Holistic Leadership: Building Community and Embracing Change with Sandra Wiley (Part 2)

Hosts & Guests

Meredith Smith, State and Local Tax Senior Manager

Judy Vorndran, Partner, State and Local Tax 

Sandra Wiley, President of Boomer Consulting

What You Will Discover:

In this episode of the SALTovation podcast, we continue our conversation with Sandra Wiley, President of Boomer Consulting – an organization dedicated to guiding CPA firms towards success by leveraging leadership, talent, growth processes, and technology. From the hard truths about work-life balance to the strategic dilemmas CPA firms face, Sandra discusses the importance of embracing change, spreading decision-making power, and having the correct mindset. Listen this week as we talk about the growing significance of the accounting profession and the incredible potential it holds for future generations of professionals.

 

Topics Discussed in this Episode:

  • The accounting profession is undergoing a transformative shift, prioritizing work-life balance and cultural adaptation in the recruitment and retention of talent.
  • Effective leadership and navigating change are pivotal in the modern accounting landscape, particularly demonstrated during the transition to remote work practices.
  • Creating uniform processes in CPA firms can significantly enhance efficiency, but success hinges on the commitment and adaptability of all team members, not just technology.
  • The next generation of accountants is motivated by different values, such as community service and societal impact, requiring a shift in how the profession is presented to potential recruits.
  • Unveiling the true functional dynamics within a firm leads to valuable process improvements.

    Quotables:

          • “Firms today have to tune into what the next generation is defining as important to them. We have to meet them where they’re at. We cannot impose our life and how we lived our life on them.” -Sandra Wiley [06:09]

           

          • “The accounting profession is on the brink of being one of the most important professions in our entire world. It is right in front of us to start developing and changing that business model so that we can get there faster with our clients, to be their advisors, their consultants, and their partners in their businesses.” -Sandra Wiley [26:22]

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    Transcript

    [00:00:00] Meredith Smith: Welcome to SALTovation. The SALTovation Show is a podcast series featuring the leading voices in salt, where we talk about the issues and strategies to help you make sense of state and local tax.

    [00:00:16] Well, and that's interesting and I'm going to be vulnerable for a minute. So I'm, I'm coming up on 20 years experience. And I remember cause I was heavily evolved in recruiting when I was in big four. And Even for me, I have to turn my brain off to say like, Oh, well, that person just doesn't want to work hard because they're looking for an out immediately.

    [00:00:39] They're trying to figure out how they can take vacation or how they can, you know, not, you know, not work. Right. And I'm, I forget that I'm not the age that my brain thinks I am sometimes. Um, but even that's a shift. And I'm sure is, is that like a hard conversation that's, you know, that people are having a hard time getting over that hump and it's like, that doesn't mean that people don't want to work hard, the just culture in general has shifted to such that you, people want a work life balance.

    [00:01:13] I slept in the office at 24 years old. I'm sure there's a lot of 24 year olds that don't wanna do that. Um,

    [00:01:23] Sandra Wiley: yeah.

    [00:01:23] Meredith Smith: And in my, and still in the back of my head, my training says that's because they don't, they're, they're not in it. They don't wanna work. Like,

    [00:01:30] Sandra Wiley: yeah,

    [00:01:30] Judy Vorndran: I worked, I built 18 hours, 18 hours in a cycle.

    [00:01:33] I mean, it was insane. I was working on a job down in Texas. I'm like, this is ridiculous. This is unsustainable. And that was highly expected.

    [00:01:41] Sandra Wiley: All right. Now I want you to, to both, and by the way. We've all said it. I mean, I, I, I said the same thing. Oh my gosh. Don't they even know how to work anymore? But think about all of the people listening to this podcast right now and think about them and their brains as they hear that.

    [00:01:57] Does it attract them to the accounting profession? No, no. Um, what they're, what they're thinking is I'm going to try to find something else. I think I wish I've said this before. I'll say it again someday that somebody in Hollywood's going to listen to me. We need a Grey's Anatomy for accounting because Grey's Anatomy came out or when CSI came out, the number of people that went into church, wanted to be a doctor or a nurse or the people that wanted to be a forensic scientist, like doubled.

