Awakened to Change! An Improvisor’s Journey

In a recent conversation with a colleague about social justice reform and eliminating racism, I made the comment that racism is something you learn over time through your family, culture, and your environment.  Growing up in Lexington, KY in the 1960s through the early ’80s, I witnessed racism in a variety of ways. However, I never thought of those actions as racist because they were commonplace and part of the family, culture, and environment. The reality, however, and I am sad to say it – is that at one point in my life, I was a racist. 

It was in early 1984 when I recognized that my thoughts and attitudes had begun to change.  I was the new general manager of Ken’s Pizza in Griffin, GA.  When I asked people if they knew where Griffin, GA is located, most did not, so I would respond, “somewhere between Atlanta and the Civil War”. The reason for that reference came from an encounter I had with two customers on my first day as a general manager.  It went like this:  after our lunch rush, two little mature ladies called me over to their booth.  I walked over and introduced myself and asked if they like their pizza.  They both said that they enjoyed the pizza. Then one of the ladies looked me in the eye and said, “It is nice to have a white general manager for a change.” I was stunned and said, “excuse me I need to get back to work.” 

It was 1997 when I realized that my opinions, attitude, and mindset had totally changed.  The realization came to me during a conversation with my father about the potential hiring of Tubby Smith, African American, to be the new basketball head coach at the University of Kentucky.  My father swore that there would never be a black Head Coach at UK. When I pointed out that Tubby was an assistant coach at UK from 1989 – 1991 he said that being an assistant was okay.  Turns out my dad was wrong. Tubby Smith was hired as the Head Coach at UK in March 1997.  It is a little ironic that my father said that because he told me a story about his Greek stepfather trying to open a second business in Harlan, KY in the ’50s, only for it to be burned to the ground by the KKK because a Greek could only have one business. A perfect example of some self-appointed superior group telling someone else, they are not allowed to do something. 

That was also the year I was introduced to improv comedy.  As I began to recognize that improv was more than just being funny – that it is really a leadership philosophy and way of life – my awareness, attitudes and beliefs began to change dramatically. The Improv concept of Yes! And teaches us to suspend our judgment, park our ego, listen to understand, and to be empathetic.  

Yes! And, and Improv isn’t about pushing a tired old belief forward just because this is the way it always has been. It isn’t about looking at others as second- or third-class citizens and making decisions based upon stereotypes. It is not about listening and only responding to push your tired and outdated agenda. 

Yes! And is just the opposite – with a lot of empathy. Empathy is not putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Empathy is trying to understand how that person feels in their shoes.   

Yes! And, and Improv is about humanity. No matter someone’s race, everyone is a human being, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds & cultures. These people are sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, oxygen breathing, emotional humans. It is about acceptance and moving forward.  It is about trying to understand how the other person feels in their shoes.  When was the last time you tried doing that by suspending your judgment, parking your ego, and truly listening to understand rather than just responding? 

Last year, an African American friend of mine and I were talking just before my family’s annual vacation to Sanibel Island, FL in August. Just before we hung up, he said, “Be careful that you don’t get too dark, the police might pull you over.” I can’t imagine getting pulled over just because of the color of my skin, but we see and hear about it all the time. What would I feel like if a police officer pulled me over just because of the color of my skin or that he/she simply could?  Especially when I knew that I had done nothing wrong. 

My favorite conference to speak at was the National Association of Black Accountants, and I spoke there for 5 years in a row.  I remember the first time I was there; I was walking the halls with an African American woman who asked me, “Don’t you feel nervous?” I replied, “By what?” She said, “You know, you kind of stand out from almost everyone attending.” I replied, “When I see someone who is a different color than me, I try to see them as who they are – father, husband, wife, mother, son, daughter, who is trying to make the best life for them and their families, just like I am trying to do. 

A female colleague shared a story with me about traveling the east coast on business, missing her Amtrak train, and having to walk into a small town in Connecticut in a notably ‘bad’ area.  As she was leaving the train platform, she saw a group of young black men heading toward the platform – and her – through an empty parking lot. She admittedly had a moment. A moment of fear based on familial and cultural conditioning.  And then she stopped.  Changed her thought – that moment – to one of gratitude, and instead of being afraid, she walked up to the young men, dropped her bags and thanked them for coming to her rescue.  They gathered round her and helped her find a place to stay for the night – exactly what they had intended when they first saw her. 

Being silent and not enacting positive change is not the way to create change, especially in difficult times like these. There are too many leaders who think they are leaders when they are not.  As I heard Simon Sinek say during an interview, “Leadership has nothing to do with your title. Leadership is the positive effect you have on another person.”  

To enact positive change in the elimination of social injustice and racism, white people need to quit talking and start listening. We need to hear the conversation for what it is, not what we want it to be. We need to take an improvisor’s mindset to search for a solution versus creating a bigger divide for our own self interests. I have heard many of an improvisor say, “if everyone would just take one improv course, this world would be a better place.”

