Amber Setter of Conscious Public Accountants started out her career in public accounting, and as time passed, she noticed more and more things that needed fixing in the profession. Currently serving as Chief Enlightenment Officer and Executive Leadership Coach, she talks about the importance of coaching in the profession, the benefits it conveys, and how so many problems in the profession are tied to a “dinosaur” mindset.
Episode 11 of CPA Life is the first part of a special two-part episode featuring John’s conversation with Amber that will air in back-to-back weeks.
John’s conversation on today’s episode with Amber Setter was so informative and full of so much advice and ideas that it went on long enough to cover two episodes. Part 2 will be released on May 31st. Be sure to subscribe so you can join us when we once again delve into CPA Life.
Hey everybody! Welcome to another episode of CPA Life where we spend time talking to firm leaders and industry insiders who are truly committed to bringing the CPA firm world into the 21st century and leaving behind that old mindset of “we’ve always done it that way.”
And today, I am pretty excited about the conversation that we’re going to have. We’re going to dig into both the emotional side and the mental side of things as we spend time talking with Amber Setter, who is the Chief Enlightenment Officer and Executive Leadership Coach for Conscious Public Accountants. They are a professional coaching firm focused on—and let me see if I get this right, Amber, because I got this off your website, and I absolutely love this. So they are a firm that is “focused on teaching you how to keep your career without losing your soul.” Did I get that right?
Yes, I would say 90% – we teach you how to grow your career without losing your soul, right? Because sometimes growing your career is more money or a promotion, and you don’t like what you’re doing. So how do you love what you’re doing and still grow your career?
And the reason why, when I saw that it really kind of resonated with me, is because one of the things that we constantly talk about in our business is, you know, we want to work with firms that are committed to showing people a way to get every bit of juice out of the orange, so to speak, in their career, while not sacrificing their life and their family and their soul at the altar of their job.
Yeah, me too. Me too. And, and my team, you know, that’s really what we’re standing for. We know it’s possible. And it takes some deep work on the person, right? Like they have to do the introspection to understand who they are and what they want out of life. And so that’s where we step in at the individual level. So I’m delighted to be here today. I’m definitely a person who’s like, “Come on accounting, let’s go, let’s go! We can do this, we could be better, we can become better.” And we need to have conversations like this where we’re just thinking very differently.
Absolutely. We’re going to unpack a lot of things that have have come together to create almost a perfect storm of of a talent shortage in the CPA firm space today. But first, before we do that, I want to talk a little bit about your background and what has led you into this space that you occupy today as a coach to both firm leaders and staff professionals in the accounting world. You started your career in public accounting and spent a good portion of time in there as well, right?
Yeah, so I did start as an accountant, I got only four years in accounting because I lived in California, which was the 49th state to adopt the 150 hour rule. And I did a Big Four internship and audit got an offer felt that the Big Four was not the right fit for me, really wanted to work with a firm that I felt like I was a person, not just a number. I went through recruiting again. And I landed a job at a local firm in the Bay Area, and I was there for 10 years. We grew from 100 to 400 In that time.
I was a tax accountant. While there I quickly realized that I loved the development of people and not doing the work. So I did campus recruiting, which was pretty significant to get all that organic growth in 10 years. Then I became the firm’s Learning and Development Manager, so built a corporate university from the ground up. In that time I also, because I was still an overachiever, you know, if I wasn’t going to get a master’s in tax, I was like, “What am I going to get a master’s in?” and I ultimately found a master’s in Leadership Studies.
And that was just mind blowing, you know, all of these concepts that I didn’t learn in traditional business school, I certainly didn’t learn in accounting, like organizational change, participatory models of leadership. You know, multicultural counseling was a class that I took, and it was just so inspiring. You know, in accounting, I saw it in the people, especially in the learning and development functions, so much money and time is invested in technical expertise—and I get it, it’s important, the rules are always changing, you need to be up on that. But it’s almost to the detriment of the other side of the coin, which is teaching people how to be in relationships.
