The People Paradox – Grinders Grind, They Don’t Advise

By Posted in - Public Blog on May 26th, 2014 10 Comments

The People Paradox Career Advice

Picture this.

A high school student visits the career guidance counsellor. After a couple of discussions, some testing, and profiling the student’s natural aptitudes, the guidance counsellor calls the student in to share her insights and suggestions.

The conversation goes something like this:

“You’re a great communicator,” she says. “You connect with people. I feel that you’re present and truly listening to me when we speak. You’re engaging and enthusiastic when you’re with people. You’re confident, and I get a strong sense that you like helping others. I can tell you're energised by interacting with others, and your profiling results support this. Basically, you’re a great ‘people person’.

“You know what? I have just the career for you. You should be an accountant.”

Never happens, does it? What’s far more likely is the conversation that will end like this:

“You’re good at maths. You’re good with numbers. Very logical and analytical.

“I have just the career for you. You should be an accountant.”

And so the number-crunching issue we covered in the previous Numbers Paradox post is perpetuated. The profession’s population continues to be dominated by Analyticals (or ‘Grinders’), creating recruiting challenges for accounting firms. And it’s all due to this People Paradox:

The People Paradox:

Accounting firms are advisory firms.

They want to sell and provide future-focused advisory services to their clients.

Yet they keep hiring people who are not suited to giving advice.

‘Grinders’ is a reference to the Minders, Grinders and Finders model often used to explain different roles within a professional services firm:

  • Minders are good at 'minding' client relationships
  • Grinders are good at 'grinding' through the technical work
  • Finders are good at finding new clients and engagements.

Minders love a client meeting.

Grinders love a task list.

Finders love a challenge.

This model, made popular by authors such as David Maister, is useful for understanding the different roles within a firm, and the need to match the natural strengths and aptitudes of team members to their position and achieve a balance of these abilities across a firm.

The Achille's Heel of the accounting profession, particularly in small- and medium-sized firms, is they are 'Grinder-heavy'. Team members, especially those in professional advisory roles, tend to be Analytical in their social style. (More about social styles in a moment.)

Of course, Analytical skills are essential for an accountant. But in many ways they are really ‘back office’ skills, not client-facing advisory skills.

Why do I say that?

As an accountant, if one of your business clients put production workers into client-facing roles, you'd question it, wouldn't you? You'd want to make sure they were matching the skill-set and natural aptitude of their employees with their roles.

It makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, a lot of accounting firms tend to do the opposite.

Let me give the Analytical and 'Grinder' terms some context.

In our work with accounting, financial planning and advisory firms we use a profiling tool called the Merrill-Reid Social Styles model, which pre-dates the similar and well-known DiSC® personality profiling tool. (I describe it as “DiSC without the royalties”.)

The Merrill-Reid model assesses two aspects of the way a person relates to others:

  1. Assertiveness
  2. Responsiveness.

The Assertiveness scale is a spectrum from Ask to Tell. Some people prefer to ask other what to do, while others are more than happy to tell others what they see needs to be done. Most of us sit somewhere along this spectrum, and where we sit—how we choose to behave—depends on the situation.

The Responsiveness scale is a spectrum from Task to People. People with a low-responsiveness profile would prefer to work through a list of tasks than communicate with or respond to others. Those with a high-responsiveness profile love speaking with and meeting with others.

Plotting these attributes against each other creates four quadrants: Amiable, Expressive, Driver and Analytical. And we all have elements of all four styles in our profile.

Minder Finder Grinder Reminder Social Styles

It's important to note that social style profiling isn’t about suggesting any particular quadrants or 'types' are superior or inferior to any others. Each has its role in a team, and achieving a balanced team in an advisory firm is crucial.

It's like a football team. You need a balance of different players across the back, mid-field and up front. A balanced team tends to be a winning team.

It's the same with the team in an accounting firm.

Sadly, having worked with accounting firms for many years, we’ve noticed that small- and medium-sized accounting firms typically lack this winning mix.

What are the symptoms of this team imbalance?

I'll never forget overhearing three accountants having a chat in the open-plan cubicle area of their firm. They'd just been in—and politely nodded and smiled their way through—a team meeting where the Principal of the firm spoke passionately about how their role as accountants was to help their clients achieve a better financial future through doing future-focused services, rather than solely doing their compliance work.

The conversation went like this:

"Man, I have so much work on."

"Me too."

"I hate it when the phone rings"

"Oh yeah, me too. The last thing I want is interruptions."

"And how about when clients want to come in and actually meet with you."

