2.6 Out of 5 Stars: Why Accountants are Unhappy and What To Do About It

2.6 out of five stars : Accountants rank in the bottom 6% of careers for happiness. Why is this and what can we do about it? In today's episode I'm speaking with Donny Shimamoto to get his perspective on how employers, employees, and the industry at large can work to change this.

[00:00:00] Thank you to our sponsor, Avalara

Lorilyn: Avalara proudly sponsors this podcast series about accountants, by accountants, and featuring some of the best thought leaders in the industry.

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[00:00:23] Introduction
Lorilyn: Hey everyone. This is Lorilyn, and you're listening to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Accounting Podcast. More accountants than ever are experimenting and shaping our profession in new and interesting ways. On this show, I sit down with these rock stars to discuss the ideas, the opportunities, the struggles, and the strategies that they're taking advantage of so the rest of us can do the same.

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[00:01:02] What the episode is about and background on Donny

Lorilyn: 2.6 out of 5 stars - accountants rank in the bottom 6% of careers for happiness. Why is this, and what can we do about it? In today's episode, I'm speaking with Donny Shimamoto to get his perspective on how employers, employees, and the industry at large can work to change this. So, I got sent over Donny's bio, and let me just tell you it reads like a lifetime achievement award.

It is incredibly impressive, but Donny is the founder and managing director of Enterprise Technologies, LLC, an advisory-focused CPA firm focused on innovation, acceleration, and organizational development for small businesses, middle market organizations and not for profits. In addition to being an industry thought leader, he's been awarded- and it sounds like most deservedly- a ton of different accolades.
And so, we're really excited to have him here- he's been in the industry for a couple decades now- and get his perspective on the careers for accountants and why we are so unhappy. So, thank you so much, Donny, for being here with us.

Donny: You're welcome, and thank you for having me and all the nice words you said about me.

Lorilyn: Just- this is actually just going to be a huge hype episode for you. Just to get me to spend it all talking about how awesome Donny is. So, Donny, tell us kind of in your own words, how you- where you started, and how you got to where you are.

Donny: Sure. So, I just- well, if we go really where I started, so I first got exposed to-

Lorilyn: Yeah, all the way back to the beginning.

Donny: I first got exposed to accounting in high school. I think it was my sophomore year. I took the first accounting course, found it super easy, was just natural. So, you might say I'm kind of a natural accountant. We even- funny enough, we actually had a new teacher. So, she had just finished earning her degree to teach, it was her first job. We were going through the accounting and then she would look at me and go, “Is that answer correct?”

Then it was like- yeah, it was funny. So, it's kind of what started back then, also started in technology at the year afterwards- actual technology actually started way earlier. ‘Cause I've been programming since about seven or eight, but went over into college where I actually did a dual Bachelor's degree in Accounting and Management Information Systems under the guidance of a controller that I was working for, just before my senior year in high school.

It was like, “You got to go down this path because technology is the key.” This is in the early 90s. So, he's like, “Technology is going to be the key. You're going to want to do these two together ‘cause that's really where the power is.” So, I did that in college, ended up interning at Pricewater- actually, Coopers & Lybrand, which gives you a feel for my age. Eventually, into PricewaterhouseCoopers but I did both financial and IT audit. And then I went into the consulting side, and that's where I've been for the last 20 years, is really working on the consulting side.

Lorilyn: Yeah. Okay. So, I don't know if you guys are watching the video, but this man does not look a day over like 39. So, when you said early 90s, I'm like, in my head, I was like, “So, when I was in early elementary school.” So, but that's really cool though, to hear, that you have- you've seen kind of both sides of the industry, both the Big Four side, and then, you know, your own consulting side and whatnot. ‘Cause I think that perspective's really important to this conversation. Because there is such a difference of culture, but then there's a lot of overlap as well. So, the fact that you can kind of speak to both sides of it, I think is really important, and I think that viewpoint to bring in is very important as well.

Donny: I definitely agree with you there. I think even though I was with a Big Four, I- because I was with a small office, and eventually, PwC actually closed its Hawaii office. So, that's how small we were. When they became PwC, they were like, “You guys are not even big enough.” And we were- we were the 80% office, so it's not like we were really small. They were like, “You're not big enough, we don't want you.” So, they split the office off.

But I think that's kind of the change we've seen in the industry as a whole now, because even in talking with even the mid-sized firms or even some of the mid-sized firms now, I'm asking them about, you know, who are you hiring from? Are you hiring from these large Big Four people? And they say- actually, I've been hearing a lot of them say, “Actually, no, we don't really like them because they don't- they're not getting enough exposure, and they're stuck kind of doing this one thing.

And they- you know, they're so narrow and there's- they only know this one way to do things,” compared to people that come from what's more like what I came from, which is like a mid-sized or a larger- the lower end of the larger firms. Like where we get exposed to a lot more, we touch a lot of different things. So, I think that's actually really important to raise, is that- because tied back to what we're talking about, a lot of the complaints and things that we hear, I think are from people working in very large firms.

And of course, it's like pain, right? The part people in pain are the ones that are going to complain and be the most vocal. And we don't see enough of those of us that love what we do, that are really engaged in the profession, in working with our clients, and really, just love the profession.

Lorilyn: Yeah. Yeah. No, absolutely. And I think it's hard because, you know, I'm- I kind of come from a little different background in that I didn't take my first accounting course till five years after I'd graduated from undergrad, when I decided I was going to go back to school and become a CPA. But I know anyone who is in undergrad accounting, who are they being exposed to? They're being exposed to the Big Four ‘cause that’s who has money to go on all these college campuses and, you know, wine and dine these very naive 21 and 22-year-olds, you know?