And so eventually, I found myself in coach training because I felt that while in my role in learning and development, I was helping every employee, I wasn’t helping that at a deep level, it was like a shallow, you know? And in one-to-one coaching, I mean, you’re just sitting with people and the depths of their soul, right? It’s really, what do you want out of life? What are the things that are holding you back? What are you scared of? And moving all that out of the way, so that they have a healthier, happier life.
I’ve been coaching for 10 years. I love it. But I also got to a point where I want to help other coaches and grow other coaches. And I want a team of coaches to spread this type of work to the world. So about a year ago, I expanded from a “me” to a “we.” And that’s where Conscious Public Accountants came into—was born. The genesis.
And so you guys, is there a particular space that you really thrive in? Or do well in, versus another, in the public accounting—or excuse me, within just the accounting space?
Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, first and foremost, we’re professional coaches, and a lot of people don’t understand what that actually means, so I’ll just take a minute to explain that. You know, coaching is not mentorship—we’re not telling people what to do, we’re not giving them advice. True professional coaching, assumes that the client is the expert, right? Whether it’s an individual or a firm, they’re the expert on their aspirations, they’re the expert on what keeps them up at night, they’re the expert on their clients and their relationships with their colleagues.
This space of coaching gets people to stop doing, and really bring that wisdom outside of them, really, like who are you, and how do you want to grow? Or with a group of firm leaders, you know, maybe facilitate a partner retreat, going, “Okay, what was your culture, pre pandemic? What’s your culture today? And who do you need to be in five years from now? Like, how is the firm evolving? And what are your strategic priorities going to be?”
So that’s the role of coach, there’s a, you know, a handful, I’d maybe say if people who were CPAs, who became professional coaches, and then it’s just a matter of style and fit, you know, what feels like it’s the best fit for you? I would say what makes us distinct is—and we have a testimonial on this—I’d say a more spiritual approach to what we do. You know, we’re not just interested in like, how do we help you get that promotion, like, it’s nice to get a promotion and a title, and it’s nice to make more money—it creates comfort. But we’re really digging in the deep, and really helping people to understand, “Oh, I’m a perfectionist. Where did that perfectionism come from? You know, where did that come from in my past? Let me get that weed out, and let me actually have a transformational coaching experience that fundamentally changes my worldview, and my beliefs about what’s possible, and really changes me as a person.”
Yeah, it’s really interesting, because as you talk about that, one of the things that I constantly talk about with my team in our business, and it’s something that a lot of times I’ll talk to clients about—and my wife and I also have a marriage coaching business—and when I look at all of those, the thing that we talk a lot about is, we spend a lot of time and we do this in this industry right now, a lot. We spend a lot of time, what I call raking leaves. And what I mean is we just move things around on the surface, and we don’t—we don’t really do anything to dig down, and let’s get to the root of the problem, let’s figure out what’s causing this. Because if all we’re doing is raking leaves, we’re just moving problems around, we’re covering them up, and eventually they’re going to come back up unless we figure out what that issue is. And it sounds like that’s kind of the philosophy that you take, is look we can we can continue to move this stuff around, but it doesn’t fix what the root problem is, what the root issue is.
Yeah. So there’s two things I love about what you said. One is marriage coaching, right? That’s just amazing, because really, what you’re doing is you’re creating the space for people to talk about the relationship. And that is so missing in accounting, right? People have team meetings, and they talk about what they need to do, and they don’t talk about who are we as a team, right? So that’s amazing, and I wish that more people would think like that, and even when we’re talking about like firms doing mergers, they’re looking at numbers, and like roles, and they never talk about we’re creating a blended family, you know, like, how are the siblings gonna get along? So there’s some rich metaphor in that.
And raking the leaves. Oh my goodness, like this 150 Hour Rule, and pipeline, and all that, and I see a potential solution: We need to talk about accounting in high school. That is raking the leaves that is raking the leaves. Like you know what I was thinking about in high school, trying to drink some beer, playing my high school sports. You know, when was I going to move out of my parents’ house? Like I wasn’t thinking about what I was going to major in, in high school. And frankly, I don’t want, as a recruiter to hire someone who hasn’t lived their life. I’m not looking for a 15-year-old. And that is, warm bodies is raking the leaves and not getting to the problems that are underneath why we don’t have enough people in our pipeline.
