What makes a company succeed? High on the list is corporate culture, a newly hot topic since Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer announced her controversial decision to abolish the Internet giant’s work-from-home policy with the intent to spur collaboration and innovation and, ultimately, increase profits. Mayer’s move runs counter to the culture of many companies such as Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and American Express, which embrace telecommuting as a tool for increasing productivity and morale as well as attracting and retaining talent. No matter where you land on the telecommuting debate, the larger point, I would argue, is that corporate success hinges on creating and consistently communicating your corporate culture.

Attracting and retaining great employees who will boost your bottom line has a lot less to do with ping pong tables and free snacks or sky-high salaries than with corporate culture. I’m talking about articulating your company’s core values, defining the employee behaviors that align with them and ensuring that managers support and recognize these behaviors.

In a Q&A for the Build Network, RoseRyan CEO Kathy Ryan discusses how to draw—and keep—top talent by embedding your core values in every facet of your organization. At RoseRyan, she created a team of values champions responsible for reflecting and integrating our company’s values into hiring practices, work performance, colleague relationships and recognition, just to name a few areas. The result? RoseRyan has successfully recruited and retained highly qualified individuals in one of the most competitive marketplaces for finance professionals in Silicon Valley.

Two of RoseRyan’s values have been critical to my success as a dream team member: professional growth (what we refer to as “Excel,” or “Stretch, Grow and Innovate”) and trustworthy and honest communication. The former signals that management supports me when I try new things and challenge myself in my role. The latter assures me that I’m informed because the dealings of my colleagues and company are transparent. Out with office politics and hidden agendas.

You don’t have to look far to find examples of companies where corporate culture is a draw for employees and a large factor in corporate success. Take San Francisco-based eco-friendly cleaning products maker Method Products. In their book, The Method Method, the two co-founders describe how they struggled to hire top talent. To differentiate itself, the company created an offbeat corporate culture that dictates that every job candidate be asked this question: how will you help keep Method weird? Having created its weirdness value, Method identified the behaviors it would support: feedback, transparency, creativity and caring. The Method method clearly works: the 2000 startup is now a $100 million giant that competes with Fortune 500 companies.

Here’s the take away: creating a corporate culture—articulating values and identifying prized behaviors—is an investment in your organization’s future. A well-defined and deeply embedded corporate culture tells employees what to expect and how to succeed in your organization. Set the expectation, and you’ll likely get a happier, more productive work environment that boosts your bottom line.

Intrigued by the more arcane matters of technical accounting? Love to unravel the complexities of new rules and guidance? RoseRyan’s TAG team wants you!

Members of our Technical Accounting Group (TAG)—senior-level consultants with extensive experience in technical accounting and SEC reporting—are assigned to client projects and are also a resource for RoseRyan consultants and clients on an as-needed basis.

Our ideal TAG team member will have the accounting and finance chops plus industry experience to:

  • Research complex technical accounting issues, navigate the gray areas and collaborate with technical resources
  • Help clients understand and implement new accounting standards
  • Assist clients and RoseRyan consultants with financial reporting and disclosure compliance for private and public companies
  • Keep abreast of new accounting and reporting developments, and prepare and present technical accounting updates to RoseRyan, clients and prospects

Sound like the perfect gig? Find out if your expertise and professional aspirations dovetail with our TAG consultant requirements. Or cut straight to the chase and email your resume to Michelle Hickam.

And remember, as a RoseRyan guru, you’ll be a salaried consultant. Translation: you’ll have the independence of consulting PLUS the trusty paycheck, benefits package and professional support that come with working for an established firm.

What lies just around the corner? What skills do you need to be successful tomorrow?

My crystal ball isn’t any less fuzzy than yours, so I turned to the AICPA report, CPA Horizons 2025, which provides excellent advice about current and forecasted trends that will impact the profession. While the report is focused on the CPA profession (it’s based on the comments of more than 5,600 CPAs), much of the subject matter can be applied to keeping your finance department strategic and relevant to your business.

Here are two of the top themes for me.

1. New technology opens doors—and adds to risk.

Changes in technology offer incredible advantages and efficiencies, but they also introduce risks in new areas. The prevalence of mobile technology and the ability to access applications from just about anywhere have increased our expectations for the availability of information and we expect financial reports much faster. (Gone are the days of having to drive to the office to make a journal entry or run a report, thank goodness!) Not only does this quicken the pace at which the accounting team must do its work, but it also opens the door to potential errors and fraud. Electronic documents can be altered in an instant. The security and privacy of information is at risk.