    [00:02:30] nation, right? We do not have a sexy profession. People come out and what they think is we're going to look at the numbers. I went into accounting because I'm really good at math. Well, guess what? What I want to tell them in high school is, do you like people? Do you like solving problems? Are you a problem solver?

    [00:02:52] Are you somebody who likes to be a servant leader? In other words, not somebody who's a back In the back office, but somebody really sits down with a small business owner and helps them to really make their business better. And I mean, really come up with a list of why it is so important to be, have a good accountant with you.

    [00:03:10] Um, the, the best example I have is I have a really good friend whose daughter was thinking about going into accounting and we went to dinner one night with them as we're sitting there. She said, Oh, you work with accountants. She said, So I mean, really, do they just kind of sit in the back office and like do taxes?

    [00:03:29] And I said, actually, no. I said, let me tell you a little story. And I told her the story about a woman that I knew her husband had passed away. She gathered her think tank around her to help her, um, figure out what to do with their business, figure out how in the world to do their life insurance. Oh my gosh, what are the bills I'm going to pay?

    [00:03:47] I'm going to get life insurance. How am I going to get that without paying half of it out in tax? And so she took her lawyer. And her accountant and she sat down with them and helped figure out a plan. And I said, those two individuals helped her to recreate her life and to save her business and to put her so that she felt confident.

    [00:04:11] And I said, the reason they could do that is because they had a deep relationship with her. They've known her there for the whole time she was doing business. And this young lady, as I was telling her, and it was a long story, I told her the whole story. And afterwards she goes, I would love to do that. And I said, then you need to go into accounting.

    [00:04:28] Now, some of it isn't that glamorous, right? But you're going to save people's lives. And money.

    [00:04:35] Judy Vorndran: I mean, money, understand how money is made, where it is spent, why you are popular. Let me just tell you though, I think that's a

    [00:04:42] Sandra Wiley: problem. So I think that's a problem though. Now, I'm not going to say every young person out there doesn't care about money.

    [00:04:48] But they don't care about money as much as they do about a quality life.

    [00:04:53] Judy Vorndran: Well, understanding how money is made in this world, though, is what I'm saying. Like, how did that product become successful? Why do they do with that? What, how do they market it? How did, where do they spend their money? So it's not just about where, how you're going to make money, but how business makes money, how it grows, how it builds process, how it evolves.

    [00:05:11] It all takes money. Nobody's handing you money. Even if you have equity funding, you've got to pay back. You've got to account for it. So Where do you spend? What's the wisest use of whatever you have, your resources to build that next thing, to get that next customer, to tell someone your story, to hire a good person.

    [00:05:29] You have to have enough means to do that. And that's what's not just about your own money. It's about how money is made in the world.

    [00:05:38] Sandra Wiley: I mean, it's amazing. And brands are built. I agree with that. But I also think our firms today have to really tune into what The next generation or next couple of generations is what's important to them.

    [00:05:51] And I will tell you, so one of the things that was, I thought was hilarious one time, we, we teach a leadership training sometimes. And one of the classes I had that I had the managing partner come in and do, you know, talk about his climb, right? How'd you get started? When did you become a partner? Why is it so important?

    [00:06:09] And he went on and on about the stuff that he had. So he said, you know, being a partner affords me the ability to pay for my children's college, but I drive a cool car and I have a really great house and I, you know, go on vacations. And so he's talking about all that when he left the room, I said, so how is that?

    [00:06:27] Do any of the rest, does that inspire any of the rest of you to want to be a partner? Not one person raised their hand. Not one. And I said, okay, so I'm curious why. And they said, all he taught, they said, he drives a cool car. We don't care. Uh, he dry, he has a big house that just seems overwhelming to me. He, you know, so they're going through all this.

    [00:06:50] I said, okay, so let me ask you a question. What's important to you? What is it that you would want to use money for? I mean, if you were afforded the ability to have the money that he has, I don't care about the number, what would you do with it? And they started talking about community service. talking about setting up philanthropies and they start saying, so, which was a really cool group of people.

    [00:07:15] And I said, okay, so how are you going to get the money to do that? Because you can create your own life, but the cash helps you make that life the way you want it to be. And you can create that anywhere you want. And if you look at, you know, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, that very top one is about giving back.

