Merit Career Development Blog | Entries from November 2014

Three Essential Elements of a Protective Engagement Letter

Three Essential Elements of a Protective Engagement Letter for AccountantsCPAs devote their services to helping clients with complicated accounting and tax needs. It is a revered profession and expertise must extend beyond numbers—the subjective and intimate elements behind this type of advice increase the potential for problems.

Even with a public accountant’s best efforts, clients’ future actions can prove to be unpredictable. That’s why the best lawyers and insurance experts stress the importance of protective engagement letters for CPAs. According to the Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs, a lack of a quality engagement letter is a common thread among liability claims. While plenty of CPAs write these letters, each document must include the right elements in order to be effective.

While you are familiar with an engagement letter, there are specific points to include in this document that can shore up any weaknesses, protect against liabilities and clearly outline the services that will be exchanged between a CPA and client.

Here are three critical points to remember the next time you are reviewing an engagement letter:

1. Customize the Content

An engagement letter is a valuable tool in the accounting field, but it isn’t always a versatile one. This type of document is on the front line in the battle against malpractice, but it must be customized for each client in order to be effective. According to The CPA Journal, an engagement letter loses its benefits if it isn’t tailored for specific circumstances. Each client brings his or her own set of needs and using a boilerplate letter can miss these nuances. That will leave the accounting firm vulnerable should things not go as planned.

2. Be Clear and Comprehensive

An engagement letter must protect the interests of the accounting firm. It cannot do that if it doesn’t include every detail about their professional relationship with the client. According to the Journal of Accountancy, the letter’s author must be clear and comprehensive. For example, outline every return individually, including the year it will be prepared and the number of years that service will be completed. Include clauses and disclaimers to further protect against malpractice, wherever possible.

3. Highlight the Dates

Dates matter. In many cases, the CPA will work with the client for an extended period of time. For example, helping a business owner file their professional and personal returns will take place over many months. An engagement letter must highlight the dates these services will be exchanged. Typically, it will only cover the current year, but it is crucial to make this distinction. When other public accountants executed previous years’ returns, make sure the document clearly states that those previous year’s returns are not the responsibility of the current CPA.

Unfortunately, not every professional relationship goes smoothly. While CPAs never approach clients with this thought in mind, it is always smart to use effective communication skills to implement quality risk management procedures.

How Can You Skillfully Lead Remote Employees?

Working From Home: How to Skillfully Lead Remote EmployeesBefore the Internet age, working remotely was akin to “playing hooky.” Managers were uncomfortable not being able to see employees, and everything was about face-to-face. But with changes in the global business environment, and the need to find talent wherever it is geographically, the number of people working beyond the office walls has grown. So have the challenges of managing today’s workforce.

Here are some essential points for managing your remote employees:

Gain Insight Into Individual Employee Situations By Understanding Why

Remote workers have become commonplace for a variety of reasons. Understanding why your workers are remotely located, and how this affects them, can help you become a better leader and ultimately improve productivity.

In an article for, Dan Pontefract explains three common reasons why your employees are working remotely:

  1. Outsourcing
    Your firm may decide that outsourcing is a viable strategy to cut costs and improve production. If so, you’ll soon be managing remote workers. Pontefract points out that this trend can cause the ratio of in-house and outsourced employees to flip, which means how you approach each project and individual worker will vary.

  2. Telecommuting
    Another common scenario is telecommuting to reduce long commutes, or for other employee convenience reasons. This is a popular option of remote working today, because technological advancements have allowed a wider range of positions to be completed outside the office. Managers can use telecommuting as an incentive to retain top-tier employees. With telecommuting, leaders can also attract talented employees wherever they may be geographically, not just within a certain radius of the office.

  3. M&A Activity
    The third situation that could turn you into a remote leader is a merger or acquisition. If your firm combines with another, you could take charge of their staff in a different part of the world. Should this happen, remember to address the multiple cultures, time zones and work-life issues to help employees acclimate to the change.

Ask the Right Questions

With these reasons in mind, you can ask yourself a few important questions to determine if your current methods are compatible with a remote workforce.

According to Pontefract, three smart questions to ask include:

  1. Are You Using Technology?
    Features such as auto-email and instant messaging can help you set times to connect with remote workers, even if you aren’t available at that specific moment.

  2. Is Everyone Kept in the Loop?
    When a project is ongoing, is everyone included in communications? Even remote workers? Make sure the process is always open to all who are involved to prevent confusion.

  3. Are You Using Face-to-Face Contact?
    Most importantly, reach out to every worker for a face-to-face meeting – even those away from the office. Use technology and video chat options to be a visible and vocal leader.

Communicate Often and Remain Engaged Using Different Technologies

The biggest initial issue with remote leadership is a lack of communication. In an article for LinkedIn, management-consulting expert Suchitra Mishra writes that you can avoid problems by staying engaged with your workforce.

For example, avoid isolating team members. Instead, use technology to bring people together whenever possible. Ensure that all relevant staff members attend each meeting and don’t be afraid to reach out on a regular basis, even if it is just to make small talk.

That can be achieved via computers, mobile devices, and software applications. Potential strategies include:
  • Cloud Computing - Dropbox, Google Drive and other cloud computing applications allow you to share and store data online. Then, you can acquire that information on other devices or allow remote workers access to facilitate their workdays.
  • Video Conferencing - With video conferencing, you can hold meetings regardless of where the attendees are located. Services like Go To Meeting make it easy to connect people spread across the globe.
  • Video Chat - On a more informal note, video chats can help managers stay in touch with remote workers. For example, you can Skype your employees each morning to discuss the upcoming workday and go over key duties and deadlines.

