If you’re not a fan of Kevin Spacey as the devious maniac & master manipulator Frank Underwood in Netflix’s ‘House of Cards’ , let me give you some background. He was a powerful congressman slated to be tapped for Secretary of State. However, the President’s Chief of Staff ruled him out. Now he’s been sworn in as Vice-President, after murdering two people who were obstacles to his goals.
It’s a great series but Vice President Underwood is a scary guy. The congressional in-fighting, the backstabbing and ‘take no prisoners’ mentality is a frightening look into the way things are at some level in too many good companies (and to some extent in Congress). We’ve seen it on full display in ‘Mad Men’, and the sarcastic and cynical t.v. hit ‘The Office’. So what does that have to do with you as a Controller or Accounting Manager? If your office is a kingdom of kindness, cooperation, teamwork, and respect…..then the answer is nothing. But if there are few days that go by that you aren’t dealing with complaints by one employee against another i.e. the smooth talker, the slacker, the sneaky one……let’s talk!
One of the biggest challenges trained accounting people face is moving into management positions and then dealing with their direct reports. As a CPA with a BBA in Accounting, I can tell you that there wasn’t one single course available to deal with handling personnel. I don’t remember ever seeing any CPE offerings on the subject. We are born knowing how to breathe, but not how to manage. There are stacks of books, reams of papers and countless experts regarding inter-personal behaviors in an office setting. You may have even found some that have helped guide you in managing your people so at least some work gets done. Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article about ‘bad bosses’ and that the day of the ‘command and control’ boss is gone. If you think barking orders will insure they are obeyed you may have a ‘dinosaur’ attitude of days past. But it is you who is risking extinction. The collaborative voices of your employees, marshalled against you can cost you your job. I’ve seen that happen more than once. From my perspective, after having managed as a Controller in a very large privately held company, here are some of the things I believe must happen if you plan on getting anything done:
1) Meet with your direct reports on a routine basis. I know it’s not easy but meet at least once a week. Schedule your meetings at 4:00 p.m. assuming quitting time is 5:00 p.m. This way people will be less likely to ‘digress’ and you can manage your meeting to a goal of one hour.
2) Make sure when you are hiring that you have a written, very detailed job description available for the candidate. The better people understand what is expected of them, the less conflict there is about job duties down the road.
3) Be fair and not petty! The worst kind of manager is one who is petty. It kills respect for you, it kills morale and it kills motivation. Enforce the office policies firmly but fairly. What is petty? Denying an employee a few hours off to attend their child’s school program because they were late the day before. Constantly denying people the equipment they need to get the job done because you worked there five years before you had one. Get my drift? Petty is small and mean acts against the people who work for you.
4) During Staff meetings put as much as you can on the table about what’s going on in the company that you can share. Keeping secrets, knowing more than they do, is also petty in this day and age of fast moving events and storms of information. If you keep secrets when you don’t have to, so will your employees. Count on it.
5) Do not over share personal information about yourself. If an employee tells you about her husband’s big promotion, or a big inheritance, be happy for them. But do not share your life on Facebook or Instagram. Reserve that for ‘family’ only groups. My sister had a new manager who shared constant pictures of her children to her telecommuter employees, including a picture of her son on the operating table as he was carried in for a tonsillectomy! But then when my sister needed time off for personal reasons it was denied. So how do you think she felt about seeing more of her manager’s family pictures? This is the kind of behavior that drives employees crazy and can lead to serious problems such as being pulled in by HR and questioned about your behavior.
The conversation in the arena of business management and productivity practices is gaining a lot of ground these days. Do you really want to be like the president of AOL who fired an employee during a company wide conference call? Maybe he was trying to prove how powerful he was. He just proved what a terrible leader he is. As Controllers, Accounting Managers, CFO’s, we can do better than that.