When Feedback Should be Required

A few months back, my employer went through the annual rite of performance evaluations. At this point, I had been employed here for five months, four as an intern and one as a staff associate. Needless to say, much of the evaluation was irrelevant. How have I fostered the client relationship? How could I? I’m not a party to client visits and my employer certainly doesn’t have me calling them up to check in. Who are you again?

Needless to say, I had few expectations for my evaluation. Lacking any substantive performance items to review, we discussed my career plans, such as studying for the CPA exam. Then they gave me a raise. (I’ll give you a minute to process that; it made my brain stick when it happened).

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the extra money. But a little explanation would be nice. Even if for no other reason than, “We like you.” Was there something particular to my performance? If so, I’d like to know so I can continue that action. Did they recognize some hidden or underdeveloped potential? Then tell me so I can keep that skill and continue developing it.

This is one of the biggest problems with performance evaluations: they can be very one-sided. An evaluation should be a mutual undertaking for the benefit of employer and employee. When done, both sides should feel like something was accomplished, like some benefit was derived from the whole process. Instead of focusing solely on the employee’s areas for improvement, success should highlighted as well.

Metrics

One defining characteristic of the self-esteem generation is our near-constant evaluation. We’ve been raised in an age that measures and tracks everything, and that culture has permeated our being. Entering the workforce from the fairy-tale world of education is a great enough challenge on its own, without having to cope with our upbringing. We suddenly enter a world without feedback, and this can be a difficult change for many millenials and managers alike.

For millenials, the lack of feedback is devastating. We are used to being graded, and our self-worth is built on this fact. There has always been some “standard” to live up to, and it is difficult to operate without it. We are perfectly capable of accomplishing the tasks assigned, but we struggle with not knowing what our managers think of our performance. I find this to be especially true as an accountant. Being inexperienced, I am rarely involved in a project from start to finish. Instead, I may complete a schedule or checklist that is incorporated into a larger project. After completing my portion, the project progresses, and I am left wondering if the senior associate or partner is satisfied with the work. When a similar task is put to me on a future project, I will complete it as I had previously, hoping that my approach is still relevant. I have no way of knowing whether my approach was appropriate the first time around, let alone the second. It could be several months, and many projects later before I am aware of a problem with my work. It is only when I seriously foul up an assignment that I receive feedback, and it is generally not of the positive kind.

So what is a millenial to do? Observe. Find other ways of measuring performance. If I pass part of a project up to the next person and I don’t hear about it again, I can assume it was done right. If the partner or senior assigns me another task on the same project, I can assume that the first task was completed to a satisfactory degree. But this leads into a dangerous area if a project is backlogged. It might be that a project is complicated enough that a new task is assigned to me before the previous task is reviewed. Or that project could be on hold as we wait for information from the client, and the partner has opted to review the project as a whole, rather than as it is completed. Clearly this approach is complicated by the workflow particular to one’s work environment.

My advice is this: find your own metrics. There is evidence in any workplace of the success and progress of projects undertaken, and an observant millenial will pick up on these clues. Have you found yourself lacking feedback? How did you cope? I welcome anyone’s comments, as I expect this to be a popular topic in the weeks and months ahead.

Managing My Generation

A few months ago, BusinessWeek ran an article about the challenges of managing Gen Y. The “self-esteem generation,” as we’ve been dubbed, poses unique challenges to managers, as I’ve already experienced. The BusinessWeek article focused on how management will need to change its approach to this generation, and I plan to explore that over the coming months. I’m also interested in how the generation will have to change as it enters the “real world.”

Guessing

College is supposed to prepare you for life, but I don’t know what life my professors had in mind. Given all the classes I’ve taken, should I always feel like I’m grasping at straws?

Taxes

Whenever someone learns I’m an accountant, his or her assumption is that I must be a tax expert. I hate taxes. I only took two tax classes. While I can hold my own on basic issues of personal income tax, corporate tax makes my head spin. We have a partner who only handles taxes, and I admire his ability to retain so much of the tax code. I can’t. All of those sections, those special elections, exclusions, and phaseouts just make me sleepy. I went to school for financial accounting. When you receive your federally-mandated annual reports for the holdings in your 401(k), you’ve entered my domain. Give me an annual report with consolidated statements and I have hours of interesting reading. Just don’t come to me with questions about deferred taxes, unless it’s a deferred tax asset.