The finance organization has to stay on top of changes in technology to drive efficiencies in the business. Stay alert, assess the technology, ensure your internal controls evolve to mitigate new potential risks and keep a sharper eye on potential fraud—it may be harder to detect.

2. Lifelong learning is a clear advantage.

According to the report, education will remain a cornerstone of preparation for certification and of ongoing activity throughout a CPA’s career. Strong technical accounting knowledge will continue to be a foundational requirement, but it won’t be sufficient on its own.

The AICPA report suggests that we need to devote more time to staying current with regulations and standards, both domestically and globally. At the same time, accountants must have a broad knowledge of business and soft skills and not simply focus on technical accounting.

I think this presents some challenges. How are you planning to keep up with technical accounting and rules and regulations that are evolving at a fast pace? At RoseRyan and other professional accounting organizations I have worked for, we set a goal for a certain number of training hours for the year. If your organization doesn’t provide this type of motivation, try setting a personal goal for continuing education.

What about soft skills? I see accountants placing inordinate value on technical accounting knowledge and ignoring soft skills such as communication. Yet, in my experience, the finance pros with the best-developed soft skills are the ones with the most success. They have an easier time obtaining information and working with others; and they are better able to influence people and have more highly developed leadership skills. All of that is critical in moving your organization forward.

Want to know more about strategic thinking and key finance initiatives to keep you ahead of the curve? Check out our latest Intelligence report, Strategic Finance in Action.

How do you manage your monkeys? I ask that question often—of myself, my peers, my clients, my volunteer colleagues and even my 23-year-old niece.

“Manage your monkeys” is my most frequently offered piece of advice, and it has been my mantra for almost 20 years. The seed was planted in my brain when I taught a course for new supervising accountants at KPMG. We read The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Kenneth Blanchard, William Oncken and Hal Burrows, which provides practical tips on avoiding the trap of doing everything yourself—and becoming overworked and losing sight of the big picture in the process. Who would have thought that a pop culture book on how to be a more effective manager would register so deeply for me?

What is monkey management? When someone comes to you looking for an answer, you can do one of two things: tell them you’ll get back to them, do some work, and provide an answer; or tell them where they can find the answer and let them do the work themselves. The person with the problem carries a monkey on their back. The monkey represents the next move. When the person asks for your help, their monkey places one foot on your shoulder. If you accept their problem, the monkey climbs onto your back. If you guide them to a solution but don’t assume ownership, the monkey moves back to their back.

Monkey management is about controlling which monkeys you accept and which you delegate, and guides you in choosing the appropriate action. I’m a bit Type A, so I have a tendency to want to make everyone happy and strive for perfection. Monkey management helps guide me every day to not take on too much, to manage expectations and to maintain balance. There are a few simple steps to follow. This is how I manage my monkeys (it’s been a long time, so I’m no longer going by the book):

  1. Define the monkey. Give it a name. Identify what it’s about. Understand the situation.
  2. Identify who owns the monkey. (This is not an excuse to drop the ball. You own the monkeys that fall within your role.) If it’s not clear, assign ownership—that’s called delegation.
  3. Own up to your monkeys. For a manager, this means providing support and direction to your team so they can effectively manage their monkeys. For a team member, this means carrying your monkey and doing your part to resolve the problem or situation.
  4. Follow up on monkeys. Make sure that assigned or delegated monkeys are effectively controlled by their owners. Just because someone else owns the monkey doesn’t mean that you can let go of your oversight monkey. It is the manager’s role to ensure the overall success of their team.

The most effective monkey managers don’t simply assign responsibility; they provide the tools for monkey owners to be successful. This includes direction, training and coaching. Think of the managers you most admire. I bet they’re great monkey managers.

For almost 20 years, I’ve kept a tiny plastic monkey on my desk as a visual reminder to manage my monkeys. It never steers me wrong.


Recently we have read press coverage about the CEO of Yahoo losing his job for including on his resume a degree he didn’t have. And last fall, the CEO of Hewlett Packard lost his job over false expense reports.

In both cases, the ethical line was crossed. When that happened, they had to go—that line must never be crossed.