But I mean, I kind of knew that that was a little bit of a blessing ‘cause I know who I am. Like, I am a people pleaser. You know, I want to climb the ranks I want to work for the best, and I know if I would have majored in accounting, like, that would have been my path. I would have been straight into the Big Four, you know? But since I did it later, like, by the time I’d- you know, I was already married when I went back to school. A month of going back to school, I was- found that I was pregnant with my first child.

So, by the time I finished all my accounting courses, working for the Big Four wasn't an option, you know? I'm like, “I have a one-year-old. I can't go work 80 hours a week.” So, I was kind of forced into working for a more small local firm, which I can talk about that a little later. That ended up being super toxic. But I'm kind of happy that I skipped that whole Big Four route because it's a little bit of a churn and burn environment, you know? I think the average lifetime- or not the average lifetime- but the average, like, work cycle of someone there, out within two years, you know?

[00:07:45] Why do you think accountants are unhappy?

Lorilyn: So, all right. So, in your experience ‘cause you have, you know, you've seen it all, why do you think right now accountants are unhappy?

Donny: I really think it is just being overwhelmed with everything. And I was- I always start to come back- well, actually, let's talk about the everything. So, to me the everything, all the changes in tax law, right, going through the pandemic with all the PPP craziness, which affected tax people, affected client accounting, even affected audit and looking at everything, right? Everyone was really affected just a lot, and it's just been compounding and compounding.

And that's why I hear, year after year, we talk about the people crisis right now, but there's been a people crisis since- I think I hear other people saying, “Well, we've been in people crisis since the 90s.” And I think that's just always true. The big thing for me, especially me, having the dual technology training, is coming back and looking at it and say, “Well, there's been technology that's been around for so long, and the pandemic actually forced people to adopt it.” Like, you look at things like instant messaging, which is essentially, the chat on the computer, like when I started my firm in 2001, we used AOL instant messenger at that time, for communicating.

Lorilyn: Yes, AIM.

Donny: But we used it in our firms. So, we had adopted it 20 years ago, right?

Lorilyn: Oh, wow. That’s incredible.

Donny: And think about when Skype came out. ‘Cause we also used to use Skype- what Skype for business, but Skype, we used to use that to hold our meetings. Because we were the small firm and we couldn't afford video conferencing, but we wanted to be able to have, you know, these real-time meetings with staff that we were working with. And so, it's really like these technologies have been around forever, and only now is the profession kind of catching up and starting to utilize that.

And it's true not just in this meeting in this hybrid work context, but it's also within workflow, within data analytics, like all of this stuff, you know, a lot of what people are putting forward now, like what is now this data analytics movement is what the business intelligence movement was, that actually started in the 90s. So, these are not like new, earth-shattering, breaking technologies. These are things that have been around.

It's just that it's coming around again, and it's time for people to adopt it because that's what's gonna actually help make accounting better. It'll get rid of all that grunt work and let us focus on why I think a lot of us became accountants, which is to work on more of the analysis, the strategy, the problem solving, and to really help people and businesses be more successful.

[00:10:13] Thank you to our sponsor, Avalara

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[00:10:51] Why has the accounting industry been so slow to adopt new technology

Lorilyn: Yeah. Now, do you think part of the reason- and this- I have my own theory about this, but I want to hear yours- why has our industry been so slow to adopt those technologies that have been around for 20 years?

Donny: Well, I think a lot of people like to say that part of it is because accountants are so conservative. And I look at it and I go, “Okay, yeah, in general. And I- in a lot of ways, of course, that's a good thing because we don't want accountants that are all at the bleeding edge, and bringing all this risk in. ‘Cause that's also the side of like, if you look at audit, the thing that audit does is it looks at risk, whether risk is reasonable or not, right? To kind of mitigate that risk.

So, just by nature, we are more conservative as a profession. But the other thing that I think is really changing, or perhaps, one of the barriers as you've asked, is historically, the way the work has been done has been led by the partners who tend to be older, who tend to be more change-averse, and it's also tied into their income, which if I'm going to spend money on this technology instead, it's coming out of my pocket, that's the downside of working for a smaller or even a midsize firm, where if the firm owner is really just looking at it as their money, what are they spending their money on, that could be a downside.

And so, there's a- there's I think, a lot of different reasons why we may not have seen that occur. But again, kind of, we're at this point now where there's this big shift, and the fact that we need and we're starting to embrace other disciplines within accounting to utilize an IT person, to utilize, you know, as a scientist for ESG reporting, like, all of these other disciplines are starting to be brought into the firms into the way that we do accounting. And that is, I think, going to open up a lot more doors.

Lorilyn: Yeah. Yeah. And the one point you touched on that, I'm like, “I would die on this hill,” is I think that it's the income, you know? It's like it's affecting their income, and they're not seeing it as an investment- dumb accounting joke- they're seeing it as an expense, you know? But I mean, here's the thing. Their model has worked. It's worked for years and you know, they've made good money. So, why would they change, you know? If it's only going to affect their bottom line, 5% , 6%, like they're like, “Ah, it's too much,” you know? And so, I think that's has been part of the issue, in my opinion, is this just like, “Well, why would I change this? I'm making good money, you know, and I can still get people to do this work.” But then now, the problem is you can't get people to do work.

Donny: Exactly.

Lorilyn: You know? And so, it's like, I feel like they've been kicking this can down the road and then, you know, obviously, COVID has been horrible, but I think that's like just the one good thing that's come out about- come out from it, is it's really forced these firms. And then I would call, you know, dinosaur firms or a lot of times, toxic firms, to adapt way more quickly than they would have, like- or if they probably would have never adopted. They probably would have done it until these partners retired and then, you know, sold their firm for pennies on the dollars ‘cause he wants to come in and buy a firm where you have to completely redo all the systems and processes and retrain everyone. So-

Donny: Exactly.

