I had the pleasure of chatting recently with Bill Sheridan (Communications Manager and Editor) and Tom Hood, CPA (Executive Director) of The Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants, known as MACPA, a top thought leadership blog in the accounting industry. MACPA’s blog, CPA Success, has heavily evangelized not only social media adoption by accountants; it has advocated a re-envisioning of profession based on a human-centered approach with social media being merely one small part of that. Who would have thought that accountants had “human” advocates?! They do, and we just had to talk to them.
Kathy Klotz-Guest, CEO of Keeping it Human (KKG): Using social media and being “social” are different things. Accountants aren’t usually known for having a “human” face to the world. You’re a big advocate of the accounting industry becoming “more human.” What does it mean for accountants to become more human? How does it change the role of accountants in helping clients create value as opposed to simply tracking it on the back-end?
Bill Sheridan (BS): To me, that means putting people at the center of everything we do. It means building relationships. It means collaboration instead of delegation, asking questions, and making business decisions based on the answers people give us. Social media is a great tool for doing these things, but it goes much deeper than that. As service providers, CPAs are remarkably good at these things. Relationships with clients are at the heart of everything they do. But being human today means making sure that people are burned into our businesses’ DNA, and that often starts with our own staff and internal business processes. The keys are transparency, loyalty, trustworthiness, collaboration, and empowerment.
KKG: What are the people-related and financial benefits of being more human?
BS: We’re now living in an era in which people are at the center of everything we do. Tom Hood likes to say we’ve moved away from an era of command-and-control to one of communicate-and-collaborate. Doing that means building communities and relationships, and that takes people, it takes trust, it takes a commitment to serving others, not just making money. It’s a people-first mentality.
Seth Godin talks about circles of gift giving. There are three of them:
The first is a circle of true gifts – stuff we willingly share with others, most often friends, family and co-workers. Someone asks for advice for a good hotel in the area. You give that knowledge away. You invite a friend over and give her a meal. You don’t charge her for it.
The second is a circle of commerce – people in this circle are willing to pay you for what you produce – your consulting services, your financial advice, the book you wrote, the widget you made.
Now, the Internet has given us a third circle, and it’s kind of a combination of the first two. It consists of people who might one day pay you for what you do – but to get to that point they first need to know you and trust you and be comfortable interacting with you. These are our social networks, the folks we follow online. In Seth’s words, “Generosity generates income.”
Social media is that third circle. We’re not supposed to sell anything there. That’s where we give away stuff, share what we know, and add value to people’s lives. It’s where we build trust, credibility, and relationships. If we do that, we’ll move some folks over to the second circle and realize some financial benefits to all of this social stuff. But it has to start with building trust and being human.
KKG: What’s driving the sense of urgency here in an industry not often known for rapid change?
BS: Let’s go back to the numbers: 800 million people on Facebook, a new account on LinkedIn every second, and 175,000 tweets per minute. Who are all of these people? They’re our clients, our customers, our members and employees. They’re everyone we do business with each day. We had better be willing to meet these people wherever they are. If we don’t, they’ll give their money to those who do, and we will have marginalized ourselves.
KKG: Your blog briefly touched on the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation recently. And Steve King of Small Business Labs noted that if accountants are being more human, than “being human” is a real (small) business trend! How will this elevate the status of the accounting industry and help the profession to emphasize more of the human factor in business?
BS: The world is smaller than it has ever been, and that means that almost all business today is global. That alone puts CPAs / CGMAs on a global stage. Talk about elevating the status of the profession!
Here’s the thing: CGMAs are focused not so much on the numbers, but on what the numbers mean. They’re focused on examining the numbers and helping people make informed decisions. An AICPA / CIMA report titled “Rebooting Business: Valuing the Human Dimension” says “relationships with customers, employees, partners and communities … will be key to getting things moving again and sustaining success over the long run.” CGMAs are positioned to build those types of relationships by giving meaning to the numbers.
KKG: One of the ways CPA Success stands out is that it emphasizes storytelling in an industry not known for it. Of course, storytelling is such a key part of being human and a critical part of connecting with an audience. Can you share an example or two of great storytelling by MACPA?
BS: These are all very personal to me, and I guess that’s the point: Storytelling starts with what you know and have experienced on a day-to-day basis. Keep your eyes open for those little moments that might tell a bigger story that many people can relate to. With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite recent storytelling moments from CPA Success:
The secret to success? Try the periwinkles
I learned all I need to know in 4th grade basketball
Focus on what you know. Keep your eyes open for stories that you can use. Our lives are filled with unique and meaningful experiences. We just need the discipline to recognize, record and share those experiences with others.
KKG: I know accountants like to measure success. Some returns are financial and others are intangibles. If the accounting industry were to adopt a more human-centered approach, what would success look like?
BS: In its simplest form, success would look a simple conversation between CPA and client. There would be no financial techno-speak. There would simply be a CPA asking questions: What do you want to accomplish? What are your goals? What is important to you? What does success look like to you? Success is not about what we can sell you.. It’s about what our clients need.
KKG: Is there anything else you think is important that people understand about the accounting profession and how its approach to marketing is changing?
Tom Hood (TH): The accounting profession is changing form a historically-oriented profession to a much more future-focused profession. We recently facilitated in-person grassroots “future forums” with CPAs all across the US as part of a national CPA Horizons 2025 Project sponsored by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). As part of the final report we identified the skills needed in the future by CPAs. These are: 1) Strategic thinking—being flexible and future-minded, thinking critically and creatively. 2) Synthesizing—the ability to gather information from many sources and relate it to a big picture. 3) Networking and Collaboration— understanding the value of human networks and how to collaborate across them. 4) Leadership and communications—the ability to make meaning and mobilize people to action and make your thinking visible to others, and 5) Technological savvy—proficiency in the application of technology.”
These skills point to a much more collaborative and connected profession that is more techno-centric AND more people-centric.
KKG: Thank You, Tom and Bill, for a great interview and for putting humanity back into what has always been viewed as a numbers-oriented industry. Visit the MACPA blog.