Why is this so important? The answer is that when someone crosses the ethical line, you can no longer trust that person. What happens when you face a situation where you have to rely on that person’s honesty, such as in a management representation letter, if you can’t trust them? The answer is that you cannot rely on them, so the situation cannot be allowed to occur.

Here’s just one example that affected me personally and that I hope will put this in perspective.

I was the CFO of a company when the CEO wanted to hire a new VP of sales whom he and others had worked with before. As a company we had all the personal references we wanted, and the candidate had a great selling history. Perfect guy, or so we thought. We got to the point of wanting to hire him quickly, asked him to complete an application form and started the background check.

Unfortunately, we quickly came up with two issues. He did not have the exact degree he claimed on his application form, and he had answered “no” to a question that the background check showed that he should have answered as “yes.” We asked him about these issues, and after some time he admitted the application form he had completed was inaccurate, that he had overstated the degree and answered the question falsely. He was very apologetic.

So were we, because we couldn’t employ him as a result of the false statements. How could I, as CFO—or the auditors, or the board—ever rely on any statement he may be asked to make when he lied on an application? Or how could we be sure that he was being truthful with our customers when he was negotiating on our behalf? We couldn’t, so we had to pass on him.

The sad fact is that we would have hired him if he had answered the questions correctly. We didn’t care what his degree was in, or about his other answer, but because he didn’t answer those two questions honestly we knew we couldn’t trust him to be honest with us when it really mattered. That’s the bottom line, and that’s why ethics matter.

With unemployment figures hovering in the 8 percent range and headline news of a slow economic recovery, it is hard to imagine there is a shortage of qualified accounting talent. And yet, in a recent survey by Robert Half reported in CGMA Magazine, 69 percent of CFOs surveyed reported challenges in finding skilled accounting and finance professionals. We’re seeing this too: many of our clients are struggling to find the right fit for open finance department positions.

I think there are several factors at work here. Companies reacted to the economic downturn by cutting costs significantly, and workforce reductions left the remaining employees in the position of doing more with less. This “temporary condition” has lasted a lot longer than most people anticipated and resulted in burned-out employees, projects on hold, no time or resources devoted to process improvements and little to no talent management or career development.

Top talent drives top performance. When an organization is focused on cost cutting, not growth, it can be challenging to provide sufficient opportunities for building skill sets and providing career advancement. Many organizations claim “people are our most important asset” and yet often fail to act in a way that supports that statement. Although talent isn’t captured on a balance sheet, it is a valuable asset and oftentimes provides the most important competitive advantage.

Here are my suggestions for bridging this talent gap:


Make employee development a priority. Acknowledge that talent management is important and integrate that into your corporate culture. Make this a priority in bad times as well as in good times.

Come up with a plan. Formulate a strategy for developing and retaining talent. (And execute it.)

Talk to employees on a regular basis. Making time for focused 1:1 conversations is not easy, but it is critical to your own success—and theirs.

  • Conversations should focus on what the employee wants in the context of what the organization needs. Help employees clarify what they want, build on strengths, address career liabilities and identify development opportunities for future roles.
  • Determine how engaged your employee is with the organization. What are their drivers for job satisfaction? What makes them feel valued?

Augment in-house talent with outside help. Burning out your people is not in anyone’s best interest. Are there skill-set gaps that can be filled with a consultant? Rather than trying to hire an employee who meets a detailed set of requirements, can you hire a professional who can adapt and learn quickly while augmenting missing skills with consulting help? For instance, it may be more cost-effective to hire an employee who can fill 80 percent of the requirements and use independent expertise on an as-needed basis.


Show interest and initiative. Be engaged with your organization and contribute to its growth and success—and don’t wait to be asked. Employers have little interest in developing or retaining people who show little initiative or interest in the organization’s future.

Grow with the company. Organizations evolve, new tools come to market and regulations keep coming (and changing!). Keep pace with the changes and stay ahead of the curve.

Be proactive about your career. Talk to your manager about what you would like to learn and how you would like to contribute to the organization. Gain agreement about priorities and discuss how to carve out some time to work on new areas while keeping mission-critical tasks on target. What deadlines can slide out a little? What new tools can add operational efficiency?

Take the long view. You may need to put in some extra hours in order to develop new skills. Your payoff is down the road, either in becoming more valuable to your organization (increased pay, bonus potential) or in landing your next job.