    [00:07:33] And I told them, I said, my gosh, you guys, you're already thinking at the level five leadership, but you can't be a level five leader unless you go through all of the other things. And the money that you could make in this profession, you, you could get that, but you have to want to work hard to get there.

    [00:07:53] And so then we start, so then, but it opened up doors to talk about other things, right? Um, I really think we have to, We have to meet them where they're at. We cannot impose our life and how we lived our life on them. We have to figure out what they want, figure out where they're at, and then impose, we have to go to them.

    [00:08:13] I don't think it's going to go the other way around, you know, for all of us sitting here right now, we, we did what they told us to do right when they said. Work 60 hours this week. You work 60 hours. I mean, it, I don't even remember having, I don't even remember like griping about it. I just, that was just the way it was.

    [00:08:29] Maybe they're smarter than we are. And maybe, maybe I

    [00:08:32] Judy Vorndran: hated it. I, that's why I left the regular compliance. I'm like, I don't want to work weekends. I don't want to work labor day. And I don't want to be working during ski season every weekend and evening. And I'm like, I am not going to work like this, whatever they say, mandatory Saturday baloney, I'm going to get all my hours during the work week.

    [00:08:47] So I have free time on the weekend to relax I was definitely a game changer, which is why my own firm, because I don't really want to live by those rules. I'm a little bit of a, that's not the right thing. And I remember never leaving public accounting, despite having multiple job offers in industry to say, I don't want two weeks of vacation.

    [00:09:04] I have 32 days. I, and I have people who could do what I do. So I actually can leave. And I know that the, the ship won't fall, you know, gain water because They can replicate what I'm doing and serve my client in the meantime. So I'm not the one stop shop. And if you go to industry, you have a J O B. And you're the only one who does it and they need you.

    [00:09:23] So you can't take time off. And then when you do, you got to pay back. So if you don't have duplicative, um, redundancy and teaming, then you cannot have autonomy and flexibility and freedom. And so I would think I'm taking a phone call on the ski slopes because I didn't have meetings all day, but I had this one.

    [00:09:40] I'm going to go do this thing. I'll make up my time and another time. And I'm going to call this thesis. I think that's pretty cool. I'm still providing value to my customer and I'm still, you know, being supportive, but that was not okay.

    [00:09:52] Meredith Smith: Well, and we may, we've probably like touched on all of this, but for kind of our listeners and without giving away your secrets, what would you say are the three most common things?

    [00:10:03] themes that CPAs struggle with?

    [00:10:07] Sandra Wiley: Yeah, I, um, thought a lot about this question and, um, it was hard to just Narrow it down to three. Okay. But I'm going to start the first one with change. I think one of the most common things we hear when we go to any firm and when we talk to any firm is that they're grappling with so much change out there and they don't even know where to start.

    [00:10:33] And they're not real good at it. Right. And I'm not sure anybody in the world is great at change, but. Really being able to lead through change. And I, again, I'll go back to COVID because that's a recent thing that happened, you could really see the difference in the firms that. We're able to make the shift and the change from working completely in the office to working everybody outside the office for those leaders that said, we're going to make this happen and we're going to do this effectively.

    [00:11:03] And they just made it happen. I mean, I remember, um, and team, this is the other one, um, that, you know, everybody was saying, Oh, we can't take change to teams until, you know, we'll have a year rollout. And I watched as a firm one time, right during COVID they said, We're going to roll out teams this week. And I said, that was like a year plan.

    [00:11:22] And they said, yeah, we're going to do it this week. And it was done in a week instead of a year. Um, I had another firm who said, I just sent everybody home and we're just all going to work from home. We'll figure it out as we go. You could tell that was great leadership and they were able to change. I also saw, Where if a leader doesn't lead, there's a problem.

    [00:11:40] Um, I have a firm that I work with still to this day where the managing partners, a pretty large firm said, everybody go home and work. I'll be right here. And so he didn't work from home. He stayed in the office. And what happened was as soon as people felt like they could trickle back in, they were worried because they said, well, if he's sitting in the office, I better sit in the office too so that he knows that I'm all in and they have people start trickling back in and within a month or two, they were all back in the office again.

    [00:12:14] And so I think change is probably the first thing I would say that's kind of a most common theme of CPA firms and what they're grappling with and change in everything from talent to growth to where you work to everything. The second one is I said, I think it is. They're having a hard time with spreading the decision making and the power to a wider population in the firm.