Hurry Up and Wait

This is one thing I’ve discovered in the few months since starting: much of my job is waiting. Yesterday, I spent one hour working and eight hours waiting. Try as we might, our clients aren’t that organized. That’s probably why they’ve hired us. Then there’s the waiting for other accounting firms. One, which was fired by a client we’ve just taken on, is in no hurry to get us necessary documents related to the work that firm used to perform for our client. So, I have a stack of paperwork on my desk that I can’t fill out.

Basically, scattered around my desk are various piles of client material, each one waiting for something. At tax season, there are two piles of returns on my desk: those I haven’t started and those for which something is missing. So I spend my time reading the Wall Street Journal, checking CNN, and listening to NPR. And this is why the partners want me to get ready to take the CPA exam.

Why?

I know that when my peers find out about this, that will be their first response. Why would I waste my time? Yes, I’m a millennial, a Gen Y, or whatever other label you’d like to apply. But what none of them will ever understand is what it’s like to abruptly change career paths at such a late point in the game. Sure, college students change majors all the time. Most, however, do so before graduating. What can I hope to gain by this? An outlet. A better understanding of myself by ranting and reflecting in the most public of ways. But more than that, I want to help others. Other accountants just starting out. Other students whose career paths are as convoluted as mine. Over the coming months, and hopefully years, I will post about every aspect of the life of a new accountant. Stick around, it should get interesting when I begin the process of becoming a CPA.

Background

I didn’t go to school for accounting. I didn’t even go for business. I was an engineer, of the audio variety. For five years, through middle and high school, I mixed sound for bands, venues, and festivals. It seemed like the natural choice for college that I would pursue audio. And I did, graduating in 2006 with a degree that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. So it was back to school, this time to expand on the business minor I received with the audio degree. I enjoyed the accounting aspect of my minor, and that seemed another natural choice. So I quit my job, went to school full time, and graduated in May of this year with a Masters of Science in Accounting and Taxation. For the past six months, I’ve worked at a small firm in the suburbs. Maybe it’s because of my background, but I still don’t think of myself as an accountant. I’m the engineer that dabbles in accounting. This is just one of the issues that beset me as I embarked on my new career path.

Starting Out

As the name suggests, I’m an accountant. Or at least that’s the idea. I certainly don’t feel like much of an accountant. But what should I expect? I’ve only been at this since January. I didn’t even graduate until May. So I plan to explore my new profession here, and you’re invited along for the ride.

Enron and the Insurance Industry

Executive Summary
Insurers suffered substantial losses following the collapse of Enron Corporation. Many insurers, particularly those specializing in life, not only wrote policies to Enron, these companies also invested heavily in Enron-backed securities. Suddenly insurers found themselves caught between servicing their clients and serving the needs of the bankruptcy court. Many important lessons would come from the industry’s experience with Enron, however. Life insurers learned whether or not their long-term planning and asset management programs functioned adequately. While sustaining heavy losses related to Enron’s demise, not a single insurer had its debt rating downgraded as a result of either investment losses or exposure. Surety bond insurers learned the consequences of not acting on a suspicion, as they guaranteed millions in fictitious energy trades used as a vehicle for major financial institutions to provide Enron with low-cost, off-balance-sheet loans. Insurers have learned the importance of carefully evaluating policyholders and their business relationships in today’s complex world of structured finance. The directors and officers’ liability insurance (D&O) carriers suddenly found themselves in a morass, weighed down by years of complacence and poor risk management. Caught in the middle of shareholder and creditor lawsuits, many settled rather than risk admitting guilt. In certain cases, this further damaged an already tarnished corporate image. Just as Enron executives learned there was a limit to their greed, so did insurers that blindly underwrote Enron’s activities. Thus, these carriers were faced with the unpleasant task of substantially increasing premiums, thereby pricing customers out of the market. D&O carriers, and the industry alike, did gain some sense from Enron’s demise, however, which was quickly tested by successive corporate scandals.

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