That is absolutely so true. And let’s kind of talk about some of those things and look at where we are today and what some of your thoughts are. Because, you know, based on some of the things that you’ve posted online, some things on your website, you have some pretty strong opinions about things, and I can’t say that I disagree with a lot of them. Because it’s more than just the stereotypical, we’ve always done it that way, rake the leaves mindset that has kind of brought us to where we are today.
You wrote an article that was in Accounting Today, a few weeks ago. And one of the things that I really enjoyed about that article was talking about, you know, things such as creating a space where there’s advocacy for these people coming into the profession. You know, I think one of the other points that you made was to save your war stories—people today don’t want to hear about, you know, walking to school, uphill both ways in the snow kind of thing, because that’s not what’s gonna resonate with them.
Yeah, so the article you’re referring to is titled The Pipeline Includes the Present and the premise of it was, you know, there’s so many conversations about “how do we get more people in the pipeline?” I feel that it’s to the detriment to those candidates who are in the pipeline who already got their 150 hours.
And if you actually talk with those people, and you understand what’s going on, you’re going to really get present to how problematic it is. So one of the things our firm offers is professional coaching to pass the CPA exam. We’re not talking about any technical subjects at all, we’re helping people in a coaching approach: “What’s your goal? You know, how many hours you say you want to study each week? Did you do it or not? And what did you learn from it?” And it’s really the place to do some personal development work while pursuing the CPA exam.
So in that, we find out all the pain points, right? The pain points going on is a lot of bureaucracy because there’s so many stakeholders involved, so these candidates are experiencing significant time delays with scores coming out, their application’s being processed and being really late, it’s costing them money. And all this bureaucracy gets them frustrated, and they quit, and the AICPA and NASBA don’t get held accountable for when there’s breakdowns in their system. And I don’t want to—I’m not trying to throw them under the bus by any means; I think they do some wonderful work for the profession. But that structure really lacks accountability in it. And I’m just like, “Hello? You know, we got to take care of the people that have already bought into the concept of becoming a CPA—that have already, you know, put their time and treasure into the 150 hours, and we’re not paying attention to how we can be more supportive of them, when they’re already committed to our process.”
You got an entire generation to generation a half that are in the pipeline today, like you said, and, you know, we spent a lot of time talking to those people. And the things that you’re touching on are significant frustrations, and also getting people that are farther in their career, to understand the dynamics that they’re dealing with today are much different than the dynamics that they were dealing with coming up “in the system,” so to speak.
I recently talked to a candidate that was in your neck of the woods, California, and because of COVID, she lost her job. So she decided in that window of time, “I’m going to sit for the exam, and I’m I’m going to try to get as much of this behind me. I’ve got, you know, we’ve got unemployment coming in—I’ve got enough money where I can survive, to knock this thing out that I’ve not been able to knock out.” So she did. She gets two parts passed.
Well, then she starts working again, because she goes back, she wants to go back to work. She realizes in that environment and the window of 18 months starting to shrink, and the hours she’s putting in, she just can’t do it. So she makes a tough decision—she goes to her firm, she says “Hey, can we reduce hours so that I can focus on this?” “No, we can’t.” So her only option is lose my parts or quit my job. Take in a couple of people that will rent rooms in my house for income and focus on passing those things. So she does.
So now she’s got about, you know, in a three year window, she’s got about an 18 month gap on her resume, but she’s not just sitting at home, you know, eating bonbons and watching you know, Family Feud. She’s looking to move her career forward.
We start working with her. We put her in front of a couple of clients. And the first thing clients say is, “Well, I worked when I was taking the exam. I don’t understand why she couldn’t do that.”
And it’s those frustrations that today’s candidates are dealing with, that we got to figure out an answer to.
Yeah, 1,000%. I’m going to be speaking at the AICPA Edge Conference, which is part of Engage—and a little sneak preview that’s, you know, something that we’ve got on the side, which is, because our topic is expanding capacity through our shared humanity. So we’ve got to talk about what do we mean by capacity and humanity and kind of a little spoiler, or maybe a teaser, what does humanity look like? Does humanity look like requiring all of these billable hours in one fiscal year, and then requiring people to pass the exam in order to get promoted? And you layer on that the AICPA currently recommends it’s 400 hours to pass the CPA exam. That’s if you pass all four on the first attempt, which like statistically, you know, 10% of people do.
