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Sept 1992

Supervising superstars: talent and temperament. (managing talented accountants) (The CPA Manager)

by Osborne, Jayne E.

    Abstract- One of the challenges facing supervisors in an accounting firm is managing highly talented accountants. Aware of their above average abilities, these top performers often find it difficult to get along with their colleagues. Supervisors can minimize personnel problems involving high achiever personalities by adopting several measures. One of these is personally supervising top performers and having them work with other talented accountants when necessary. Another measure is having a plan for integrating the newly recruited achiever into the organization. Among the provisions that should be included in this plan are the definition of acceptable performance, demotivation of poor behavior and counselling of problem performers. Finally, it is the supervisors' decision to retain or let go of talented but disruptive performers.

Confident in their job skills or knowledge, potential superstars tend to become abrasive to others. This behavior may result in low morale among the other employees within your work unit.

Conducting the Maestro

You can begin by asking a potential superstar to report directly to you. This limits initial interaction with other team members and minimizes the opportunity for confrontation. If the project calls for more than one staff person, then try to partner two superstars on the same team.

Cross-train other staff members so that their combined skills can match those of your top talent. However, don't forget to get your rising star involved in the process. This should be done not only for the sake of diplomacy but also to get the person's opinion before making changes that affect his or her area of responsibility. Getting input before making changes ensures an easier "buy-in" when the time comes to implement plans.

Hiring a Hotshot

Realizing that supervising high achiever personalities requires time and energy, sometimes you probably wonder how wise it is to hire such a person. But let's face it, we all like to have wizards on our team, and the benefits to the organization can make hiring such a person a good gamble. When you do, develop a game plan to effectively integrate the newcomer into your team:

* Specify acceptable performance;

* Don't reward poor behavior;

* Confront problems head-on;

* Document problem issues;

* Counsel the individual toward proper behavior;

* Rely on peer pressure to reinforce group norms; and

* Reward progress in achieving new performance and behavioral standards.

The best and most strategic place to start reforming your highly talented person is at the job interview.

To identify the talented potential mavericks, ask applicants to describe their work style and provide examples of their ability to work as part of a team. If available, ask former supervisors to describe prior work situations and the candidates' ability to get along with others. Hesitancy in responses or an unwillingness to elaborate on statements made may indicate a potential problem.

To alert the potential prima donnas of the need to change should they work for you, review your management style and describe the culture of your team. For example: If you use a team approach to work assignments, let the applicant know he or she will be expected to pitch in and do whatever is assigned regardless of title or primary responsibility. Describe a typical day, including pressures and deadlines. Don't pull any punches when it comes to describing the downside of the position. Hint: ask one of your employees to provide the candidate with a tour of your office and explain how your team operates.

Once firmly ensconced in the organization, superstars often make demands on management. These requests include higher salaries, private offices, alternative work hours, or special privileges not normally awarded to peers. Addressing such demands require a cost-benefit analysis before responding. True, giving in to such demands may provide momentary relief from the pressure -- but be careful. The long-term results of this response can be devastating. Consider the effect on other employees and the precedent your decision will set before agreeing to unreasonable demands.

One way to handle this problem is to be prepared for such demands by planning now. Create a reward system that responds to the need for recognition, power, and money. Consider rewarding exceptional performance across the board. And be sure to publicize exceptional performance to other members of the team.

Be Aware--Be Prepared

Under the best circumstances, supervising superstars is challenging. When all is said and done, only you can decide whether the price for talented, temperamental personalities will pay off in improved productivity for your work group. If the gain is not worth the pain, you may have to part with your superstar, no matter how indispensable he or she may appear to be.

The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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