Adding on Featured

8:00pm EDT May 2, 2010

And. Or. Those are two very different words, and Randy Myeroff wants his employees to understand the distinction.
 
When Myeroff presented growth at Cohen & Co. Ltd. a decade ago, the initial reaction of the employees was that growth would take precedent over the accounting firm's principles.
 
"Human nature is that if you're asking me to focus on one thing it probably means that's more important than something else," says Myeroff, president and CEO of the accounting firm. "That's the most significant challenge of any company, realizing in a different environment you have to focus on different things and getting people to understand it's and, and, and."
 
Every business faces cycles. You need to not only adapt your focus but your employees need to buy in to the change to help make it successful.
 
Myeroff, who has 225 employees, says it's all in your approach. Instead of commanding change, walk employees through the reasons why. And make sure you have top down buy-in.
 
Smart Business spoke with Myeroff on how to present changes, like growth, to employees.
 
Present the situation. It's more simple than people give it credit for. Instead of taking an approach that appears to be an edict that says, 'This is what we're going to do, and this is why we're going to do it.' Sometimes if you step back a little with your employees and talk about where the firm is heading, I think you can take an approach that says, 'Will status quo work for us? Based on what we have today and based on where we want to be and based on the things that are part of our foundation that we're good at, if we keep moving forward, will this sustain our organization? Will this provide the opportunities that you want? Will this allow you to live the life you want to live?'
 
What happens is it becomes very obvious because the reason you want to add something like growth is because you've figured out if we don't grow then we can't continue to invest in the community to the extent we want to, we can't continue to stay on the front end of technology the way we want to, we can't continue to have a very large proactive tax group that can put money back in client's pockets. We can't do that if we don't move forward because growth creates opportunity.
 
So you talk about, 'Let's presume we continue to grow at the level we're at. Here's what I see.' If I go back and say, 'At this level, this is where we'll be in five years. Does that work?'
 
What happens is people look and say, 'Oh my goodness, no, that won't work.'
 
It's real easy to say, 'OK, what we're doing isn't going to work so we need to do something different. As uncomfortable as it may be, as much as I want you to get out of your comfort zone, you've been willing to go through an exercise where you've really convinced yourself that this is important. Even if I don't like it, I'm going to have to accept it because we need it.'
 
If you're surrounded with a lot of smart people and they go through that process, it's pretty easy for them to rally around things like growing. It's not a case of follow me and I promise you something good at the end. It's a case of this is what we're trying to build and if we don't do better in this area, then frankly you won't want to work here someday. There will be a point where you'll say, 'Boy, I don't want to be here because you guys didn't plan for the succession of technical quality because you guys didn't plan for growth so there's more room for more owners.'
 
Then you get down to the detail. It's not easy to execute, but it's easy to get people to commit to.

Get buy-in. I think you have to get in front of people face to face and let them hear what you have to say. Let them read your emotions when you're saying it, give them a chance to ask questions.
 
A lot of times in larger groups people don't want to ask a lot of questions, but they'll come around. They'll get to thinking and questions will come out eventually. But we met with everybody in the firm.
We started with an ownership retreat. That group went through a very extensive three-day exercise of ... along with all the things that are so key to our foundation, what level of growth will complement all of those things and allow us to be the organization we want to be.
 
If you try and go down an initiative and your ownership or senior people are what I call silent killers, you're in big trouble.
 
If you have people who are violently opposed to something and they're willing to yell and scream and argue, I think that can be healthy because you know where they stand, it lays it out, people have the ability to say they don't agree. When you have people who are just passive naysayers - 'I'm not going to yell and scream, but when one of the people comes and asks me what I think, I'm going to roll my eyes' - well, that kills an initiative.
 
You have to start with the senior people to make sure they're totally committed. Knowing that you could make mistakes, but nonetheless you have to get the commitment that says this firm has to do this.
 
Then we had a management team meeting. So we go from having our 20 top people, then we have a meeting with our top 80 people and go through a similar process to make sure people have the time and ability to buy in to it.
 
Then we had a full meeting with everyone in the firm where we talked about how important it was. We rolled out the strategy we were going to use to get out in the market more and to grow the firm. 

HOW TO REACH: Cohen & Co. Ltd., (216) 579-1040 or www.cohencpa.com