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An Amy Radin Reader: Thoughts on Innovation from our Digital CPA Keynoter

Amy Radin, one of our keynote speakers for the upcoming Digital CPA 2015 conference, served on the front lines of innovation at some of the world’s biggest companies, including Citi, American Express, E*TRADE and AXA. Now in an advisory/consulting capacity, Radin draws on her experience and day-to-day contact with entrepreneurs and business leaders to talk about the inner workings of innovation in columns for The Daily Innovator, a blog she founded for the Huffington Post. Here are some highlights:

On finding support for innovation in your organization

People are motivated to support a new idea for their own cluster of reasons. They're looking for what's in it for them, of course. But they also want to be inspired to join the next big thing.

Innovation is characteristically derived from a broad assortment of ideas, data, chance and inspirations. Building support for innovation requires the same broad outreach to win allies, champions and interest.

The definition of strategy

  • Strategy, quite frankly, is what leaders do to identify and allocate resources to help them get their businesses where they want them to go.
  • Strategy is mostly about execution.
  • Strategy is less about what you must do, than what you should not be doing.

Or, my favorite definition:

Strategy is about knowing (1) where are you? — (2) where do you want to be? — (3) how are you going to get there?

Why you should have a chief customer officer

(B)eing customer-focused doesn't mean give the customer anything they want. It's about:

  • Zeroing in on the audience you want to serve
  • Being able to identify audience members to establish and build authentic relationships
  • In so doing, inspiring them to see your brand and offerings as relevant to their lives
  • And as a result, achieving win/win outcomes for these individuals as well as for your business.

What business does not want to make this happen?

On the importance of empathy

Emotion, not rational MBA-style analytics, is an amazingly strong driver of people's choices, beliefs and decisions. While perhaps not easily quantifiable in the spreadsheets and tables that seem to dominate the business world, empathy and insight translate into business impact that constantly manifests itself in results. In fact, I don't think great innovation can happen without them.

Year-end planning often focuses purely on operational activities. That’s why we’re thrilled to have Amy kick off this year’s Digital CPA Conference to give us the tools to incorporate more innovation and strategy in our planning for the coming year.

What are you thoughts on innovation in accounting today?

Why Do You Care Where I Work? Six Reasons to Go Virtual

If you’ve followed the posts in our Anytime, Anywhere Work (ATAWW) blog miniseries, you’ve read the summarized results from our survey, the benefits firms experience from ATAWW, the performance measures firms are using and the wisdom and advice shared by our respondents. In this post, we’ll share the top reasons why firms must adopt a new perspective on face time.

Firms must move – and move now – to support virtual work environments.
I’ll admit I’m biased. For fifteen years, I have run a completely virtual business. When not on the road speaking, teaching or consulting, each of our team members works from home in cities across the country. From our inception, the information assets of our business have lived in the cloud – even before it was called the cloud – so that our team members could share client information, tools and resources. We communicate with each other and our clients by phone, email, webinar and video conference and I feel confident that our team members would say that they feel “in touch” with each other and with our clients.

You can manage people, deliver exceptional service and produce high-quality work without going into an office or sitting next to your co-workers or clients. And yet, many leaders continue to insist that their people appear at a certain place – usually the office, sometimes the clients’ office – in order to perform their work. These same leaders also insist on mandatory work hours and resist work-from-home programs, employing remote workers or serving clients outside of their typical geography.

Leaders who resist virtual work are being short-sighted and here’s why:

  1. As labor costs increase, you’ll have to find a place to save – and that place will be space. As the shortage of high-quality CPA leaders intensifies, firms will find their already significant labor costs rising. Margins in the profession are on the decline and firms that want to preserve profitability will have to find innovative ways to increase efficiency and save costs. Retooling existing office space and avoiding expansion will be imperative. We’re already discouraging existing clients from space expansion and encouraging them to look for ways to support more workers remotely.
  2. If you don’t lead the way and provide top-down, cultural support for virtual work in your firm, your future workforce will find an employer who will. Survey after survey show that Millennials (born from 1982 to 2000) favor flexible and virtual work environments and the organizations willing to support them. These “anytime, anywhere” workers make up 36% of our workforce today and will account for 75% of our workforce in ten short years. You can’t sustain your practice unless you engage and retain them.
  3. When the workforce demands a shift, the market responds – and your competitors are headed there. In our Anytime, Anywhere Work survey, 77% of the 99 distinct mid-size to large firms responded that they now offer work-from-home programs, 41% no longer mandate Saturday office hours and 37% support at least one remote worker in a geography not tied to a specific office location. When your people seek an alternative employer who will support “anywhere” work, they’ll be able to find them.
  4. Resistance feels “old school” and even distrustful. When you mandate that people stay late at the office or come in on weekends to “log their hours,” it feels like you don’t trust that they will meet their expected production and deliverable goals unless they are working under your watchful eye. While it’s true that new trainees may still need some in-person support, most Millennials will say that same support can be provided via videoconferencing and online collaboration tools that make it feel like you’re in the same room. This idea that “you must not be working unless I can see you” is antiquated and doesn’t project the cultural feel you want and need.
  5. Virtual workers can be highly productive and may be more engaged. In Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, they found that remote workers logged more hours than their office counterparts and were slightly more engaged. And those that had a blend of remote and “office-based” work were most engaged.
  6. Your clients are getting younger, too. Millennial clients, who will dominate the workforce in a decade, will expect their service provider to work the way they want to work, flexibly and virtually, using technology to enable collaboration and communication. Firms that support virtual work seamlessly will be in a much better position to retain their clients’ successors and attract younger clients, too.