Lorilyn: Yeah. No, I'm totally in alignment with you on that.

[00:14:10] Do you think there's a culture in the industry that

Lorilyn: Do you think- do you think- like, kind of building on that- like, do you think there's a culture in the industry as a whole, you know, outside of people saying, “Oh, we're more conservative,” like, you know, do you think it is more just like people- it's money? Like, do you think there's anything else going in- going at play or happening here that's causing this?

Donny: Yeah. ‘Cause I won't put everything on the people per se. The- you know, when I look at the vendors, even- like, a lot of what I do today is I help firms or regular businesses figure out their tech stacks, and what's going to work together and what doesn't work together. And the challenge even I see, even for my own firm, is there isn't something that all works together really nicely. There isn't a cohesive solution. Everyone kind of does this little thing.

And with the start of the move to the cloud, we kept hearing best of breed, best of breed, best of breed, right? So, do all these things but now, I’ve got 50 million passwords that I have to manage, and I have to figure out which system do I go in to do this or that, and depends on which client I'm working with, right? Then I- like, it's just created all of this additional complexity that now we're starting to see more consolidation as some of the larger players start to buy up smaller players, right, and integrate the functionality.

And so, I think it's partly to blame- if we're going to call it that- it's also the software vendors, that they're really not looking at the whole picture. They're really just trying to meet this need, or kind of keep up with each other on the table stakes but no one's really bringing a great holistic solution to bear.

Lorilyn: Oh, I know. And I'm like, I'm so guilty, too, of building a tech stack and then seeing something new shiny in the corner of my eye, and being like, “Oh, maybe I need to replace that app with this new app.” And which, let me tell you, staff do not like it if you are consistently changing over apps. That is-

Donny: Oh, I'm very familiar with that. Like, part of our firm is we- I call it eating our own dog food. So, every time I see a new app, I'm like- and especially since we help others understand the technology, I'm like, “We gotta try it.” So, my staff’s like, “Oh, you found another one?” And I'm like, “Yeah, we're just going to try it with this team, and we're going to see.” So then, that team now has to learn this new app. But to me, that's also part of testing.

It's like, how easy is it for them to learn? Can we actually take what we're doing, which we already know is good and works in this other app, and can we- is it a way- is it easy for us to take that model or that framework and apply it in this app? Does it actually do the same things or what are the nuances? So, that's where for us it's been very interesting to see the apps, kind of side by side, to say, “Well, this app will do this, this app does the same thing, but it's a little different. You got think of it this way.”

But it becomes kind of this- which then also makes it harder because then, when people look at it, they go, “Well, which one do I use?” They all kind of look the same, and you really need to understand the nuances of the way one app or something versus the other, and then what are the implications to the way that your team would work or how you comply with standards? Which is another thing that complicates, I think, some of the technology adoption. There’s digital challenges.

Lorilyn: Yeah. Honestly, like- oh, 100 percent. And what you're speaking on is like change- it's kind of like change management, but that, like, app review management, all that, that could be a whole like episode or series in itself. ‘Cause like, I'm sure there's tons of firm owners out there who would love to know. Like, someone gave me a process for doing it because there are. It's hard, and especially like the larger your team is, the harder it's gonna become, and the harder- more pushback you'll get. And so, write that down someone. Do a podcast series on that.

[00:17:58] Is there a generational difference in what makes us happy?

Lorilyn: Do you think too, because I mean, you're a different generation than I, and so, it'd be interesting to get your perspective on this. I'm wondering too, generationally, why we- like, my- I'm a millennial. We're unhappy because what makes us happy is not the same as what made boomers happy. Can you speak at all to that? Like, how you think this kind of change in how millennials and the generation below us, where they- Gen Z- are thinking about work, and work life, and balance in general, and how that's kind of driving this as well?

Donny: I actually don't think it's so much that there's a different value. I actually think it's a matter of patience. And so, the boomers- and even I'm part of gen X, you know? We're a lot more, I think, willing to wait to go through that process of, “Okay, I understand I have to pay my dues and earn my way to a certain point.” And I think we just don't see that in millennials.

It's part of that learned immediate gratification type of thing, for better or worse. I always laugh too because I hear the boomers all complain about the millennials, and I'm like, “These are all your kids. So, you guys are the ones that caused all the problems. So, stop complaining because you're part of the problem. You let- you raised your kid to do want- what they want and to have that, you know, to be able to have this better lifestyle and everything.

And so, we need to embrace that that's per se part of that new normal or, you know, what's happening. But, you know, in the end, I think we all kind of want similar things. It's to spend more times with those that we care about. And I don't think any of us would turn that down if that opportunity occurred. I think all of us want, especially in accounting, to help others be more successful. So, whether it's our clients, whether it's our team members, whether it's those that we're hiring, right?

And the difference, I think, again, is kind of just this concept of patients of, “Well, do I want to keep doing things the same way and wait until I retire?” And some of it is, “Am I, as a millennial or even as an X, willing to wait until the partner's going to retire, and then I can change things to be what I want it to be?” I don't know that we still see that anymore, and I don't know we see the need for that anymore. One of the biggest things I see is more and more younger accountants actually starting their own firms and saying- ‘cause now, you can spin up office 365 or Google Enterprise and you've got essentially, a corporate infrastructure already built out for you that you- before, there was a monetary barrier to that.