If you feel that issues could arise with your remote leadership, remember the value in project management training. The composition of today’s workforce is evolving, and managers must grow as well, using new technologies like mobile devices, software applications, and improved communication skills.

Why Transparency is a Must-Have for Today's Leaders

Why Transparency is a Must-Have for Today's LeadersWhat kind of leader do you want to be? Is it someone with an aura - mysterious and revered, yet distant and disconnected from your employees? Or is it someone respected and trusted, but intimately known by everyone at your company?

This latter, transparent approach is a must-have for today’s leaders. Some of the biggest and brightest figureheads are considered “transparent,” but the path to becoming this type of professional is complicated.

Even so, here is why transparency is key for the leaders in your organization:

Transparency Will Bring Your Team Together

Put yourself in the shoes of your employees. Would you want to be led by a person who is hard to reach and detached? In all likelihood, you wouldn’t feel very connected to this leader, which would make it harder to follow him or her, and feel satisfied in your job.

In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Dorie Clark argues that this is one reason why transparency is a must for leaders. Without transparency, it is much more challenging for employees to know their superiors, let alone like them and understand their points of view. This will make loyalty harder to achieve, and a lack of real relationships can negatively impact other areas of the business as well, from employee motivation and production to customer service.

Transparency Can Protect your Business

Transparency is a critical aspect of transformative leadership. Some organizations lead through a veil, using vagueness as a way to mitigate risk and ensure that outside problems have minimal effects on operations.

A similar end result can be achieved via transparency, but with additional benefits. Clark cites Paul Levy, the former CEO of Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, as an example. Levy used a personal blog to connect with his employees, colleagues, patients and their families. On the site, he wrote about the inner workings of the hospital, his personal life and the things that made him tick. As he garnered a following, the respect people had for him and his organization increased.

That made a big difference when a relationship Levy had with an employee became public knowledge. The damage to his reputation and the hospital was muted thanks to the transparent approach he had taken during his nine-year tenure.

Transparent Leaders are Alive and Well

Transparency can be difficult for today’s leaders. It requires openness, effective communication skills, and confidence. Even with the challenges, there are many premier leaders using transparency to excel.

In an article for Forbes, contributor John Hall outlines several leaders who embrace the idea of transparency. Here are three leaders that set positive examples in their professions:

  1. Tony Hsieh - Zappos
    Online retailer Zappos is a model of transparency, thanks to leader Tony Hsieh. He has been known to share employee communications on social media. For example, Hsieh tweeted out emails about facility operations, pulling back the curtain for customers to get a closer look at how Zappos works.

  2. Andy Levine - Development Counselors
    Development Counsellors’ Andy Levine got creative with transparency. The organization created a way to share its financial outlook with every employee. Called “The Game,” this platform declares a “win” once a certain profit is achieved, and then portions of those earnings are shared with each worker.

  3. Rand Fishkin - SEOmoz
    Rand Fishkin, of SEOmoz, uses transparency as a way to connect with customers and employees. He will gladly post his own performance review for all to see, plus he will even share funding decks with the public. Overall, Fishkin’s strategy is to let people see the ups and downs of the company, no matter what.

These are but three of the most transparent leaders today. This approach may not feel right for everybody, but it is important to use transparency as a strategy to build trust, improve communication and stand apart from the crowd.

How Social Media Can Be Leveraged for Effective Training

Social Media: How Networking can Improve On-the-Job LearningA growing trend in today’s learning industry is the concept of “social learning,” or the idea that effective learning can take place in a more communal, collaborative environment. What better way to achieve that other than using internal social networking programs?

Couple the idea of social learning with CLOs’ appreciation of new technology and trends, and it is easy to see why the growth of social media will directly impact employee education, effective communication skills and the learning industry as a whole.

Networking Can Complete the Picture

In an article for Chief Learning Officer magazine, Susan Distasio and Donna Lord posited that enterprise social networking (ESN) holds great opportunities for employee learning, because these websites serve as a complete learning portal.

For example, since much of the on-the-job learning process takes place in an informal setting, the relaxed nature of social media is a complementary addition. It’s also valuable for training that occurs in a group setting, because employees can share ideas, ask questions, and offer feedback via ESN at a later time.

Best of all, CLOs and their organizations can tune into these online conversations and gain knowledge of the educational experience. Leveraging this data will help develop more efficient, effective training methods in the future.

Networking Can Lead to ROI

While there are plenty of benefits to social networking - especially from a learning perspective - CLOs must be aware of the potential pitfalls as well.

In a separate article for CLO magazine, Distasio and Lord explained that the rise of networking means dealing with the risks. Organizations must take a new approach to ensure employees are safe online while receiving the benefits of this strategy. That can be achieved via employer-to-worker communication, technology training, and planning.

For starters, employers need to discuss the implementation of ESN closely with their staff members. This will help facilitate the rollout of new programs and prevent problems from forming. Social networking will also be approached differently depending on the department. How sales use these resources will be unique compared to marketing, for example. Outline each strategy and communicate that with each team.

Above all else, remember the value of enterprise social networks - you can provide employees a hands-on learning solution all while addressing your corporate confidentiality and privacy needs.