I am not suggesting that you go all or nothing. Supporting virtual workers doesn’t mean you never meet in person again or that your office goes away. It does mean that you begin to think creatively about how to support your people and foster teamwork and productivity when they work from home, on the road, and when they move to a different city. And not just as the exception – but as a blended part of your organization with the same opportunities for growth and advancement that all others have.

The technology is in place and best practices are emerging to support you. Give up your attachment to having your people work at a specific place. Take steps to support virtual today.

Jen Wilson is co-founder and partner of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a national leadership and marketing consulting firm, and on the Digital CPA Conference Advisory Committee.  She believes CPAs can deliver higher-value, innovative services and make a bigger difference for their clients. You have an opportunity to learn more from Jen at this year’s Digital CPA Conference, check out her classes.

If you would like to learn more about managing remote work teams access an archived Digital CPA Webcast, “The Impact of the Digital Revolution on the Business Environment” for tips from veteran leadership training Tom Bachmann of Paychex.

What is your firm’s policy on remote team members?

How much time do you spend JUST THINKING?

I know your mind is always racing, or as a friend of mine describes it, there is a constant slideshow of thoughts. But really that is the point! When asked, “What are you thinking about?” I sometimes struggle to answer because there about 15 thoughts coming in and out of my conscious. Is there a problem with this?

WHERE DID MY IDEA GO?

Pulitzer Prize nominee, Nicholas Carr, pointed out in “The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains”, that with all the media stimulus, humans are having trouble stopping the flow of information, resulting is our loss of ability to concentrate and contemplate issues. “Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” (Source: Goodreads.com)

I have to say, I agree with Nicholas Carr. Even though I love the accessibility of information, I have lost too many new ideas because the next headline flew into my view and my thought has fallen away.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

Schedule time to do nothing; yes, actually schedule time for nothing.  This is also known as the incubation period. “Although physically unproductive, these times allow information [you’ve] been exposed to mix, mingle, and marinate, then produce new ideas and insights… Successful people regularly schedule time for ‘nothing’ when incubation can take place.” According to Thai Nguyen, 7 Ways Successful and Fulfilled People Think Differently. (Source: Entrepreneur.com)

TRY NOT TO MULTI-TASK

Another friend has trouble sitting down to read because she feels she is not being productive. Do you ever feel that way about contemplation? “I’m not getting anything off the to-do list.” So we try to complete tasks while focusing on other thoughts. STOP!

According to Why the Modern World is Bad for Your Brain, by Daniel J. Levitin, “Although we think we’re doing several things at once, multitasking, this is a powerful and diabolical illusion. Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT and one of the world experts on divided attention, says that our brains are “not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.” (Source: Truthdig.com)

PUT THE DEVICES DOWN

We have gotten accustomed to constant influx of information. As I am writing this blog, it is hard to ignore the visual stimulation of another email popping up. Resist the urge to click. Finish the thought!

In an interview with Nicholas Carr he shared, we “are constantly connected to unlimited flows of information. We begin to spend all of our time glancing at our phone, taking in new information, and that crowds out the time available to engage in really deep attentive thought. When you’re not looking at a screen or following messages or googling and so forth, you’re kind of shutting off the flow of information, and taking the information you’ve gathered, and thinking really deeply about that; that requires really attentive focused mind, and it’s becoming more and more challenging. We’re becoming more impatient because we expect to click a link to get new information. You become almost unwilling to slow it down enough to engage in really deep thought.” If “at different times you’re quieting your mind, turning off the flow and really being attentive, then that’s going to give you a special kind of personal advantage over other people who aren’t able to regulate their intake of new data and new information.”