    [00:12:39] It used to be

    [00:12:40] Meredith Smith: control. Control. Resonate with you.

    [00:12:46] Judy Vorndran: Oh, yeah. I have controlling issues, issues.

    [00:12:51] Sandra Wiley: I think that that is, that is going to be a big issue because the more that we're going into advisory and consulting work, uh, the more that we're going to take young people and not have to train them on the more mundane things that we used to do, and we're going to raise them up and have them doing review and client work.

    [00:13:11] I think we're going to have to let go of some of the power and some of the decision making and let them make some mistakes as they go. And by the way, so did we, I mean, most of the things that I've learned in my life that really stick are the mistakes I made that I had to figure out and change. So I think that decision making and power, being able to spread that out among all levels and all areas of the firm is important.

    [00:13:36] And my third thing is, I feel like a lot of firms believe that if they just get the right technology, it'll make everything right in their firm. Everything will be fine if we just get the right technology. And the reality is that technology is just the vessel. That will help get you there. It's the people and the processes and the change agents that are really going to make the difference because I can put the best technology in your firm today.

    [00:14:07] And if people don't use it right, and they don't make the processes right, and we don't teach them right, they don't train them right. You just wrote a big check and threw it out the window. Exactly. You wrote a big check for absolutely nothing. And so we've been

    [00:14:20] Judy Vorndran: through that many a time with the ERP change and just not thinking things through.

    [00:14:25] And I can't tell you how many times I advised people on ERP changes when I was at the big four, adding in this and that, and then not having the right conversations and being stressed out, got to pull the trigger. I'm like, you really didn't take the time to think about what that meant for you. Before you made that decision and now you're in and you're stuck.

    [00:14:41] So there is a little bit of, you got to make a decision, but some of it's like, we didn't take the time to step back. Just take a step forward. And I think we struggle with that. Having the capacity. Yeah, no, it's a really interesting issue. And I also think technology has sold us a bill of goods. They, you don't know how it's built.

    [00:14:58] You don't know the secret stuff. I mean, I don't know if you've just been through the teams update, but I've gotten conflicting information from our ID people about new teams, old teams, this working, that working. I've had each problems with it, where they're like, don't use it, use it. Okay. Just use it. You know?

    [00:15:13] So I'm not getting consistent messaging because they're like, it's a, it's a. Being updated. We don't really know what the, we don't know what the nuances are until we experience them. We get the feedback because we assimilate all that data because we're an IT helpline and we get it from everybody, every user and everybody's a little bit unique.

    [00:15:29] And so SaaS is iterative. So it's not a fail safe solution ever. And if you don't know what's behind the curtain, you don't really know why it doesn't work. So when you hit something, it goes, I mean, I could tell you this was state taxes, like everybody's got a different portal. And it's email centric. Why would you do that?

    [00:15:51] People leave, people don't have their emails anymore. Like nobody thinks that two factor authentication related to someone's cell phone, they're not with the company anymore. I mean, there's some things that are just so dumb from a technological perspective that they're actually a

    [00:16:07] Meredith Smith: hindrance. Well, and from a process perspective.

    [00:16:10] Ideally, is it kind of the way to think about it? It's like, okay, if you have a good process, technology is going to enhance that, but if you rip the technology away, you're still able to do what you're trying to accomplish that the, the technology shouldn't drive the process. the process should be well established and you're going to pick the technology in order to enhance what you need to do to get done.

    [00:16:35] Sandra Wiley: Absolutely. Um, we have, um, we have two women in our company who are process improvement specialists, Ariana Campbell, who is a shareholder, Amanda Wilkie, who is a consultant, and both of them are brilliant at going in and ripping apart a process. And putting it back together so that there's one way workflow.

    [00:16:59] So you get past all of the hiccups that are along the way. They make sure that they're, people are well trained on that. And then they'll talk about, okay, now let's talk, now that you've got this workflow the way you want it, now let's talk about how you're going to use the technology to drive that and make sure it's right.

    [00:17:14] Their number one issue when they go in to work with a firm is the inability for some of the people that are using the process to use the process. It has nothing to do with technology. It's everything to do with they put in, you know, first in, first out for tax returns, right? And they have that partner that just refuses to do it.