Not having the right talent at the right time can cause serious harm to strategic initiatives with delayed projects, missed market opportunities or botched strategic execution. Losing a key resource can derail day-to-day operations until a suitable replacement can be found and can get up to speed. Talent management should be considered part of an enterprise risk management (ERM) program. Don’t have one? Get a good overview in our report, ERM: Not Just for the Big Guys.

I’ve read a number of articles lately regarding what makes a great CFO. They list key attributes, such as business acumen and the ability to lead the business with the management team, but one attribute that’s consistently missed is that a great CFO needs to be a strong leader of her team.

At Ernst & Young’s Northern California Entrepreneur of the Year Award gala event, each award nominee said that the honor would not have been possible without the dedication and support of his or her team. The same applies to a CFO: in today’s world, a CFO’s responsibilities go beyond the debits and credits to include oversight, regulatory filings, HR and IT, as well as being a key member of the management team. Obviously, a CFO needs to hire and retain top-notch performers in order to meet all of her responsibilities.

So how does a CFO build an outstanding team?

First, understand—and acknowledge—your strengths and weaknesses, and hire people whose skills complement yours. In fact, hire people who are more talented than you. We recently worked with a CFO whose strengths lay in M&A and business operations, so he hired a VP of finance with strong technical accounting and operations experience. He also brought in others to handle work that his team was either too stretched to handle or lacked the skill set to complete.

Second, be a mentor. Sharing your knowledge and experience can give valuable insights to key players on your team and increase productivity. In my business, I know where the landmines are. Sharing this knowledge with my team helps them be more productive and make better decisions, which is a win-win for everyone. In addition, don’t underestimate the insight you can gain from those working for you. Younger employees can teach us old-timers how to operate effectively in today’s social media environment, for instance—and though their work styles can be quite different, we could learn a lot from them about teamwork.

As your company grows, it’s important for you and your team to keep learning. Keeping up on today’s ever-changing rules is a no-brainer, but it’s also critically important to stay on top of the context for business operations, like the changing global economy, market shifts and technology advances. This is key: increasingly, CFOs and their accounting teams are moving away from being mere gatekeepers and scorekeepers. Ongoing learning is essential for taking on a more strategic role in a company. And applying critical thinking to decisions and their impact on the business—not just the impact to the financial statements—can be both challenging and rewarding.

Third, remember that communication is important. Everyone says this, but I’m amazed at how often CFOs don’t practice it. Keeping everyone in the know about where the business is heading, your vision for the finance function and how the team can add value helps build a stronger team, among other things.

Last but not least, give credit where credit is due. I’ve seen great teams fall apart largely because they felt undervalued. Openly rewarding top performers not only gives recognition to the person or team, but also sets standards by example and inspires loyalty and a desire to go the extra mile (or miles) when required.

A great CFO needs a great team supporting her. Creating a learning environment, encouraging team members to stretch and grow, recognizing success and communicating your vision will go a long way in helping you be a great CFO.

Congratulations to the 2012 Northern California Entrepreneur of the Year® Award winners!

The nine honorees were announced Saturday in San Francisco, and I was fortunate to join some of my RoseRyan colleagues at the awards gala at the Fairmont. The Ernst & Young program, now in its 26th year, celebrates the belief that “a community of entrepreneurs is a powerful force that can transform economies, address large, complex problems, drive innovation and improve our communities.”

The winners’ companies are diverse, from those that seem like they’ve been with us forever, such as Wyse Technology (founded in 1981) and Sleep Train (founded in 1985), to relatively young companies like GoPro, which brings us the GoPro camera.

While they all differ, over the years that RoseRyan has been involved with this program I’ve noticed that these people of vision share elements critical to their success. Some years the focus is on finding disruptive technologies; others, company culture takes the stage as the essential element of success. Here are a few themes from this year:

Embrace risk. Believe in yourself enough to take a risk. If you aren’t failing, you aren’t stretching enough or challenging yourself to take a big enough risk.

Be driven to make things better. When you walk into a room, look around and ask how you can make things better. Focus on things that are really inefficient.

Teamwork leads to success. Many CEOs said they are part of a team and the dedication, hard work, energy and passion of their employees was key to making the company successful. And a number of the CEOs spoke about the strong support from their family that enables them to take the risks, put in the hours and devote their talents to their business.

During the celebration, it was said that that an entrepreneur is someone who asks a simple question and changes the world. Entrepreneurs are visionaries, innovators and leaders. They are imbued with inspiration, imagination and vision.

