrants need jobs without lots of tech involved, and we need to hire people who line up with their jobs. You can’t put somebody tech savvy into a job with minimal tech interaction and vice versa.

Karl knows that business practices also need to reflect the current majority group within the workplace: millennials. Studies have shown that 2/3 of millennials don’t plan on staying with their current employee for more than 5 years. We have to change our business and management practices to keep these high performers more engaged. “We have to adapt the very work we do to fit a more project thinking pattern.”

There are a few things that we can start to do now to keep those high performing millennials in place:

  • Better hiring practices and higher standards. High performers love to work with other high performers and are pleased and impressed when their bosses hire the best.
  • Management sincerely listens. High performers tend to stay in their jobs 20-30% longer if they perceive their manager listens to them and values their input.

Millennials are only one employment group we must contend with, but the new Gen WiFi will be a handful as well. These future employees became aware at the age of 3, the same time as Google came online. This generation doesn’t need or want to know anything; they rely on Google over memory. One other key distinction about this group is their lack of ethics. The ends justify the means for them. This will create ethics issues in the workplace and it’ll be up to us as management to parent them along ethical lines.

Underscoring all of these issues is the fact that people nowadays are overwhelmed with the glut of information they’re presented on a daily basis. The average person is subjected to 32GB of data per day. Talk about overwhelm! This has created the need for simplicity in answering questions or solving complex problems. The ability to simplify the complex and communicate it will be invaluable in the near future. “That’s the most important human skill going forward; to take complex things and make them understandable.

So the most important thing people can do, to sum everything up, is to focus on hiring standards because if we bring in ethically challenged poor performers, we’ll destroy the cultures and businesses we’ve worked so hard to develop. We need to screen for, teach and practice for ourselves a higher ethical standard because, “Ethics are learned by modeling, not by reading.”

Karl was very gracious with his time and wisdom today as he dropped value bomb after value bomb on us. I took a great deal away from our discussion, as I’m sure you did as well. We all now have lots to take away and apply to our own lives and business to make our lives easier. If you would like to listen to this episode, click here

Improv Is No Joke Podcast Episode 3: Tom Hood Show Notes

This week’s blog posting is from the third episode of my podcast, Improv Is No Joke with my guest Tom Hood, the CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs.  Our conversation is about forward thinking.  If you would like to listen to the entire episode, you can click here, or you can download the episode on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play.  Here are the show notes:

Tom Hood was a wonderful guest on today’s show. He’s a great forward-thinking leader in the CPA world and delivered great value to the audience with his insights into technologies and trends for the future.

Tom just returned from a spring council meeting for members of the American Institute of CPAs. A big takeaway from the meeting is the sense that people are beginning to understand the impact of the exponential pace of technology. Big changes like continuous auditing of 100% of transactions are right around the corner, as well as automation within the financial world. Big ticket items will still remain with professionals, but the entry level tasks will be moved to machines soon. “We’re going to need new skills and need them faster probably than we think and we’re going to need to focus on things that computers can’t do.” The trust and relationship side of accounting are aspects that we need to leverage: we need to get better at doing what computers can’t do.

Tom has been able to predict many of the things that others are just now starting to see. It’s not any type of clairvoyance on his part, though. He attributes his future seeing abilities to something that Isaac Newton had said, “The reason I can see farther is because I stand on the shoulder of giants.” Tom’s business relationships and training has helped him see upcoming trends.

With this vision, Tom knows that it won’t be enough to just know the nuts and bolts of accounting. CPA’s will need to begin developing strategic thinking within the companies they work for. This is understanding data and having the ability to analyze it within the context of the company and the world surrounding it. “Wisdom is looking at patterns and connecting dots.”

The number one reason why people leave their CPA’s is because they tend to be reactionary and not proactive. Accountants are logical and we look for facts to understand and tell us about the business. This can lead to a focus on the rear view mirror, without ever looking out through the windshield. CPA’s need to make time for the future and must be taught to look forward.

A change in curriculum like this isn’t something that higher education is capable of just yet. That’s a huge ship to turn around, and we all know they don’t turn quickly. Because of this, it’s up to us as employers to teach our people the skills necessary to be more adaptable and to make a greater impact. Don’t worry about the costs, do this so your people are better prepared to help the organization. The old idea of “if we train them they’ll leave” needs to take a back seat to the more critical message of “what if we don’t train them and they stay?”

Tom gave some incredible food for thought in today’s episode. We all need to make a concerted effort to be more forward thinking in our approach to our chosen profession. I’m really glad he had the time to speak with us today.