Lorilyn: Yeah. The barrier to entries is, you know, non-existent, compared to, you know, if you were starting a firm 30 years ago. I think like, I'll be the first to admit as a millennial, like we definitely, or at least I do, we bite the hand that feeds us, in the sense that it's like, “Well, yes, we're this way, but you created us this way.” And I- like, you know, and I think part of that is too, like, think of millennials, what we went through. Like, we watched 9/11 happen. We experienced, like as we were coming out of college, the huge market crash happened.

And so, it's just like our entire growing up has been like one trauma kind of after another, you know? And then we've seen as well like, you know, we've seen these- and not to make it like capitalism or socialism thing, but like we're watching these individuals and corporations, you know, their profits skyrocket, and then all these workers’ wages being kept low. So, it's like the people at the top are being fed and the people at the bottom aren't. And instead of- and I- and the wage disparity obviously, is a lot different now than it was 40, 50 years ago.

So, millennials are looking at that and being like, “Wait, wait a second. That's messed up.” And so, I think we're a lot more likely than the Boomer generation to kind of push back against that inequality, and being like, “Well, what makes you so special to make those wages? But I could do what you're doing, I see what you do. I could do that.” And then hence, “Well, I'm just going to go start my own firm,” you know? “I'm going to go or I'm going to work for this other firm that more aligns with that.” So.

Donny: Right. Right.

[00:22:00] Do I still have more to learn from previous generations?

Donny: And that's where too, I think there's a big- I think a lot of millennials are missing a really big point, and they don't see it because they haven't hit it yet where the experience, you know? So, someone like me at the tail end of Gen X, where I've kind of seen both sides it really, really worries me. And I mean, you’ve see my resume, right? You said it's pretty impressive, but I still worry that I don't know everything that that generation before us knows. ‘Cause I still sit down with some of them and I'm like, “Oh, I never thought about that,” or, “I didn't think about it from that perspective.”

You know, I was working with a client this week and they talked about, you know, one of the EVPs in their company, he's not stopping them from doing stuff, but he's also not pushing them forward. So, they were complaining about him and I said, “Well, as long as he's not stopping you, that's not that bad.” And I said, “Well, does he contribute?” They said, “Well, what he does is he contributes this different perspective.” He said, “Well, this is why it was like that or this- have you thought about this and that? ‘Cause this is why something was done a particular way.” And they were- they said, “You know, sometimes, it's like, “Oh, no, we never thought about it that way. That's interesting.” Right?

And so, I think it's really about all of the generations learning to value each other more, rather than fight against each other, or disparage each other, to really just sit and listen. And there's these grains of insight that we can gain from each other. And then it's a balancing of all of these different things that will help make all of us happier in what we're doing.

Lorilyn: I totally agree with that. One of my business partners in another business I have, he's 30 years older than me. You know? And I love it ‘cause it is- it's, he brings in a totally different perspective, a totally different background, wealth of experience that's just, you know, so invaluable and, you know, it's very- we're very complimentary in our skillset. So, and it’s- you know, I wouldn't trade him for the world. ‘Cause I just- I love what he brings to the table ‘cause it's just so different from what I could get from anyone, you know, who's a millennial like me. So, yup. Hey, love, not war, everyone.

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[00:24:59] How would you personally rank your happiness now compared to the start of your career?

Lorilyn: All right. So, how would you personally rank your happiness now, versus the beginning of your career, and what changed? What contributed to that change? Because I'm assuming you're going to say you're happier now than when you first started, but maybe you're not, so.

Donny: I dunno if I would say I'm happier. I would say in a lot of ways, I’m- I was going to see more content, but I don't know if that's actually the right word either. So, at the beginning of my career, I was very driven. I had very clear goals. It was to be a Big Four partner at the very beginning, right? And then eventu- and then it was to own my own firm, which then I started. That was 20 years ago. So, you know, having accomplished all that kind of things, I bought my first house back then as well. So, like, all of that's kind of gone. And now, if you ask me, am I happy in doing what I do?

I love what I do. I love working with my clients. I love the way that we do things. I love pushing the profession forward, and being a part of that. I mean, that was one of the big realizations for me around 2009, when I went to the AICPA’s leadership academy. It opened up my eyes to the broader profession, and the fact that we're not someone working in an accounting firm, we're part of this global profession, that really, is enacting and making commerce happen and across the world.

And that's even more true today, as we look at globalization and the- you know, the impact that like, what's going on in Russia, or what happens in China and how that impacts even us in the U.S., right? So, that, I really feel even more impassioned. So, the reason I hesitate is because when I say, well, we have so much to do, we have this dissatisfaction to deal with. We have technology adoption to drive. We have changes in the way that people are making decisions. Like, the whole moving forward of this ESG reporting and all the concepts that are associated therein, you know, we have all of this work to do.

So, when I look at it now, I feel like, man, there's so much more that we're having to deal with. There's so much more that we need to do, compared to back then I would've been like, “Well, I just need to finish doing this and then I'll be able to get the promotion I wanted.”

Lorilyn: Yeah. Yeah. So, you have a very much industry-wide view. Like, your happiness or your- I guess what you're driving toward is you're really focused on, how can I make the industry better as a whole, versus, how can I make changes within my firm to make me happier? Am I hearing that right?

Donny: Actually, I would go beyond that. So, you know, I always- actually, if you looked at my LinkedIn profile, it actually says, “Improving the world, one accountant at a time.”

Lorilyn: I love that.

Donny: So, it's not just about improving our industry, it's really about improving the world. And that was what I tapped into when I looked at, you know, what really gave me satisfaction? What gives me satisfaction in my job is helping that client, and you know, get- really giving them- I always tell my staff, “It's these- one of these three things.” So, first, it’s either we're giving them peace of mind. So, whether it's- we've implemented the right cybersecurity controls, we've got everything secured. We know we're not going to have a data breach, we're not going to get hacked. So, peace of mind.