"Yeah, it's the worst."

"I hate client meetings."

[Laughter]

"Oh yes. I'm feeling your pain."

Client interactions as 'pain'?

And these 'advisors' are expected to learn about their clients' plans, hopes, aspirations, frustrations, fears and obstacles, and come up with solutions and make suggestions to improve their clients' lives?

It's never going to happen.

Never.

What underpins that 'I hate client meetings' conversation is simple.

People with a strong Analytical profile prefer to look at a spreadsheet than a person’s face. They'd prefer to work at their computer than meet with a client, because their Analytical social style is more task-focused and less people-focused.

Analyticals also tend to have lower Assertiveness, and often prefer to be told what to do rather than telling or suggesting to others what to do.

These types of people don’t help to grow and develop a firm other than by producing good quality work.

But that’s production work. Not advisory work. Not a client relationship management function.

For a firm to grow, it needs what we call True Advisors. (This is a level above being a Trusted Advisor. Being trusted is just the first rung of the ladder.)

True Advisors are people who make suggestions to clients. They grow the firm’s Clientshare™, and actively and ethically cross-sell appropriate additional services to clients. (Clientshare is a term we’ve coined to measure how many services your firm provides per client group.)

They are advisors, not order takers.

To be an advisor is to sell courses of action to clients that they are willing to pay for. It's as simple as that.

But making suggestions and, dare we say it, selling services to clients is more than an idea that doesn’t appeal to Analyticals. It positively frightens them.

Grinders don't want to do it. Their belief system includes mantras such as:

  • "If a client wants something, they'll ask for it."
  • "Our clients won't pay for those extra services."
  • "I don't sell anything to anyone." (Often proudly.)

Indeed.

Accounting profession benchmarking survey results support this. Nine out of ten firms state they’d like to provide more value-add advisory services to their clients, but only one in ten actually achieves this to any significant degree.

Nine want to.

One achieves it.

We call this gulf between intention and execution in the accounting profession The Value-Add Chasm. It's not a wide chasm—we teach firms how to cross it—but it is a deep abyss that most firms either fear to cross, or fall into when they try.

The answer to solving this serious issue within the accounting profession isn’t a piece of software, or a checklist, or a client needs review questionnaire. Yes, these are useful tools. But in the wrong hands these tools are just potential.

Unrealised potential.

So what are the practical steps to addressing this Grinder-heavy imbalance in an accounting firm?

We'll cover that in our next post.

What’s been your experience in getting your accountants to meet with clients? To make suggestions and successfully sell value-add advisory services to clients? What frustrations have you experienced? And what has worked well for you? We’d love to hear about it in the Comments below.

Portions of post originally appeared as Chapters 1 and 2 in The True Advisor eBook by MC Carter.

End Note: This blog post will form the basis of a chapter in the upcoming book, The Practice Paradox – Reinventing The Accounting Profession by Michael ‘MC’ Carter, founder of PARADOX.

We’d love your feedback on this chapter. Enter a Comment below. (Tip: Commenting on blogs is good for your website’s own SEO and Google ranking, in case you needed an extra nudge!) We’ll reply to all Comments.

  • Great article MC. Loved this approach from when I first saw you present it at Xerocon 2 years ago.

    This grinder heavy approach was definitely our experience a few years back. The challenge is finding grads and staff who have the natural assertiveness to become finders and minders (albeit over time in most cases). Unfortunately our experience with the grinder heavy approach led to little growth until we saw the light and freed up the finders from the grinding.

    It is still important to have the mix of all 4 types though to find the clients and then make sure they are serviced as this is what retains the clients and creates growth. No point finding the clients and then losing them out the back door if the work isn’t being delivered.

    Another option is to outsource some of the grinding tasks to focus on the finding and minding without the fixed overhead costs.

    • Michael Carter says:

      Hi Greg. And thanks for your comment.

      Absolutely re having a mix of all 4 types. It’s essential. And these days, yes, aspects of the Grinding and Reminding quadrants can be fulfilled by outsourced/insourced/remote team members. Great point.

      Freeing up the natural Finders from the Grinding is a tipping point for any firm in achieving growth. Glad to hear you achieved that. It’s easier said than done, but essential as a firm grows.