This is an example of Leadership in Hyperdrive: Powered by Improv™. If you would like to learn more about how improv is a powerful leadership philosophy, please contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com

Getting Creative

Silhouette People Meeting Team Creative Process ConceptWhen asked what you do for a living, what do you answer? Accountant or business manager or maybe partner in a CPA firm? That may be what your business card says, but in reality what you should say is “I am a problem solver”. That’s the value you bring to clients: you make their businesses run more smoothly by resolving problems that create obstacles to success.

The best problem solvers are also very creative. They look beyond the obvious job duties and investigate opportunities. Rather than complete the tasks assigned by clients (or bosses), creative problem solvers look deeper into the project. They identify potential liabilities, brainstorm potential solutions, do their research and discuss the options with their client.

Now you may say that you just aren’t creative, that it’s right brain versus left brain, that it’s something you are born with or you aren’t. Not true. Creativity can and should be nurtured and developed in every person. Even accountants!

Most business leaders are driven by the bottom line. Investing in developing creativity in your staff has to yield dividends, and it does. Here are the facts*.

•  Companies that embrace creativity outperform those that don’t 1.5 to 1
•  58% of those who foster creativity increased annual revenue by 10% or more. Only 20% of less creative companies had similar growth.
•  82% of companies believe there is a strong connection between creativity and business results.
•  60% of companies who foster creativity in their team have received award and recognition as a “best place to work.”
•  Despite the facts, 61% of senior managers do not describe their companies as creative!

So what does it take to bring out the creativity in your team? Start with yourself.
•  As the leader of your team, are you open and receptive to new ideas?
•  Is brainstorming a part of the process – actively soliciting ideas that challenge the norm.
•  Is your team encouraged to try something new, to avoid SALY (Same As Last Year).
•  Are you a “Yes, but…” leader or a “Yes, and…” leader?

If you answered no to any of these points, you may be the problem. The solution: get professional help. Let’s talk – you can be a creative, problem solver.

 

* Results from a Forrester Consulting Survey

Poor Soft Skills = Poor Executive Advancement

exec_communication_picRecently I was reviewing a 2013 survey published by Robert Half that clearly highlighted the disconnect between the investment in soft skill training and the demand for those skills in management.  CFOs reported that poor interpersonal skills, those are soft skills, were the top reason for lack of advancement from within their firm.  Here are some outstanding results from this survey:

“In your opinion, which one of the following is the most common reason for an employee’s failure to advance at your company?”

30% – Poor interpersonal skills

25% – Poor work ethic

23% – Not developing new skills

15% – Failure to enhance his/her visibility within the organization

5% – Failure to proactively see promotions and career advancement

2% – Other

Yet of these same CFOs only 19% say they would invest in soft skills training. The very reasons their staff is not ready for executive promotion, the communication and interpersonal skills that hold an employee back, are not being trained in a vast majority of firms.

To be fair, soft skills training has increased in the last 5 or so years, but that isn’t enough. Firms that want to promote from within must look at helping their staff develop both accounting/finance skills and interpersonal skills. Churning through employees and hiring top executives from the outside are demoralizing and expensive. Invest in training now or invest in recruiting new staff later. It’s that simple.

 

CFOs were asked, “In your opinion, which one of the following is the most common reason for an employee’s failure to advance at your company?” Their responses:

Poor interpersonal skills

30%

Poor work ethic

25%

Not developing new skills

23%

Failure to enhance his or her visibility within the organization

15%

Failure to proactively seek promotions and career advancement

5%

None of these

1%

Don’t know/no answer

2%

– See more at: http://accountemps.rhi.mediaroom.com/2013-06-19-Survey-Few-CFOs-Plan-to-Invest-in-Interpersonal-Skills-Development-for-Their-Teams#sthash.Fe1ROGx0.dpuf

CFOs were asked, “In your opinion, which one of the following is the most common reason for an employee’s failure to advance at your company?” Their responses:

Poor interpersonal skills

30%

Poor work ethic

25%

Not developing new skills

23%

Failure to enhance his or her visibility within the organization

15%

Failure to proactively seek promotions and career advancement

5%

None of these

1%

Don’t know/no answer

2%

– See more at: http://accountemps.rhi.mediaroom.com/2013-06-19-Survey-Few-CFOs-Plan-to-Invest-in-Interpersonal-Skills-Development-for-Their-Teams#sthash.Fe1ROGx0.dpuf

Embrace Your Inner Superhero!

It’s true…every CPA has Superhero potential. One of my most popular keynotes and presentation, Embrace Your Inner Superhero, presents helps break down barriers and provides tips and tools for pushing yourself to a placed that allows you to perform great feats!

Here’s a portion of my presentation…Enjoy!