In the tax side, you know- we don't do tax, but in the tax side, for example, it would be, they've received that IRS letter and you're like, “Don't worry. You're not going to lose your house. Right? You're going to be okay. You're going to get through this audit.” That's that peace of mind. And with the pandemic and PPP, it was, “Don't worry. You're going to be able to stay in business. We'll figure out how to get payroll. We'll get you this PPP money,” right? That's part of what we do as accountants, is work with these small-business owners or individuals to say, “Hey, we can help you achieve your goals.”

The second thing I feel like we provide is vision and clarity. So, it's really around, where do you see yourself three to five years from now? What are those goals? So, at an individual level, it's, you know, I have kids, they’re in school. I own a house. In the business level, it's, “My business has done this, we've- right- broken into this market. We've grown in this way, whatever the- or we've transitioned from this generation to that generation,” whatever that vision is, we then help build out that plan and that roadmap that says, “Well, you have to save this and do- put this in your 401k, or from a business standpoint, here are the changes that you need to enact to make that happen,” right?

So, being able to provide that vision and clarity, which in the end, to me, both of those feed back into hope. And a lot of times, when I say that, people go, “Accountants provide hope?” Like, that doesn't sound like that matches. But when you talk to the clients where you've really had an impact, that's what it was, you know? I think about one of the most meaningful- two of the most meaningful experiences I had. One was when I was an IT auditor. This is me at 20 something years. So, 22 or 23 years old. I was going in to audit the IT department at this big State Department at one of- the State of Hawaii.

And the IT director, probably 40-something-year-old, maybe even 50-year-old guy, like, breaks down crying to me because I'm asking him about, “Are you getting support from management,” and, you know, all this stuff and he's like, “No, I'm not. I keep asking for funds. I'm trying to get funds for this, and blah blah blah.” And he just broke down. And I'm 23 years old simply going, “Okay, I've got this grown man crying. What do I say? What do I do?” Right?

And I just had to sit there and say- I'm like, “I'm so sorry to hear that. Well, the good news for you is that I can write some of this up because I agree with you that some of this is needed. It's actually the internal controls weakness, you know? I can start to do that,” and you see them kind of pull themselves together. And he had hoped that now, he was going to be able to get what he needed to really, properly secure it on the department and things.

So, that, you know, that was kind of one. Another one was really, a consulting client where she came- the CEO of a nonprofit came to me and she was like, “I don't know if we're going to have enough money to get through, and she's- someone said you could help me.” And I said, “Well, I'm not a financial-planner-type person. And she goes- she explained to me what she needed. She really needed a budgeting and planning system. So, I said, “Oh, okay. No, no, no, no. This is what we need to do for you to get you visibility into your costs. We are going to apply management accounting principles to figure out how much it costs for you to deliver services to each foster child. That's what they did.

Lorilyn: Yup.

Donny: She's literally crying, telling me and explaining to me what's happening. And so, then once I explained the solution to her, she kind of brightened up, you know? She dried her tears and they were kind of wrapping up, and she goes- she stands up and she goes, “Can I just give you a hug?” And I was like, “We're gonna have to, of course.” And again, it was that hope, right? I gave her that vision and that clarity around, “This is what you need and this is how you're going to be able to continue operating.” And that's that hope of, “Okay.” And she left and she was happy- and she's actually still a client today. That was, I think, over 10 years ago.

Lorilyn: Wow. Okay. So, I'm hearing a theme here in everything you're saying.

[00:32:23] What plays the biggest role in workplace happiness?

Lorilyn:. So, I would ask you then- and I think I know what you're going to say- if we were to take three things, salary, meaning and work environment in how it relates to workplace happiness, which do you think is the most important and why?

Donny: I actually think it's all three, you know? And this is where I think people like to latch onto one or another. And it's only when we actually have balance in our life that then we are happy. Because if you don't have enough money, you're struggling for food, you know, struggling for shelter, right? That's going to affect everything else. If you are not having meaningful work- and this is I think what we hear a lot of the complaints in our profession about, the work is not meaningful, right? Then then you're also not going to be happy. And sorry, what was your third one?

Lorilyn: Work environment. Like, kind of the culture of where you are. Yeah.

Donny: So, kind of same thing there, right? I could be- I could love my work, but be at a firm or a company where I don't like my coworkers, or it's a very toxic work environment. Unless you have something that's holding you there, that is the purpose maybe of where we're really doing really good work- non-profit is a good example of this- where they'll often say, “Well, I'm willing to take a lower salary. I'm okay kind of working under not the greatest conditions because our work is really meaningful, and I'm impacting a constituency that really needs me and what I do,” right? But it's still, if I can get all three, then I really can feel like I'm doing great things, and I'm happy. Not just content, but I'm actually happy doing what I do.

[00:34:06] What kind of accountants are happiest?

Lorilyn: Yeah. So then, kind of building on that, do you know what kind of accountants are happiest?

Donny: I actually think it's those that find these experiences like I've described. So, to me, it's the ones that are really helping give our clients peace of mind, that we're helping our clients have vision clarity about the future. And in the end, we're giving them that spark of hope. That's going to be the most meaningful work. It's also the highest value. It's advisory work. So, you get paid the higher dollars. We all know it, right? Advisory and consulting gets paid more than compliance.

And the personality and the culture that's needed to do this type of work is more innovative. It's more thoughtful. It's broader thinking. And so, I think you're going to get all three of those elements if you're really starting to work with others that embrace these types of elements or these three outcomes.

