Certifying success Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

If anyone knows what’s needed to develop an organization’s employees, it’s Krista McMasters. She started working for Clifton Gunderson LLP 30 years ago as an associate accountant, now serves as chief practice officer, and, in April, was named CEO, making her the first and only female CEO in the top 25 public accounting firms.

She’s been mentored throughout her career, so it’s no coincidence that the mentoring continues in a transition program before she assumes full responsibility in June 2009. But she’s not impatient. Instead, she believes that building employees is critical to anyone’s success and she passes that along to those who will follow in her footsteps.

“I believe really in the development of people, so I do everything I can to provide direction, strategy and vision to people but allow them to execute and build on that,” she says. “My whole goal is to build people into leaders that far exceed anything I ever could do.”

Smart Business spoke with McMasters about how she develops her 2,000 employees just as she’s been mentored during her career.

Recruit good people. Recruit people that have the abilities to do the things you’re looking to do. Define the position. We have something called smart objectives. It’s like a job description, but it goes beyond that and talks about the things that we would like them to achieve in the next six months and in the next year in their position.

Interview individuals based on their experiences related to those objectives, not just on their credentials or where they’ve worked. Really get into defining the types of experiences they’ve had that relate specifically to the objectives of the job.

A lot of it is asking the right questions. A question that I always ask is to tell me something that they’re most proud of in their prior job. You get at people’s passions, and that’s where you get at their strengths. If you ask them questions like, ‘Tell me something that defines you — an experience that you had that you were proud of’ — you can get at what it is they enjoy doing, which is what they’re going to be passionate about, which builds on their strengths.

Mentor people. Have a strong mentor career development program across the board. Everybody that’s managing anybody, it’s their role to develop whoever it is that they’re managing. Provide them with a career that they’re engaged in, and do that by connecting with someone who’s really going to help them in their development throughout their career.

Match up people who do the same thing. We make sure our auditors are matched up with other auditors, etc., so the people that are doing the mentoring have the ability to know what it is they’re mentoring. Assuming that the one criteria is met — that they’re in the same service area and do the same thing — we let the mentees help choose their mentors. We tell them to look at the people that they’d like to become. Look at the individuals that work with them and the people that they think can help them build on their strengths because that’s what they’d like to achieve once they have more experience.

Once you’ve identified a good match for a mentor and mentee, it’s the responsibility for the mentor to keep the person engaged, keep on top of what they’re doing and keep with them so that they understand how they can help them build on their strength.

Develop people. Work with them on their strengths and not focus on their development areas. Help them bring passion to those strengths. Meet with them regularly to provide them direction and development to help them build on their strengths. The way you’re going to get people engaged and developing is to focus on their strength.

We do 360 evaluations to look at what their peers are saying about them, what they’re saying about themselves and what their subordinates are saying. That helps identify strengths.

Give them goals that can help them exceed in their strengths and in the roles that they’re doing. Have smart goals that are specific to the individual and not general goals. They need to be measurable, action-oriented, drive results and related to that person and not related to some general activity that can’t be measured.

Then hold them accountable to their goals. Everybody wants to perform. They want to do a good job. You just have to help them in their career to get them there. That’s our job to engage and develop them. Their weaknesses go away if you work at what it is people are really strong at, believe in and passionate about.

Listen to your employees’ concerns. You have to be flexible with their needs. It may be flexible hours or a flexible work arrangement. You have to determine what each individual needs to meet their objectives within the needs of the organization.

It’s about performance. If it won’t work within the confines of whatever we’re delivering to our clients, then it isn’t going to work, but if someone is performing 100 percent of the time, we can find a good match.

Ask open-ended questions that find out what their concerns are and listen to what they have to say. Don’t let things go unsaid. Be direct, and give them direct feedback. Keep asking questions until you get at the real issues.

That’s probably the most important thing any leader can do is really listen and really hear what people are attempting to tell you so that you can help drive what it is you’re attempting to drive through the organization.

HOW TO REACH: Clifton Gunderson LLP, www.cliftoncpa.com