RoseRyan has been a proud sponsor of this program for a number of years, and it is a privilege to be able to participate in nominating, selecting and celebrating these entrepreneurs. We share their spirit.

The 2012 Northern California winners are Geoffrey Barker, RPX; Tom Bedecarre, AKQA; Lawrence Blatt, Alios BioPharma; Dale Carlsen, Sleep Train; Lisa Im, Performant Financial; Tarkan Maner, Wyse Technology; Matthew Monahan and Brian Monahan, Inflection; and Nicholas Woodman, GoPro. The national winner will be announced in November.

Last week RoseRyan CEO and CFO Kathy Ryan and 99 other women leaders chosen as Women of Influence by the San Jose/Silicon Valley Business Journal were celebrated, wined and dined. Here’s what she had to say about the honor and how business has changed for women since she started her career.

What makes this a real honor for you?
At first I thought of it as kind of a PR gimmick, I have to admit. Then I began getting comments from people—and a lot of them I hadn’t seen or heard from in years. Then, so many people were at the event, from big companies to small, and people were so excited—I realized it really is an honor. These women have done a lot of great things, and it was a genuine honor to be in such a great crowd of talented individuals.

What was the event like?
It was very festive! Almost 1,000 people were there, and I think 96 of the 100 women who were honored showed up.

We [the honorees] were asked to answer the question, “What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?” in 10 words or less. There was a lot of variety but most were along the lines of, follow your heart, work hard, don’t listen to people who say you can’t do it. Some were really funny—for instance, someone said her mother told her, “Don’t marry the pilot. Be the pilot.” Someone else said she came home after a hard day and her husband said, “If it was easy, Paris Hilton would do it.” They held people’s attention—that’s amazing with an audience of 1,000.

What did you say?
Hire people who are more talented than you are and you’ll always be successful. That has guided me with RoseRyan. I think that’s what makes us a great community of talented individuals, and it’s made us a lot better as a company. I’m relying on other people’s talents to move this company forward. It also makes me a better person, a better CEO, manager, owner—the whole bit.

Could something like this have happened 20 years ago, when RoseRyan began?
I don’t know. Move that to 30 years ago, and I’d say no. When I was at Price Waterhouse there were very few women partners anywhere. Accounting was a man’s world. At Quantum, I saw women start to take more of a managerial role. Now I’m seeing more CEOs and CFOs who are women. There are more women’s business organizations that are serious and are respected.

Do women in business really have more influence?
Women have more influence, but I don’t think we’re where we need to be quite yet. Women do have more choices and power than they’ve had in the past. We’ve become part of the regular cycle of business—and it’s no longer a surprise that women are in top roles and are recognized for their leadership and smarts rather than being the lone female in the C suite.

The new year is traditionally a time of looking forward and reflecting on changes you want to make in your life, taking stock of your current situation and setting new goals. The same concepts apply to your professional life. How can you be happier in your work and make 2012 a great year? Here are some goals I’ve set for myself—I hope these ideas will get the ball rolling for you.

Create a solution
In the current economy, almost everyone is being asked to do more with less, but hard work with long hours over an extended period can lead to mistakes and burnout. Instead, take the initiative to find solutions—is there something you can do to improve workflow or build in efficiencies? Take a look at the old ways of doing things with fresh eyes and see what you come up with!

Stretch and grow
The world evolves quickly; a true professional stays ahead of the curve. What new skills are you targeting for FY2012? These can be in a technical accounting area (the ever-changing rules of the SEC and FASB provide plenty of opportunities for keeping your skills fresh), and can also be in nontechnical areas such as time management, people management or even learning to blog! Learning new things can also renew enthusiasm about your work.

Communicate honestly
Frustrated by interactions with a co-worker? One of your teammates not pulling their weight? Forecast information not making sense? We all face situations where it is difficult to have a frank, open conversation; it takes courage to bring up a thorny issue, sit down and have an honest conversation about it. While not pleasant in the moment, I find that having a difficult conversation usually leads to better understanding and smoother working relationships in the future.

Build good relationships
Is there something you can do to better support your colleagues? Are you proactive? Do you meet your commitments? Or maybe this is the year to make some inroads in expanding your networking activities—it can be a great energy boost, and who knows who you might get to know!

What are you going to do to make 2012 the best year yet? I’d love to hear your own resolutions—just post a comment below.