Lorilyn: Yeah. Yeah. And the word that you said that I'm going to stick with is meaning or meaningful. And what this study showed was it's accountants who work with nonprofits or in the education sector, because they feel like they're actually improving people's lives by doing that. And so, this is like- this is such a dumb example, but it just rings so true to me. So, my dad was a- was, he is. He's a doctor, okay? And what he did for the first, you know, 20 years of my life, was he was a general surgeon, and he worked in the ER. So, he would do a lot of life saving procedures, okay?

And I liken this a little to compliance work, all right? You're in there ‘cause you have to be, not ‘cause you wanna be, okay? And what was interesting was after he’d done that for 20 years, he switched his practice and started doing cosmetic surgeries. Very specifically, varicose vein surgery. So, if people don't know what that is, it's when you have painful, unsightly veins in your legs. You can do different procedures and you can get rid of them. He said his patients were so much more thankful and happy and excited after their cosmetic procedure, you know? They would just lavish thankfulness on him because they could wear shorts and feel comfortable.

Whereas the people he would save their lives, they were like, “Oh, you know, thanks. Cool,” you know? And so, that's how I kind of view compliance work, versus all this kind of other value added work, both from your perspective as a practitioner and what the client's receiving in the value they're receiving, and what they value is that other work. It's not this thing I did because I had to do it because I didn't want to go to jail. It’s this, “Oh, my gosh. You gave me this information that I didn't have before, and it's changing my life.”

Donny: Well, I think it's both, and this is one of the things that I don't like about the way some people talk about advisory work. ‘Cause they're like, “Everyone needs to switch to advisory work.” And in my head, I'm like, “If everyone switches to advisory work, then we don't have compliance being done. And if you think about advisory work, if you're doing financials or forecasting, if you're far costing off of bad days is where the compliance work is making sure that you have good data then your advisory is going to be off as well.” So, I think people need to realize that compliance work has a place. It's going to be automated a lot more. It may not feel as sexy, you know, but-

Lorilyn: Yeah. It's not-

Donny: It does need to be done and it needs to be done well for us in advisory to do our part.
Lorilyn: Yeah. Yeah. No, I agree. And for people who don't know, like, we're recording right now. It's on 4:13. So, you can imagine there is a lot of salty accountants on Twitter right now. And a lot of them are like, “I just don't know how much longer I can do this.” And it's because a lot of them, it's because they just do that compliance piece. But I am 100 percent on board with you. Like, you have to have the compliance to do the advisory.

And so- and I think this is a good thing in the sense that accountants, especially ones who just run compliance firms, are like, “This isn't it. This is not making me happy.” But then being able to be like, “Wait, but I can add on now these advisory services, change my practice, and become happier.” Like, I have seen more than one accountant tweet, you know, in the past week, that like, “All right. It's my monthly clients only I'm keeping us compliance,” you know? Or, “If someone does want me to do their compliance, they have to work with me year round.” So, I love that people are starting to get fed up with it, because ultimately, the reality is, if you own your own firm and you're unhappy, that's completely within your power to change, you know? And- but I think it takes courage to do it ‘cause it can be scary.

It can be really scary, especially we're numbers people saying no to money. That's a really hard thing to do, is to say no to the $2,000 right in front of you that's a one-time engagement, and being able to say, “No, I don't want that. I'm going to instead, you know, be more patient, wait a little longer, and get the clients I actually want to get, and not tie up all my time into that.” So, like, it's like, I don't want to gaslight anyone in being like, “Just do it. It's not scary.” It's very scary to do, you know? But it's, you know, it's that saying, “If you do what you've always done, you're going to get what you've always gotten,” you know?

[00:39:14] How many employees do you have?

Lorilyn: So, how do you- okay, so, here's a question I have. How would- how many employees do you have?

Donny: I have 12- it’s actually 12 with me.

Lorilyn: Okay. And this is another podcast I did with Dan a couple of weeks ago- I'm not sure what order there'll be airing in- but he talked about how he now regularly has the employees fill out surveys. Do you do something similar to that- to kind of- and if you do, what do they say or what are your thoughts on that?

Donny: So, really, what he's probably getting towards on that is getting a feel of the pulse. So, getting the pulse of the organization. We actually- I actually do that in a couple of different ways. So, one of the teams- this is where we experiment with different tools. So, one of the teams is using a product that does a pulse check. Every Friday, it asks them to give a score from one to five, how are you feeling this week?

And then there's a whole bunch of other questions that they actually have to go through. And one of which is, how have you provided peace of mind, vision and clarity, or hope to a client this week? Because I want them to keep that top of mind. But, you know, we'll ask them, what are some of the things that we can change, you know? What did you accomplish this week? It helps them through some goal setting.

And so, we've got something like that that we use. The other thing that I do is all of my direct reports, we have one-on-one meetings every week. And part of that is a how are you doing? And it's not a status report to me. I always tell them, “These meetings are for you.” And so, initially, some of them will ask me like, “Is it okay if I cancel?” And I say, “If you don't need my help, then you can cancel. But then don't come to me next week and be like, “I ran into all these problems,”” and I'm like, “You canceled our V-day. So, that was your fault.”

But these one-on-ones really help me to understand where they're getting stuck, where they’re having challenges, what roadblocks do I need to remove for them? Or do I need to help them overcome a roadblock by additional training or some mentoring? And so, through that, I get a really good pulse. So, I think of what's happening.

Lorilyn: Yeah. That just made me think- ‘cause like, there's a lot of us out here who are solopreneurs. Do you ever ask those same questions to yourself?

Donny: Yes, ‘cause actually- so, the tool that we use, I fill it- I only- I'm the only one that reads it, but I actually fill it out for myself. ‘Cause I want to see where I am. And I think, you know, you just alluded toward it, which is even when you're on your own, do you take that step back and look at it and say, “Where is my company? Where's my firm? And what am I doing?” And that's something that we should be doing on a regular basis.