Statistically, like, that’s data from NASBA’s Candidate Performance Handbook. So we’re basically asking people, we quantified it. And it totals up to like 42 hours a calendar year with no time off, and no non-billable included in that amount.
So it is just unrealistic, the ask that we put on these people. And when people, the old dinosaurs, I call them, we’re gonna get really real—when they say, well, I studied and worked. Well, that’s nice. You probably had busy seasons that look like an auditor worked January through March, and it was intense. And then it was chill. Or a tax person, February to April, and then it was chill. I can say that, because now I’ve worked in the profession 20 years. I took the last paper exam, and I know what it was like to only have a spring busy season and not a fall busy season or six months out of the year that was intense. The 18 month window was created 20 years ago when the exam went from paper to computer. The profession has changed.
And thankfully, you know, NASBA has recognized this and said we need to move this to 30 months. And that is a tremendous, wonderful change. I anticipate that many of the boards are going to accept that change. The good news is there’s a lot of groupthink, and they usually follow what NASBA does. But also, you know, I have talked with people in California knowing like we need this change, we need this to align better to the realities of the profession.
Yep. And obviously with that change, there’s a lot of moving parts of you know, what about the person that’s passed one part already, passed two parts already. Obviously, those things need to be worked out. But I’m with you, I think that is a huge step in the right direction, to get people to understand that it was a different animal, and it was a different game 20 to 25 years ago, I know speaking from my experience working in this space, from a recruiting standpoint, for years, there was a real short window of time that, you know, we kind of fell off of the radar of firms and potential candidates. And it’s like you said—it was that window of mid-January, late January, till about end of March, mid-April, everybody’s heads down, everybody’s working. And then we pick back up business as usual. Today, eerily silent in our business from mid-January through mid-April, and then starting again in August through mid-October. And in the middle of that they’re still running 100 miles an hour.
I talked to a gentleman the other day, at a top 100 firm, on the tax side. And they’ve got some breathing room in May. But they’re required starting June 1—June! They’re going to be required Jude wanting to have a minimum of 45 to 50 billable hours per week, because they’re so behind on capacity.
Talked to a gentleman yesterday who is still being required. He’s in the CAAS side of the business with the firm. They’re being required to work on Saturdays right now, till the foreseeable future. There’s just a lot of things that need to be addressed. And one of those things you talked about just a minute ago, is capacity. I said the other day in some things that I was writing, this is an amazing time for firm owners to look at their client base, and do some really hard assessment of who are the clients that don’t fit who we are, and that don’t fit our model, and are dragging our team down. It’s also a wonderful time to look at raising prices.
Yeah, and that’s been, I mean, I’ve heard a lot of that in my work since you know, after the really challenging year of 2020. And by challenging, I mean too much work, along with the psychological impact of COVID. So I’ve continuously seen from doing that, shedding clients, right, and things just getting moved around, to the word capacity. I think all too often firms are really a little too quantitative thinking in that approach, like, you know, how many hours do we think in production, and how many hours and then we’re going to require people to do it?
And I’m, you know, not a fan of the billable hour. That’s something that has been there alive in me and well, for many, many years. But to me, capacity is really like, what is my ability to be with something, right? And so for a leader, it’s what is my capacity to tolerate ambiguity? What is my capacity to tolerate complexity? And what is my ability to tolerate, like, the unknown?
So when COVID was like, just at the inception of COVID, I sat there and watched the CPA profession make pretty significant business decisions based on fears in their mind, right? So we saw firms that just went to their employees and said, “Everyone’s getting a pay cut, 5to 10%. We love people, they’re our number one asset. Oh my God, let’s just cut everyone’s salary.” And then it turned out, they had more work than ever. And their expenses went down dramatically. And then it was like, “Oh, we made more money than ever.” Like, everyone was like whispering that to me. And I’m like, yeah, all of you did, all of you did, right? But that choice to make cuts was a reaction to fear inside of their mind, which means they don’t have the capacity in their humanity, to be with a fear—to distinguish it’s a fear—and to actually operate their business from fact-based things not from fears.