    [00:17:37] And goes and picks the things out of the pile that they want. When I say the pile, it can be in, in the technology, right? But they're, they don't follow the process. And so it is a people problem, not a process, even a process problem or a technology problem. It's people problem. And you have to have a real commitment by the leaders in the firm.

    [00:17:59] First, we're going to, we're going to develop a process. We're going to create one that's going to work well, that's going to make us efficient and effective at what we do. And we're going to put accountability in to make sure everybody follows the process. And if they don't do that, we can almost tell them day one, this is going to be great.

    [00:18:19] We're Or this is going to be terrible because you can see what the attitudes of the people are. So I think that's, that's an interesting comment, but I do think processes. And by the way, I think processes, I was talking to a firm yesterday and they said, well, we've made a list of all of our processes that we need to fix.

    [00:18:37] And I think we're at like 120. They went through every department and everything that they do. And they made a list of all of the processes. And I went, okay, well we can't fix 128. What's the one that is most likely to give you the most, like, if you could fix that one process, it would, you would gain more hours and you would gain more capacity back.

    [00:19:02] Meredith Smith: It sounds like they're striving for perfection. It's like we have to have everything on one list, account for all scenarios in order to do anything. So they're stuck in a perfection rut and they're, they can't, it's like, they Good, just kind of a little bit of an

    [00:19:18] Judy Vorndran: accountant. If you think about debit and credit needs balance, people think, yeah, no, it's an interesting dichotomy and that people, like you say, that are oriented towards accounting, you know, head down, get things done, love to mull through numbers, very thoughtful people, high tech knowledge, high technical capacity, knowledgeable, no rules, apply them, that kind of stuff, problem solvers, but not always, you know, You know, they, they know what they know.

    [00:19:43] And sometimes it's just built in here or to get it out. I always, I always think of that thing from Harry Potter, you know, where you take, he takes the memory out and he puts it in the thing in Dumbledore's office. I can't remember what it's called, but the little bowl. And he's like, takes the memory out, puts it in there.

    [00:19:56] Like, that's what I need to do so that everybody has all that so that they can apply it and pull it out for themselves. Yeah. But it's a challenge because a lot of firms are people driven. The person was the King or the queen. So created that thing and everybody followed suit. And then how do they create the leverage?

    [00:20:10] And then they got to get sold.

    [00:20:11] Sandra Wiley: Yep.

    [00:20:12] Judy Vorndran: What happens? And then they don't have a succession plan.

    [00:20:15] Meredith Smith: Well, Sandra, apologies. I, I cut you off. So what we're all waiting. What was kind of the answer to get them down from over a hundred?

    [00:20:23] Sandra Wiley: Um, they finally decided on, um, entity tax, business tax, right? They said we have a ton and, and, oh, here, here's the best thing.

    [00:20:34] They said they talked to their, um, administrative department. The administration and they said as as stuff is going through here. What do you think is the one thing? That's just most broken and they said entity tax. No question They had a list of every partner in the firm And how they wanted each one of them had a different process that they followed So if that tax return came through and it was for you know, mr.

    [00:20:59] Mr. Smith, they followed this if it was for mr Jones, they'd follow this if it was for ms You You know, whatever. Each one. And they said if we could just have one way to work for all of them, it would save us hours. So that's the one they decided on was entity tax. Um, and it's probably the biggest broken one.

    [00:21:20] So it's going to be a tough one. But, um, But yeah, that's how

    [00:21:25] Judy Vorndran: you adjust the information. You should be consistently getting it should be housed in a certain place. And then you put it together with your work papers consistently. And I think about even my time at the big four, like we didn't have that. It was office by office.

    [00:21:37] I mean, I travel around to different offices. I work nationally. I'm like, okay, this is the Arizona office. I'm like, this is not a firm. This is a bunch of fight domes that rolled up under one brand. I'm like, okay, well, you know, but it's good marketing. They've done very well by that. And other people, once they figure that out, they're like, I don't need to be here.

    [00:21:55] I don't need these trappings. I can do it myself because this need is out there and I'm being, you know, I'm struck by the bureaucracy of this very large organization that is a dinosaur and can't move, you know, you can move. And that's why we have 46, 000 CPA cards or 40, not 45, 996. Or five CPA firms that are not big four.

