‘The client’s here? Fuck.’
Stress is funny. If you’re stressed out long enough, you’ll forget how stressed you are. Then something awful will happen. And that something, can and will, jerk back the anxiety you thought was gone.
‘I know. He always does this. I’ve done statements for him while the client was in the boardroom.’ ‘Are you serious?
December 1st 2009
‘Hey can I talk to you about scheduling?’ My manager wanted to give me a head’s up on what I’d be doing next week. ‘So you’ve got [stupid-high-risk-client].’ ‘A learning experience right?’
You’ll get this a lot. There are certain euphemisms in accounting that can fly over a junior’s head, depending on how green they are. The expression “Learning Experience” roughly translates to “Really, really, fucked up.”
Accounting firms are designed to be pressure cookers. The most junior people do all the grunt work. Then they answer to partners, who are only concerned with a finished product. Partners, who don’t care why your cash flow took 10 hours to complete. Partners, who care why the bill is $2,000 higher this year. It’s a subtle difference that impacts how you justify your work.
It’s the difference between laying out every problem you had and “the client kept changing their numbers.” High level. Single sentence. Rationalizations.
December 18th, 2009
‘So I guess this thing isn’t getting done.’ ‘Are you really surprised?’ ‘Well, no. Is anyone going to be here over the break?’ Everyone looks at the ground. ‘Because I’m going to Chicago.’ ‘Yeah, I’m heading to Florida.’ ‘And I’ll be in California.’ Everyone looks at me. ‘Well I’m going to Spain so it looks like [partner] is the closest. I guess you’ll be sending out a lot of a/r confirms this holiday season.’ Luckily, I work at an office that allows me to rip on people, whose quarterly tax instalments dwarf my annual income.
‘Can we get an extension?’ ‘Yeah, we’ll have to.’
January 15th, 2010
We got the extension. The audit didn’t have to be in until January 31st. That didn’t mean things would go smoothly. They actually got worse.
It’s weird to see how people at different levels view a problem. ‘Because it’s so high risk we’re going to get [manager a] and [manager b] on the file as well as [partner] to do a quality control review.’ This sort of makes sense. The higher the risk, the greater likelihood of accounting and audit issues. Therefore, put the most senior people on the file to help identify them.
My manager looked at me expectantly, pausing a few seconds after he finished talking. ‘Umm, yeah I guess that makes sense.’ ‘Good and you’ll be the in charge.’ Huge red flags here. I’m the bottleneck.
You’re giving me a high-risk file with an engagement team on steroids. I could picture the amount of frustration waiting to be dropped on me. ‘Alright, I went through the file.’ My manager didn’t even say hi. He had an exasperated expression on his face. Long pause. ‘Yeah, I know I know.’ ‘Hmph, it’s pretty bad. I’m going to need you to clear up all these issues and document them in the file.’ Keep in mind this is one manager. This process repeated itself many times over. Different people would bring up the same issues. One person would want things done one way, while another would want it done some other way.
January 19, 2010
‘Is it done?’ I hate this question. Why are you asking me if it’s done? You know it’s not done. If it were done, it would be in your hands. Not in your hands? Then it’s not done. ‘Nope still working on it.’ My partner cocks his head and looks at me incredulously. ‘How come it’s not done?’
‘You’ve been changing the numbers so I have to update everything.’ A single sentence that’s to the point, very high level, meaning he has to take it. ‘Yeah true, alright.’ He steps back a bit and leans on my cubicle wall. I feel compelled to look up. ‘Why does this file suck so hard?’ ‘Heh, it’s ok you’re almost done!’
January 27, 2010
‘Hmm, I guess he’ll be waiting in his office for a bit.’ I was pissed, but there was nothing I could do. The file was done and the client was here. If he has to wait, then he has to wait.
There will be times when you’re absolutely fucked. Things will go wrong, it won’t be your fault and you will get blamed. It’s important to recognize these situations before they happen, in order to plan accordingly and avoid as much collateral damage as possible. Damage to inter-office relationships, strategic alliances and your reputation.
Understand that you’re part of a team. It’s not you versus your boss. It’s the team versus the deadline. It’s important to frame things in that context. That’s where you start. Once you’re on that path, be as helpful as possible. Be ruthlessly helpful to everyone on the file.
If you’re liked, then it’s harder for people to get mad at you. Yeah, the situation sucks. Who cares? Are you fun to be around? No one wants to be around someone who makes a bad situation worse.
That file I worked on was ridiculous. I’m leaving out plenty of things I screwed up. In these situations you have to lean on people. The work is important. But the relationships are what matter.