So that’s the really the work—the deep coaching work is for someone to have enough self awareness to go, “Oh, this is kind of scary. I’m in the unknown. What do I want to do about this?” You know? And just to pick it up, and notice that I have a fear inside my mind? And go, “Oh, is it a fear? Or is it a fact? And how do I lead my firm given that instead of just reacting to oh, well, this firm did that. So I should do that, too?” Well, do you need to? I don’t know what really makes sense for your employees and your clients?
Yeah, I think that that is a great question too, that I think firm owners need to look at is what makes sense for you. We got a small firm that we work with, about an 8 to 10 person firm in Florida. They’re fully remote firm. And one of the things that they did two years ago was they made the conscious decision, through a lot of analysis and a lot of looking at their client base, they made the decision to shed every client they worked with, that was continually behind on their taxes. And the owner’s mindset was, there’s enough stuff that’s going to fly at us that we’re never going to see coming. But when I look at our book of business, and I look at my experience, over 15 years, every client that I fight with, constantly, the only thing they have in common is they’re all behind on their taxes.
So regardless of whether I’m fighting with them on receipts I need, documentation I need, signed stuff, pay your bill, whatever it is, they’re always behind on their taxes. So we no longer work with anybody behind on their taxes. And he said, “You know, we may leave money on the table. And we may lose some pretty good fees that we could generate from some consulting work with those firms. But it’s not worth the headache to my team,” and we were talking from a recruiting standpoint, he said, “John, what an amazing thing from my standpoint, to be able to say to potential employees that we’re talking to—what makes us different, even though we’re a small firm, you’re never going to work with a firm that’s behind on their taxes, and you’re never going to be fighting with them to get you the data you need. Your life’s going to be easier. Those headaches are gone.”
And I think it’s simple things like that.
Simple, but not so simple.
I agree. Yes. Like, I think it’s amazing to have those healthy boundaries to protect your people from clients who aren’t respectful, who don’t, you know, fulfill their end of the bargain by getting things timely, who show up as resistant to different things. Like it’s not just about the fee, it’s about the drain—the emotional drain that they create on your people and on yourself. Then you have to ask yourself, if you have clients who are an emotional drain, and you’re still keeping them—why? And that’s the fun stuff in coaching, right? That’s the fun stuff. Well, it might be the money you know, like the scarcity mindset, I’m leaving fees on the table. I heard some language in there, right? You might have to break that up. Or, you might have grown up in a you know, environment, either in your childhood or a formative career experience, where you get in these unhealthy dances in relationship with people, and you’re just unconsciously replaying that in your practice. That’s the fun part of coaching. You know, I’m not as interested in the basic goal setting stuff, I want to get down to the depths of the old patterns to break that stuff up.
You know, we talked about old patterns—I’m gonna change the subject here to another issue that I think is a huge topic in the space today. And that is another thing that you and I share a common mindset on, and that is remote work. I know you’ve been remote in your business for quite a while, correct?
So I’ve actually been working remote since 2005, which is wild. But in my story of my background, when I decided I wanted to get a master’s in leadership, I went to the firm I was working for—I love them, I loved the job I had in campus recruiting—and I said, I’m moving I gotta go do this amazing master’s in leadership, you know, moving from Northern California to Southern California. And they were like, “Well, we need you like, would you work remotely just for six months? And six months became eight years.”
Oh, I know, a long time. So, but keep going, ask the questions!
So we’re in a space where going on three years ago now, out of necessity and fear, March came, the world went crazy, and everybody was sent home. And I say “everybody,” it wasn’t everybody. But for the most part, the majority of public accounting firms, the majority of people in knowledge worker positions, their roles could be completed outside of the four walls that they had been driving to five days a week for all those years before.