Lorilyn: Yeah. And I think it's- and I've worked with small business owners, and it's like, stuff like that immediately gets pushed to the back burner. It's really hard to prioritize it because you don't necessarily see an ROI immediately on that. Again, I think it's the patient's thing, you know? Like, what can I do that will make me money today, you know? Not what will make me money and happiness there, six, nine, you know, months from now.

[00:42:15] The 4 hour work week

Lorilyn: So, have you ever read- I love this book so much- The 4-Hour Work Week?

Donny: I have not. I read a synopsis of it but-

Lorilyn: Yeah. It's a really easy read, if you ever do pick it up. Like, I read the whole thing, front to back, on a cross-country trip. Like, you know, within four hours, flying coast to coast. But I just- I think everyone should read it, especially solopreneurs because it really makes you step back, and it provides a framework for asking and answering those questions. And so, it's kind of like a way of reverse engineering happiness. And I read it back in December when I was coming home from- one of my clients hosts like a CEO coaching event.

And it was their year-end event. And it was- the theme of the event is like, “Plan for your next year.” So, it was a very timely like read, and like, “Okay, what do I want to accomplish in the next year? What's going to make me happy?” And then, you know, stepping back and then asking those questions, like, how much do you want to work? What kind of work do you want to do? How much money do you want to make? And then like, as you start answering those questions, and then a really interesting question they ask is like, “If you needed money to do everything you wanted to do, like, what would that cost per month?”

And actually, breaking down the numbers and looking at it in kind of these silos, you know, and then being able to see the bigger picture around it. And it was just so interesting of an exercise because it really made me come to terms with like, okay, if I want to get to point B and I'm here at A, like, for me, personally, a lot of it was, “These are the things I need to start handing off and outsourcing,” even if that means right now, that's a revenue drop, or even if that's a big investment of money upfront that I'm not going to see return for six, nine months, you know?

And so, I think- but it's like this is something I need not do yearly. It's something I need to keep asking monthly, you know, minimum. Like, where am I at? Where did I want to be at? Like, what changes do I need to make? And so, it's especially harder ‘cause it's like no one's going to hold you accountable but yourself.

Donny: You know that- as you described that, it makes me think of the beginning of the career, right? So, when you go into college, you've got this end point, which is the degree. And what are the classes that you have to take to qualify for that degree? And maybe you layer onto that, to sit for the CPA exam or whatever professional exam you happen to decide you want to do. So, what do I need to do to do that? So, you've got all these requirements that drive you until you get to that point. And then after that, there's nothing that says that. Well, maybe it's the, what do I need to do to get promoted? Right? And then they tell you the qualifications, “Okay, I know I've got what that is,” but once you get past that point, and especially if you're a solopreneur or your own partner-

-then what is it after that? And that's where I think it's important, like you said, to have vision for what it is that you want to be, two three, five years wherever it is, or where you want to be, and then create that clarity on your path towards that. So that then, you can do your check-ins, whether it's monthly. I actually do mine- it’s quarterly, to say, “Okay, did I get everything done that I needed to do? If not, do I need to readjust? And then am I on track? Or has this thing shifted? Do I need to change my direction? ‘Cause that's not what I want anymore.”

Lorilyn: Yeah. Yeah. And it's like these are conversations- ‘cause I do a fair amount of forecasting work, and it's like these are- you know, as we're especially building out the model initially, it's a lot of, “We're not talking about numbers. We're talking about like, what do you want to- what do you want your life to look like? What's your end game? Like, ‘cause obviously, someone who wants to just, you know, create kind of passive revenue work 20 hours a week, yada, yada, yada, that financial forecast is going to look very different than someone who's like, “I want to scale up and sell in five years,” you know?

And so, it's i's like, if I'm having these conversations with people who are paying me, I'm like, “Why am I not having these with myself?” Because these are very important questions, you know? They're the most important questions, I think, ‘cause everything derives from those answers, so.

Donny: And coming back to what you said about the happiness, I think that is what our whole topic, the whole satisfaction really is to figure out, “I might be unsatisfied in the now, but what does it take?” And maybe that could help create some of that patience, because you know if you work through this whatever it is, even though it sucks now, it's going to help get you to where you want to be. ‘Cause you said it earlier, like, if you hadn't had the exposure that you had in the firm to the different things, I would just say the same thing. That was a lot of work in those years, but if I didn’t have that, I wouldn't be doing what I was doing now.

Lorilyn: Yeah. No, I agree. There's definitely, like, especially when you're just starting out, it's that those first three years, I think, like, those are such huge learning years. And it's like, it's not always fun. It can be grunt work, but it's like, “Well, okay. It might not be the best work, but how can we make sure that these other factors, you know, it's meaningful work? If we can make it meaningful, you're getting paid well for it.” It’s a positive, supportive environment, you know? Those are things that we can controlm even if we can't control necessarily that it's the best work. Like, I just think of it- so, my first job that I took was at a very toxic firm.

I cannot overemphasize how horrible this was. Like, I was being paid, mind you, $35,000 a year, okay? And then they pull us in to, you know, all to the conference room. It wasn't a big firm. It was maybe about 11 people, and they’d tell us, you know, “You know, if you don't hit your realization hours, or rates, or whatever, we're going to drop your salary.” And then if- and then every week, they were posting in the break room how many hours everyone was working, you know? And so, it was a very toxic environment.

