Accounting for fun Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2009

Paul Paris may be the managing principal at Aarons Grant & Habif LLC, but you may also catch him at the office in his Jewish rapper persona, “Paulie P,” complete with baggy T-shirt, personalized baseball cap, dreads and sunglasses. Rapping for employees is one way that Paris likes having fun and showing his 62 employees that he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

“If you can make fun of yourself, then people can lighten up,” he says. “You open the door. … Most people can make fun of themselves — they just do it in a different way. The question is are they willing to step in front of other people and show other people, ‘I’m human; I’m vulnerable. I’m not just the president or head of this division.’”

Doing this creates a fun atmosphere at the accounting and business advisory firm and also shows that he cares.

Smart Business spoke with Paris about how to create a caring work environment.

Approach hiring differently. Anyone who comes in, they interview with my partner and myself to see if there’s a cultural fit. Then they go to the heads of departments to see if there’s a technical fit. So it’s kind of reversed. We want people to meet the management and owners and understand who we are and how we feel about the company, and then see if that fits.

If it was a 3,000 or 10,000-person company, it doesn’t have to be the person who manages the company, but it needs to be a really important person that the person says, ‘Wow, I had no idea on the first day I was going to meet with so-and-so, who gave me the vision and gave me the direction and gave me an idea of the people and everything else.’

Pay people to keep them. The second aspect is compensation. Don’t let people struggle and stress over their compensation because it takes them emotionally and physically away from what they should be doing for the company. Pay people more than they’re asking because you don’t want them to think about their compensation. You want them to think about the office, other people in the office, clients, customers, whoever it might be. If they say, ‘I’d like between $60 and $65,’ you always give them $65 or higher than that — $67.5. Level the playing field so it creates a little bit of a, ‘Wow, so I don’t have to worry about the compensation?’ It’s interesting how that balances. Our rates aren’t necessarily the highest, but the way it balances is … people become more efficient and willing to help each other, and that’s just an intangible that creates profitability.

Find people’s passions. Define the individual’s passion, what their strengths are. In ‘Good to Great,’ there are three intersecting circles — what are you absolutely passionate about in a work environment, what do you feel you’re the best in the world at, then the third intersection is the economic engine.

Ask them — you don’t define it. It starts at the interview process. We have to understand you on a personal level to make sure that whatever we structure doesn’t interfere with your personal life. Ask them to define their passion and tell you what they like and what they don’t like. What is your passion on a personal or work level? Do you enjoy working long hours? Do you enjoy a sense of freedom and entrepreneurial kinds of things in a work environment? It’s telling me more about who you are and what environment you should be working in.

You have to be a good listener. If someone says a word, the way they say it and what they say is important because you can probe into that — ‘I really enjoy working in partnership taxation.’ What does that mean, ‘really enjoy’? Does that mean you enjoy doing the details? ‘No, I enjoy the big-picture part of it.’ You have to be a good listener and try to determine what they’re saying and feeling. If you’re passionate about talking to people and listening, it doesn’t make any sense to make you a widget maker. You’d be really unhappy, so there’s a logic behind it.

Be there for people. I’m an introvert — a lot of leaders are introverted. You have to force yourself to get out of that box sometimes. Reach out to people and ask how they’re doing and what’s going on. You can’t do that with everyone. If you have 50 people in the company, you can, but if you’re at 5,000, you can do it through the leaders under you — you create a model that other people follow.

Walk into someone’s office and say, ‘How’s it going? What’s going on? Do you need me?’ The word need is a very important word. If any one of our children ever says, ‘Daddy, I need you for something,’ everything stops. Somebody can’t say they need something unless it’s important.

If people are asking you questions or want to talk to you about something, you have to say to yourself that they’re there for a reason: There’s a need, and you have to be patient and listen to them. Sometimes it doesn’t require an answer, and sometimes it doesn’t require a decision. Patience is a major part of being a good leader. Just listening and saying to yourself, ‘Don’t tell your story; they’re there to tell you what they want you to hear.’

Availability is another part. You’ve got to be available. You can’t be a good leader if you close your door. Closing your doors says to people, ‘I don’t want you here; I want you out.’ You’ve got to have your door open.

How to reach: Aarons Grant & Habif LLC, (404) 233-5486 or