We’re now three years removed from that, and there’s this huge push, this argument, of “let’s get them back in.” And I will say, I think there is some value to that. I think there’s some value in having that stickiness of people. But I don’t think that the answer is, you know, yank the pendulum out of the wall that we swung it two, three years ago and throw it back to the wall that it came out of. I think we’ve got to find a balance in there somewhere.
Yeah, so two gems in this conversation: One is a lot of firms probably had an initiative of “we need to go paperless, we need remote work, we need to do this.” And they never did it. And when they had to do it, they figured it out in a matter of weeks. So anytime they say something is not possible, “It’s not possible to get rid of the 150 Hour Rule.” Well, is it not possible? Or do we have a story in our mind that it’s not possible? And we need to always ask ourselves if something’s actually impossible or not. And if we say it’s not the well, how did we during busy season, whether you were a tax person or an auditor, move our whole practice remote within a matter of weeks? You figured it out when you had to, so don’t over skip that we did that as a profession, we all made that change.
Back to remote work, you know, I’ll tell you from my own experience, it’s not either/or, right? I will, I’ll tell you, I don’t have any interest in going back into an office five days a week. But I also don’t have an interest in only being at home with my dog over here in the corner, you know, as my office mate.
There’s so much that comes from being together. And I actually spoke about this, I was invited to speak at the AICPA Women’s Leadership Conference, which is an awesome event. I really like that one. But I spoke about my personal experience. And when I first became a remote employee, what I didn’t realize that was amazing, was I was in campus recruiting at the time, so I would go be with my colleagues at all the different events, you know? We would go for on campus recruiting, banquet dinners, you know, internship interviews, and I was remote, and then we were together as a team, and I was remote, and we were together as a team.
And then when I shifted out of that role, and I was in a learning and development role, I was isolated. And I wasn’t in grad school anymore, so I was isolated more. And I was like, “Whoa, I’m in new territory, like, I have to find the way to get and be around other people.” So I really believe that there’s a lot of value of allowing people to be at home, right? To be in your sweatpants and do your laundry on your breaks. And all that stuff is amazing, and it saves energy. And I also feel there’s a need to be together as a team.
Where I think we’re getting it wrong as a profession is like “You need to come into the office two days,” but everyone’s coming in at different times, so you’re not even actually getting the magic of being together. It’s like choose the days Tuesday, Thursday, we’re gonna come in together, we’re gonna have our team meetings and then you’re gonna go back and do your work. So putting some healthy boundaries to it.
But another thing I’ve been seeing that I’m like, I can’t believe they’re doing this, this is wild. But they’re doing incentives for helping people to pass the CPA exam. But doing the incentives in the office, like, come in for some pizza, or you have to come in and study. And I’m like, I never wanted to be around people when I was studying, like, that’s so counterproductive to studying!
So just, just actually think about the functionality of like, when you’re together, what, what kind of work needs to be done, where it serves, being together, as a synergy of conversation serves getting the work done, not to just physically have your body back in a space is quite silly.
I’ve got a client that is on the west coast that I think is kind of, they did it out of necessity, kind of like we’re talking about, they were having a real tough time getting people to move to their area. And I had a couple of clients that had some some pretty good success with remote employees. So I connected the three of them to talk. And this client on the west coast decided, let’s see how this will work.
And so what they’ve ended up with now, two and a half years later, is growing an audit group from four people to 14 people. Those that aren’t local, they, you know, if someone starts in the role, let’s just say on Monday, they fly them out. They spend four days in their office, they onboard, they put faces with names, they do some team building, they go over, you know, pipelines, they go over systems, all the things you normally go over, when you onboard somebody. Send them home. And then every quarter thereafter, for four days, everybody comes into the office for CPE, for team building, for meetings, for pipeline reviews, for looking and see what do we have coming up in our pipeline, all of the things that can bring value to that person, then they go home, and they do it again, work from home, work remote, three months.
And I think that they found a sweet spot that works for them, because I agree with you. I think we’re social beings. The term that I’ve used for years in my career, there was a piece of my career where I was a part of our organization’s acquisition integration team. And you talk about blended families. We did 32 acquisition integrations in about a seven year period. And I would always talk about the importance of what I refer to as “hanging around time.” There is value in that hanging around time, where you break bread together, where you pass in the hall, where you stick your head in somebody’s cubicle and say, “Hey, how are you doing?” And I think that those things being gone, are somewhat detrimental to especially somebody younger in their career.
