Mar 14, 2016

Taking Control Starts with a Question

By Maureen Renzi, Vice President - Communications

WomensHisMon_J_reducedStrong technical knowledge. Good client base. Dedication to the firm and its success. All the stars were aligned for partnership, except for one minor detail: Heather N. Hilliard, CPA, of S.R. Snodgrass PC was working part-time. But in this case, Heather’s part-time role didn’t get in the way of her success. And it all started with a question.

Heather Hilliard

Heather N. Hilliard, CPA, a partner with S.R. Snodgrass, has a part-time schedule that nets full-time success.

Heather joined the firm in 2000, quickly became certified, and moved up the ranks. As she gained more experience her professional responsibilities grew. At the same time, her personal life also evolved and changed. She got married and started a family. At that point in time, some in the firm were taking advantage of flex time. She had already built a rapport with firm leadership over the years and demonstrated her commitment to client and firm success. So she asked a question: “How can flex time work for me?”

Heather developed a few options on how she envisioned a part-time positon, and she worked with firm leadership to develop a plan that would benefit all. Over the years, her schedule changed as her family grew from one daughter to two, but her client responsibilities also were able to grow. Eventually, she thought it was time to pursue a partnership track, so that’s when she posed another question: “How can I become a partner, but still maintain the flexibility that allows me to meet both professional and personal demands?”

She and firm leaders put a plan together that technically has a scheduled day off each week, but it doesn’t always work that way. Both Heather and the firm have been able to develop a flexibility to make it work. She is an auditor with a concentration in financial institutions (including banks and credit unions) and benefit plan audits, so she has a busy season from January through March. At those times she calls on her support system – family and neighbors – to help with the balance.

Heather attributes the firm’s willingness to invest in the right technology so all members of the firm can have a certain amount of flexibility. If she needs to be home for her children after school, it is not uncommon for all three of them sit around the kitchen table doing their “homework.” As many parents of young children can attest, extracurricular activities can demand a lot of time. Having the ability to check e-mail and stay connected during dance lessons and sport practices help manage the time challenges.

The firm, which has about 80 employees, including about 70 professionals, has found that flexibility helps retain employees as well as bring back some who had left. No longer is there mandatory days when staff have to come to the office. Instead, they have deadlines and the technology needed to reach those deadlines in the locations that best fit their needs. It’s not just flexibility, Heather notes, that makes for committed staff. She attributes the firm success to an open-door policy culture, social committee activities to help with morale, and firm support of charity events.

Not surprisingly, the lesson of asking has been instilled in Heather’s personal life. She encourages her daughters to always ask when they are uncertain about something or would like to try something. “The worst they can say is no,” she advises. So start with that first question, and take ownership of your own destiny.

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Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.