      As a member of our Modern Marketing Academy, have a look at the 1-hour “The Winning Mix – Building A Great Team” (https://practiceparadox.customerhub.net/management) as you’ll see some actual examples of the mix in different (anonymous!) accounting firms, and across different levels of seniority in firms, based on data we have gathered over the years via our social style profiling tool at https://practiceparadox.com.au/whats-your-profile/step-2/

      In that video we also discuss the importance of having two separate career tracks for professional staff, based on their natural leaning re assertiveness and expressiveness. Having two different career tracks in a firm ensures you get the right people in the right roles, and you don’t try to turn great Grinders, for example, into Finders because it’s never going to succeed and will only result in stress for all involved. I love the saying I first heard Ric Payne say years ago, “Don’t teach elephants to dance. It annoys the elephants, and wastes your time.”

      Get the mix right, and you not only have a productive team giving a well-rounded, high quality client experience, but you have a happy team who are “on profile” in what their KPIs and expectations are.

  • Patrick says:

    Almost everybody would like to be “a people person”.
    The sad fact is that we must have persons to do the accounting drudgery.

    • Michael Carter says:

      Thanks for your comment Patrick. Not everyone is all that keen on being a people person. People with a high Analytical profile (social style) are more than happy to work through their task/job list, and avoid direct client contact. I’ve witnessed that many times. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just a matter of matching peoples’ natural social style with their role.

      It’s interesting to see the new approaches firms are taking to resourcing the lower level tax and compliance work. A combination of technology/automation and the globalisation of the workforce is seeing some accounting businesses evolve to having mainly Minders and Finders on the ground (in their country), and having large portions of the Grinding and Reminding done overseas. It’s a fascinating time of flux and innovation in the profession.

  • Cathy says:

    Thanks for the insights provided in this article and other blogs. I took advantage of the profiling but am not sure what the results mean! I’m stuck being a grinder (which I’m good at) but would love to be the one communicating better tools now available to SME’s because of cloud accounting but have no idea which quadrant i fall into. My results were driver – dominance, expressive – influence, amiable-steadiness, analytical – conscientious. I’m starting my own business. – does this mean i have what it takes?

    • Michael Carter says:

      Hi Cathy

      Thanks for your comment. What were your 4 totals across Driver, Expressive, Amiable and Analytical? Each gets a score up to a maximum of 14.

      I’ll then interpret those results for you, and add some further context around what your profile means.

      Cheers
      MC

  • Cathy says:

    Thanks (again) MC. Results were – Driver Total: 7, Expressive Total: 9, Amiable Total: 13, Analytical Total: 13

    • Michael Carter says:

      Hi Cathy

      14 is the maximum score in each. Your profile (with the higher scores on Amiable and Analytical) supports your comment that you’re good at the Grinding work. Your Driver total (in the middle) suggests you could further develop your assertiveness (which includes willingness to ‘tell’ others — e.g. make suggestions — not just ‘ask’ them what they want done). This is essential for effectively growing your advisory business. Your Expressiveness is moderate, which suggests you can engage clients in conversation and run a good advisory meeting.

      The best way I know for someone to develop their assertiveness and confidence, is to develop their public speaking ability. For many, this is such a ‘scary’ thing to do (I used to have a massive fear of speaking to groups — a phobia, in fact), that conquering that fear then makes other situations — such as an advisory meeting where you are making suggestions, and therefore risking rejection — a piece of cake.

      We have an in-depth “Winning Mix” video that explains the profiling in more depth as it applies to building a team and growing an accounting or advisory firm. It’s an hour or so in length and is a members-only-resource inside the PARADOX Platform. If you’re considering starting a firm, PARADOX is a resource and support for guiding your strategy, marketing/comms and development. (We have a Quick Tour of our services that can be made available to you — videos explaining how we help firms — it’s not publicly available on the website but you can request access here. Not sure if you have heard of the firm Growthwise. They were Xero Partner of the Year in Australia 2 years ago. We were chuffed to see what they had to say about us in their eNewsletter last week, commemorating 5 years for the firm, where they have doubled in revenue and grown profitability each year on year.)

      For an in-depth understanding of the Merrill-Reid Social Styles Model, have a read of Personal Styles & Effective Performance.

      In short, the answer to your question, “Does this mean I have what it takes?” is, Yes, if you develop your assertiveness some more so that you’re not afraid of making suggestions (and dare we say it, “selling” courses of action) to your clients.

      Shout out if you have further questions about any of that.

  • Cathy says:

    Thanks so much for your comments MC – love what you guys are doing and I’ll have a look at the links you’ve suggested. All the best. Cathy

    • Michael Carter says:

      Brilliant! I see you have applied for the Quick Tour access. I look forward to your feedback on that and then stepping you through the Marketing Gap Analysis process after that, should you choose that option. Speak soon.

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