There was an article—I don’t know if you saw it. I think it was on Going Concern this week or last week. And it talked about that specific issue. Let me see if I saved a piece of it. It said, the article said, “Deloitte and PwC are giving extra coaching to their youngest UK staff after noticing recruits whose education was disrupted by lockdowns have weaker teamwork and communication skills versus their previous cohorts. Junior employees who spent as part of their school or university years isolated from their peers have found it harder to adapt to the work environment.”
And I think that if we continue to just put people in a silo, there is a negative recourse to that. And I think like you said, you got to find the balance in that. What have you seen that firms have done to be able to find that balance and work within those confines?
Well, I first and foremost, want to just acknowledge that firm that you talked about, right? That when they hire a remote person, they bring them together, and they’re doing these quarterly events and coming together as a team. I think that’s beautiful. And so I’ve seen some of that, right? Like you know, I had the opportunity to speak at a tax kickoff in January for a firm, and they brought in all their remote employees, and they were together. And what a beautiful way for them to be together as in they go back home and to work through the thick of things. They have that personal connection.
In contrast, you know, I’ve seen a firm where they’re like, “Well, our remote’s not working that great. I’m like, Well, have you ever brought them to your office or anything?” “No.” Like, well, they’re humans like you don’t just you know, wow, they’re like so much cheaper, the salary’s cheaper there, but like we’re not going to spend a few hundred bucks to bring them to our home office is mind blowing.
But that’s like the accountants are only trained in the numbers and not in the humanity. And they, it’s just a blind spot to be honest. So I think that thing you’re pointing to of how do we have these touch points where we all come together is beautiful.
In response to that Going Concern piece—I haven’t seen it. I definitely want to check it out. So thanks for that tip. It reminds me of when COVID was going on. I sit on a committee for the California Society of CPAs half practitioners, half accounting educators. And we talk about all things, you know, young staff accountants coming into the profession. And the professors were talking about how rampant cheating was during COVID, because the schools all of a sudden went virtual right? And they knew people were cheating and they couldn’t figure it out. I’m like, “Well, this is gonna be interesting when they start in the profession, and they actually didn’t learn anything in intermediate accounting.” And so that’s going on, right? That’s what’s going on. And what’s going to happen for the CPA exam? Like we think people are having a hard time passing. Now. I mean, if you didn’t learn that stuff in intermediate, you’re gonna struggle when it comes to taking the exam.
So it’s, you know, that’s another thing. I mean, what I’ve seen firms maybe not do as well, is take a learning and development curriculum, their same training curriculum, and just instead of saying conference room, typing in “Zoom.” That’s not the same way of learning. We have to change the delivery of learning, we have to change eight hours on Zoom, eight hours of CPE, sitting at your desk. Mmm mmm, no thank you. But it’s still deployed in that way, which I just I don’t understand, you know, don’t understand.
Yeah, I think that again, it goes back to the whole concept that we are social beings. Although Zoom, or Teams or whatever platform it was that you were relegated to use quickly during COVID, served its purpose, and it still serves its purpose today, you’ve got to figure out how to put the human back into that piece of the equation, because I think you’re right, I think that all they did was pull out conference room, plug in Zoom, and they think that that is an answer that fixes the problem. And it really doesn’t. In the long run, it exacerbates the problem, in my opinion.
Yeah. And that’s back to how do we, if we’re gonna have people come back in the office, how do we say, we’re going to be there together working? Because I know what it was like to be a staff accountant. Like I learned through osmosis. I learned just hearing a partner on a phone conversation with another partner talking through a technical issue, or speaking with a client, you know? You just hear stuff going on and your business acumen elevates.