    [00:22:15] Sandra Wiley: You know, years ago we called that, um, do you want to have a shared vision firm where everybody works the same or a shared services firm where you're just all sharing office space, but everybody does their own thing. And you know, I can't tell you how many years ago that came up and most firms will tell you, Oh, we want to share vision firm, but most a lot of the smaller firms act.

    [00:22:39] As a shared services firm and so that's a good question to ask right away is how do you function? Um, the other thing I want to make sure that I throw in here Um when we were talking about the which processes we picked and I told I said they went back to their administration group Let me tell you something.

    [00:22:56] You want to know how a firm really functions. And do you want to know where all the bodies are hid, right? Where they're buried? Go to your administrative professionals and talk to them. Get them to tell you the truth because they see it all. They see how we treat clients. They see how we really act when, when the doors are closed.

    [00:23:16] We see which one of the team members that are sitting around us are working super hard. And those that are kind of Hanging out. Um, they know which partners are really forward thinking partners, and they know which partners are just hanging out, waiting to retire. They know it all. Now, they don't always tell everybody, but they know it all.

    [00:23:37] And I call them administrative professionals for a reason. I never want to go to a firm and hear, well, there's all the professionals. Oh, and then there's When I say how many full time equivalents do you have? Uh, well, we have, um, a hundred. Oh, I guess we have like 20 administrative. Okay. They're professionals too.

    [00:23:58] They may not have CPA behind their name, but they are professionals too. And you've got to start treating them that way. So that's one of those on the bandwagon things that I couldn't

    [00:24:07] Judy Vorndran: even agree more. Always. Yeah. Well,

    [00:24:10] Meredith Smith: and you know, he freaks out. When someone's gone the most is when your administrative professional is not there.

    [00:24:18] Sandra Wiley: I agree. I agree. We don't even know how to act when

    [00:24:21] Judy Vorndran: they're not there. My leadership view is more egalitarian in general. Like, everybody's on the boat. You know, sometimes you got to captain it. Sometimes I'm down there cooking. I mean, sometimes I got to clean the toilets. I mean, just got to get it done.

    [00:24:31] We're a team, you know. Yeah. Agreed. Agreed.

    [00:24:36] Meredith Smith: So as we kind of wrap up, what would you leave, what parting words do you have for our listeners? As a lot of them are, I think we just learned that some, you know, shout out to our listeners at Loyola, Loyola University, you know, in this professional services space from like a lawyer, CPA.

    [00:25:01] What, what would you leave, and you know, partners and firms, so what would you leave them with? I would leave them

    [00:25:07] Sandra Wiley: with this. I think we have an amazing profession here. I think that the accounting profession is on the brink of being one of the most important professions in our entire world. And I think that is right in front of us to start developing and changing that business model so that we are far more, we're much deeper and get there faster with our clients to be their advisors, to be their consultants, to be their partners in their businesses.

    [00:25:41] And I think that there is a lot of young people out there that are intelligent, super intelligent, that are people focused. That have emotional intelligence that are change agents that are servant leaders And we need to go into our high schools and our colleges and find the best of the best and help guide them into this profession.

    [00:26:07] If you're sitting on the sidelines, hoping that they'll show up someday, you're going to be sad. For all of you out there that are looking to get great people. Go out and start mentoring and helping them choose this career for anybody listening who is in college or is in high school. And they're looking at what should I do if I just described who you are or who you want to be.

    [00:26:33] This is a profession for you. I guarantee you, this is the profession for you. So look at it with new and kind of new glasses on. Um, and like I said, I just think it's one of the most amazing professions. And I think that we are not giving ourselves enough credit. So. Go out and do good.

    [00:26:55] Meredith Smith: Well, thank you, Sandra, so much.

    [00:26:57] This was, I'm sure we could have just talked for hours and just chatted and shared stories and just, you know, loved on the profession and the people connection. And so we thank you so much for your time and your expertise. Pertise and we look forward to staying connected and this has been another episode of SALTovation.

    [00:27:20] Till next time. This podcast is for educational purposes only and is not intended nor should it be relied upon as legal tax accounting or investment advice should consult with a competent professional to discuss specifics of your situation and the applicability of the information presented.