 

The New CPE: Collaborative Learning Experiences

By:    Peter A. Margaritis, CPA, CGMA, MAcc
Robert Dean, CPA, Chief Learning Officer

Lifelong learning means more than simply complying with our State Boards of Accountancy licensing requirements or clicking a box to validate attendance in a webinar. It also extends beyond watching webcasts, studying by one’s self, or going to seminars and conferences in person. The CPA Horizons 2025 report identifies lifelong learning as one of the ten insights and directions of the accounting profession. “Current educational framework must evolve at the same pace with the changing dynamics of business, government, and our profession,” the report states.

The new educational framework must be designed to develop pathways that reinforce and extend the learning experience, particularly in this complex and changeable business environment. Research shows that within thirty minutes of completing a course and not applying the new learning immediately, participants will have retained only 58% of the material.  After 48 hours, the retention level drops to 33% and below 10% after three weeks.

The creation of collaborative learning communities will help extend the learning experience, increasing retention and strengthening knowledge. This movement to collaborative learning communities mirrors a current trend in business outlined in the book The Experience Economy. Consumers are looking for (and willing to pay for) transformational “life changing” experiences. Learning experiences can be a differentiator, in order to receive value beyond the training commodity.

These collaborative learning communities will contain the following elements: revisiting past learning, reflecting on insights, reinforcing the learning, and transferring the learning to the community and beyond–all in real time. “Transitioning to real-time learning will change the way CPAs learn and will help them adopt and adapt quickly and knowledgeably to ever-changing circumstances,” states the CPA Horizons 2025 report. Real-time collaborative learning will provide smaller increments of education that are more easily digested and more rapidly implemented.

Collaborative learning communities can also reduce attention blindness, which is defined as “the basic feature of the human brain that, when we concentrate intensely on one task, causes us to miss just about everything else.”[i] This complex, highly digital, interconnected world creates numerous opportunities and challenges that will be missed by those who do not share knowledge and experience. The collective knowledge existing outside of the organization far exceeds the aggregate knowledge within the organization. “The ability to do our work better based on the input of others, and to make others’ work better based on our contribution, is increasingly seen as the single most important characteristic of successful employees.”[1]

A futuristic example of the benefits of a collaborative learning community is demonstrated in the following scenario. Your firm has hired 25 new staff accountants and they are all starting on Monday, September 8th.  Your firm has offices in five locations throughout your state.  The 25 staff accountants will be assigned an office in one of the five locations after onboarding has been completed.  Over the next week, the new staff will receive training on the firm’s culture, expectations, and software, along with both technical and non-technical training.

Once the new staffers start at their respective offices, the assimilation into the firm begins.  This is a very critical time for the success of your new staffers because moving from “backpack to briefcase” is not a course taught at your local universities.  The challenge for the firm is to remove the “backpack” and replace it with a “briefcase” over the next 90 days in order for them to be highly productive after the first of the year.  This is can be accomplished during this time period by using a collaborative platform such as ThinkTank by GroupSystems.  These new staffers can login and share their experiences and challenges (all anonymous) with a moderator through various attributes of the platform.  So challenges such as professional etiquette or emotional intelligence can be discovered quickly and addressed immediately.  Everybody is benefiting from each others experiences while not being embarrassed because of the anonymous feature in this platform.

As stated in the CPA Horizons 2025 report, integration and collaboration are core competencies for CPAs, and “CPAs will need to build effective strategic alliances while working collaboratively to provide multidisciplinary solutions to complex problems.” These collaborative learning communities will become an essential business tool that lessens attention blindness, reduces implementation costs, and saves time. Participating in a collaborative learning community will be fun, exciting, and inspirational—leading to the increase of the collective knowledge of the entire community.


[i] Davidson, Cathy, N., Collaborative Learning for the Digital Age, The Chronicle Review, August 26, 2011

2 Boyd, Stowe, Network Performance is the Single Most Important Characteristic of Successful Employees, Gigaom Research, December 22, 2013

 Peter A. Margaritis, CPA, CGMA, MAcc

Peter Margaritis is the CEO of IFRS Education and Training, LLC. IFRS Education and Training, LLC delivers high-quality IFRS programs to CPAs, accountants, and business leaders. Peter is a past chair of the Ohio Society of CPAs’ executive board of directors. He is a member of the American Institute of CPAs, the Ohio Society of CPAs, the Georgia Society of CPAs, the National Speakers Association.

Bob Dean, CPA, Chief Learning Officer

Bob Dean is a senior executive in learning and talent management. He has been a catalyst in aligning learning and talent development with business strategy for three major professional services firms. Bob now works as a business innovation consultant to professional services organizations. Bob became one of the first ten people in the world to be certified in the models and frameworks of The Experience Economy. Bob uses this certification to collaboratively design and deliver transformational customer and employee experiences for his professional services firm clients.