And when you’re at home with your laptop, that’s not happening. And so yes, I think that there’s value to coming in the office and hearing that. But you’ve got to explain that to the staff. They have to understand that, hey, we’re having you come in, and here’s the reasons why. And finding a way of really engaging them maybe in meetings—like come in, and listen, I’m gonna have a call with the client, and I want you to listen, and then let’s have a conversation about it. Like, what questions did you have? What surprised you? You know, like, what are you taking from this? You know, what would you maybe have done differently? And those are, by the way, all coaching questions. So really using them as learning opportunities—we’re not just having you coming in for Facetime in the office, we’re having you come home for a real reason, that’s gonna help you. So they’re like, oh, it’s worth my commute time and the cost of gas.
Absolutely. And I think that, that there was something that I read about a year ago, year, year and a half ago, and it was talking about interactions in the office from a mentoring, coaching, development standpoint—wasn’t just accounting, it was it was across the board, regardless of area of specialization, in the sense that the average person in an office has somewhere between 10 to 15 engaging conversations, not just “Hey, how are you doing,” but engaging conversations during the day. How’s your day going? How’s that project you’re working on? You run into your boss in the in the cafeteria, or in the lunch room? And you say, “Hey, I’m glad I ran into you, I am stuck on this issue. Do you have five quick minutes where you could help me out?” And what he was saying is that in a stereotypical office, have those 10 to 15 engagements that you have, those conversations, that 80% of them are directed towards you, meaning you’re only generating 20% proactively of those conversations.
And one of the things that I constantly talk to candidates about when we’re looking at remote work is, if you’re not the kind of person that’s comfortable raising your hand and saying, “I need help, I’m stuck. I need assistance,” you’re going to struggle in this environment, because no one’s going to stop by your house at nine o’clock in the morning, knock on the front door and say, “Hey, how’s that project coming along?” You’ve got to be comfortable in your shoes to be able to raise your hand, and I don’t know how you do that. If all you’re doing is keeping people at their house and never engaging with them, you know, on a one-on-one, and creating that relationship.
Yeah, it’s reminding me of earlier this year, we worked with a firm and they came to us and asked if we could help them do some training on delegation and delivering feedback. And I said, yeah, absolutely. Because that’s something we get a lot in coaching, right? A leader comes and it’s like, what do you want to get out of today? I need to give someone feedback or you know, I’m struggling in my delegation, et cetera.
And so we did that. And as we were facilitating it really was, like, I was like, I hadn’t thought of it until the moment of delivering the content, which is, our old ways of maybe delegating, you know? I would say John, here’s a project work, on it. And then I’m walking to the lunchroom. And I see like, John spinning his wheels, right? Or I see John, I’m like, oh, my gosh, how’s that project going? You just think to ask because you physically see someone. And now even for the leaders, you know, what, yes, their staff accountants who might not raise their hand. But for the leader, there’s this thing that happens that all the ways in which they used to have these cues that reminded them how to keep things on track, they don’t anymore.
And so they need to put in new structures, right? they need to coordinate meetings, they need to have office hours, they need to have these ways of making sure that that’s not out of sight, out of mind for them, and we’re helping those people. So it’s really, it’s possible we can learn these new ways, but if we’re trying to do the same things we used to do to solve today’s problems—that’s the challenge. And I think that’s where accountants get caught is in that you know, SALY, same as last year way of being that doesn’t fit today’s way of leadership.
No, it absolutely doesn’t.
We hope you enjoyed today’s episode. Be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcasting app, leave a five star rating and visit our website for links and show notes at CPALifePodcast.com. We’ll see you next time on CPA Life.
About the Guest:
Amber Setter is the Chief Enlightenment Officer at Conscious Public Accountants, which she founded in 2022. Her clients have chosen Amber to coach them due to her authenticity and drive to educate them in ways they’ve never experienced.
A former practicing CPA, Amber works with a select number of clients and organizations through her private practice. Beyond coaching, Amber delivers leadership training and keynote conversations for organizations that aspire to develop the whole person. A passionate advocate for mental health in the accounting profession, she has had articles featured in a number of publications, including Accounting Today and the Journal of Accountancy, among many others.
Amber is a Professional Certified Coach. She is a graduate of Accomplishment Coaching and also completed their Advanced Leadership Program while serving as a Mentor Coach. Amber holds a Masters of Arts in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Accounting from San Jose State University.