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Recently I have been working on a number of presentations on future preparedness, as well as, doing my own 2016 goal setting. I find myself quite guilty of multi-tasking and many of the short comings Carr speaks of. To successfully be future ready we have to give ourselves the time to just sit and think sometimes.

How do you make the time to JUST THINK?

There's a Practical Method to Logo Selection

From time to time I've run across posts on social media asking for help in choosing a logo. Generally 3 to 5 designs are uploaded and are identified with letters or numbers beneath them. There's usually little other information provided. Nothing to base my selection on.

Typically a range of other people weigh in, but without the right criteria, their response is probably based on personal taste. That's not a bad thing but it shouldn't be the only thing.

Before you begin posting for help you may want to think about how your logo is going to best serve your company.

> THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A LOGO DESIGN:

Define your primary customer

Different audiences have different tastes and ways of accessing information about their brands. A communication style can be driven by age, gender, even occupation. It helps to get inside the head and lifestyle of your core customer and consider which logo design fits best within their world.

Know how your customer looks at media

An extension of your audience profile is their consumption of media. How does your audience prefer to connect with their favorite brands? Web? TV? Print?

Does their day start with their smartphone on a social network or with the sports section of a newspaper? 

This is important to know because graphics designed for print can be very different than those built with digital media in mind. 

Look at the overall function of the mark

For the most part, new brands rely on digital media to connect with their customers. That means it's a good idea to stay away from designs with too much complexity. Delicate swirls and fine lines can turn to mush when converted to pixels.

Your logo design should be able to hold up as a social media icon and as a brand element on a freeway billboard. It's important for the design to be flexible, immediate and maintain its integrity regardless of scale.

Know the production around the design

Get a sense of how expensive your new design will be to produce in a printed environment. A one or two color design could be much less costly to print on posters, brochures and business cards than a 6 or 8 color design.

Be sure that the colors identified for your design will translate well in print, digital and video.

Focus on originality

Make certain your look is new and different for your category and think about its shelf life. Will it still look fresh in 5 years? 10 years?

Keep in mind that a clean and classic design may out live one that's hip and trendy. Also keep in mind that hip and trendy might be the perfect style for your audience.

Remember to circle back to your personal preference. That could come in handy as a tie-breaker against two competing logos. More importantly you'll want to ask yourself:

"Would I wear it on a T shirt?"

If the answer is yes then you're heading in the right direction.

What does your leadership inspire?

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” - John Quincy Adams, US President

There are many books, webcasts, videos and more on leadership. This quote from John Quincy Adams exemplifies why leadership is such an important topic. It is not a trendy subject, but one that has significant impact on our businesses and lives. This is why we added “Leadership” to our list of top subjects to cover in this year’s #DigitalCPA Webcast series, as well as the closing keynote of the Digital CPA Conference (DCPA15)

Recently, Orlando Magic’s Senior Vice President, Pat Williams, Paychex’s Master Leadership Trainer, Tom Bachmann, and CPA.com’s President & CEO, Erik Asgeirsson discussed “A Winning Leadership Presence” (Access the Archive)

Pat focused on “from Managing to Leading” through mastering 7 leadership principles: vision, effective communication, people skills, character, competence, boldness, and a serving heart. With quotes and key characteristics from strong leaders, such as Joe Namath, Vince Lombardi and John D. Rockefeller, Pat stressed that great leaders care about people, empathize with others, and genuinely like them. They are visible and available to others, and empower their employees to use their strengths to improve the whole team.

Tom Bachmann dove into ways to improve your leadership presence. “The leader with presence is the one person in the room that everyone else is listening to, not necessarily the one doing all the talking.” By looking at your character, and ways that you communicate, connect and present, you can find areas to improve your leadership presence.

The type of leadership qualities and characteristics you demonstrate in your personal lives are the same as in your professional lives, and vice versa; there is no real separation. We can clearly see that with the overview Pat Williams and Tom Bachmann shared. Sometimes we focus more on managing the job at hand, instead of thinking about our leadership strategy and inspiring our teams to be proactive.

I will view myself as a successful leader if I can accomplish this:

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”Ronald Reagan

Which leadership principle or characteristic will you work on?

A Closer Look at Our Startup Accelerator Companies

The CPA.com/Association of International Certified Professional Accountants Startup Accelerator is an annual program that finds, invests in, and guides early-stage tech companies with solutions that support accounting and finance professionals. This blog series provides a deeper look at the five companies in the 2021 cohort.