And then after 10 months, I left and I was doing the exact same work in a firm that had a very supportive environment, was getting paid better immediately, had amazing boss who eventually became a business partner, but who was just always willing to help, always willing to teach. And it was just- it was such a difference, you know? And so, it's like the work was the same. It was the exact same work. I was doing tax returns, but it was just everything else was so much better. So, I think that is something to keep in mind, both as a solopreneur and for employers. Like, the work is- sometimes just might suck, but what can we make- can we make everything else not suck?

[00:48:32] Lorilyn reads EY tweet

Lorilyn: So, on this kind of note about employee happiness, I came across- so, one of my friends on Twitter, Brandon Hall just retweeted this today. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, I have to talk about this on the podcast.” So, this was put out by EY news. So, Ernest & Young, it's one of their- and they're verified. So, they must have a pretty decent following on here. But this is the- this is the tweet. They said, “How can you turn resignation into retention?” And this is what they said you don't do. “Pay perks and promotions.” They said, “Don't do that,” and then what they said you do is empathetic leadership.
And I'm like, “Hmm.” And they said, “An EU study of over 1000 U.S. workers found a direct correlation between debt retention and workplace empathy. And it's just like, I feel like there was the bullseye, and they completely missed it, you know? ‘Cause I think like, kind of what we've been talking about, is it's just not really one thing. It's everything. So, it's like, you can't just say, “Hey, we have empathetic leaders, but we're going to pay you $36,000 a year.” Do you have any thoughts on that tweet or?

Donny: So, part of it is that I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. And so, what they're probably emphasizing is the fact that it's not just about pay, which I completely agree with. Like, people that only work for our firm, on average, take about a 20% pay cut. But we give them like zero overtime. Everyone here work whatever hours they choose. And whether it's the 30-hour week, or 40. Now, their salary is adjusted accordingly, but most of them are coming from a situation where they're working a lot of overtime. And so, the salary is now a non-overtime salary.

And so, they ended up taking that pay cut. So, I think the point that they're trying to do is that it's not just about pay, and it's not about all of these Silicon Valley perks of the pool table or whatever, right? That's not what going to keep people. It's about the leadership and really caring, which I think it is, you know? That creates the culture aspect that you're talking about. And as you said, even if the work is not the most meaningful work, having that- being in that supportive environment, having a reasonable pay, that might be enough to actually get you through because you love what you’re- you love who you're working with and you were able to sustain and do what you want to do.

Lorilyn: Yeah. No, absolutely. Absolutely. Awesome. Well, I think this has been an amazing conversation, and I really hope our listeners have been able to, you know, take- have some good takeaways. Because I think whether you are an employee, an employer or a solopreneur, I think there are keys within this episode that apply to all of us, you know? Like, literally, I'm thinking right now, like, the first thing I'm going to do once I get off this, is like go and kind of assess, “Okay, where am I at? Where am I need to be, you know? Even though I should be doing tax returns. No one's going to die if the return doesn't get done, is what I always say, so.

Donny: Well, you could still extend. So, you're not too bad.

Lorilyn: Exactly. And so, actually, on that note, ‘cause like I said, we're like, right in the thick of it is-

[00:51:40] What is one tax law you would change?

Lorilyn: -what is one tax law you would change. If you could change it today, executive power, what would you do?

Donny: Oh, I would- that one’s- that one I would- would be the mobile workforce and getting something about- enforced about the mobile workforce. Because for me, I travel state to state, speak at different things. And so, the tax return can be a real pain because certain states, once you step foot in them, all of a sudden, you have this tax liability for them, right? So, that's one. Unfortunately, it's a little self-serving on my part, but I think with everything going on with remote work, it's actually going to end up impacting a lot more of us than we originally had just-

Lorilyn: Oh my gosh, yeah. No, that's 100 percent. So, IRS please. Mine would actually be- I think I responded to this on someone's tweet, but I was like, “Why don't we do this?” Because a lot of preparers were talking about how much time they waste filing extensions. They're like, “I could be preparing tax returns, and here I am spending this whole week, you know, before the deadline, just preparing or making sure extensions get filed.” So, I was like, “Well, what if we just kept the payment date as 4-15 but we just made the filing date as 10-15 with no extensions?”

That's the one thing I would change. Would it confuse taxpayers? Yes, you know? But oh well, they're confused anyway, so I'm like, “I really don't care if the taxpayers are confused. I care more about people within our industry, and being able to get the work done.” So, that's my one little change I would do.

[00:53:10] Wrap up and where to reach Donny?

Lorilyn: So, Donny, if people want to connect with you, how should they do that?

Donny: I would say the best is just to find me on LinkedIn, and it's Donny Shimamoto just under that. The last name is exactly spelled exactly as it sounds. or I'm DonnyITK uh India, Tango, Kilo. DonnyITK on pretty much all the different social media as well.

Lorilyn: Nice. Nice. And if anyone wants to find me, the best place is going to be on Twitter @LorilynWilson. I'm on there, tweeting, causing a ruckus. So, it's always a fun time on text Twitter. But Donny, thank you so much for coming on the show today. And your perspective was just- it was really fresh, and enlightening, and thoughtful. I really loved like everything you- you know, you said, and I can tell that, you know, it comes from a place of a lot of experience, you know? Like, it's just not- you're not just giving lip service. Like, you really have lived it and learned it. And it's just awesome to listen to everything you had to say. So, thank you so much.

Donny: Thank you so much. It was- this was definitely fun.

Lorilyn: Yeah. So, now, I’m your- I'm your new hype girl. So, if you're ever feeling down, you know, I will hype you up immediately, so.

Donny: Awesome.

Lorilyn: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Donny.

Creators and Guests

Lorilyn Wilson, CPA
Lorilyn Wilson, CPA
SMB Tax & Accounting Expert | Honorary Matt
2.6 Out of 5 Stars: Why Accountants are Unhappy and What To Do About It
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