In today’s new episode of Growing Your Firm podcast, we sat down with Chet Buchman, Managing Partner at Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Loyd,CPA and discussed the importance of a work-life balance, especially during the busy season, and has actually followed through with implementing and supporting this way of working. 

In this Grow Your Firm podcast episode, join Chet Buchman, Managing Partner at Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Loyd, as he describes:

  • The way his CPA firm supports a meaningful work-life balance
  • How they manage well, even in the busy season
  • The importance of a reading program at work
  • and so much more!


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Key Summary:

We all know of the long, intense days and weekends of the busy season.  Having a balance from work and life seems nearly impossible when you are in the thick of it all.  Well, Chet and his firm at Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Loyd in McPherson Kansas, have been able to grow their business and make more money while spending less time at work and more time with their families and friends.  

Supporting A Meaningful Work-Life Balance:

Chet understands that “working too hard for too long is not healthy.”  

No one wants to spend his or her 30+ year working career entirely at the office.  Your family and friends are overlooked, your personal time takes a back seat, and you miss out in general on the joys of life.  

Chet points out that the internal peer pressures from colleagues and management make it difficult to go against the grain, to demand better for yourself.
But that is beginning to change as the next generation of the accounting industry drives new thinking.  At Chet’s firm, they are taking their traditional, historic firm and molding it into a new school of accounting approach.   

Chet says that the “simple answer” to address change is to bring down the hours to a normal 40 to 50 hour workweek schedule and doing it without sacrificing revenue and profit of firm.

“The big thing [for them] was fundamentally drawing the proverbial line in the sand,” notes Chet.  It is all about making an active choice by saying to yourself:  “When it comes for the time to leave, I’m going to leave.”  This mindset is important, and the action needs to be supported by the partners who lead by example.  
“It is not perfect,” admits Chet. “We are not there yet, but we have made great progress over the years.  We got really close to drive the hours down to a realistic target.”

How To Manage Work/Life Balance During Busy Season

Chet was motivated to start implementing changes within the office and at the two additional offices located in Hutchison and Wichita.  Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Loyd is an 80-year old firm with over 70 employees and 6 partners offering general accounting services to their regional manufacturing, service oriented, construction, or agricultural clients.  

He got the green light from the firm to lead their team on the path towards “fixing busy season.”  Yes, it may sound unrealistic:  “Fixing busy season,” but he and his team has been making great strides so far.  

“We have seen a real uptick in culture, in morale, and a decrease in turnover,” says Chet.  They even have seen an uptick in client satisfaction.  
Chet says that “more quality of work going is out the door” due to less stress and anxiety that come from working long hours in the office.   

So how can you master a work-life balance program within your firm?

Well, Chet says it is as simple as:

  1. Forcing themselves to leave work by a certain hour each day  
  2. Finding ways to prioritize their work deliverables and
  3. Thinking of ways to be efficient in their work process  

Additionally, the firm has hired aggressively so they can exceed the needs of busy season.  

Chet notes that the firm has made a conscious effort over the years to focus on having capacity.

They evaluated the philosophy of the firm.  “The older generations ran business one person short.”  Now Chet says they look at the world differently.

“A lot of projects our clients won’t bring to us because they think we are too busy.  I hate that..”  

They hire ahead of the business growth curve rather than waiting too long before falling behind on the workflow.  As a result, people on the team have more stress-free time.

The team is comprised of full time workers and part-time seasonal help and the firm is testing the remote worker option, already having 3 remote workers on the roster.  

“We find lots of highly talented people out there who don’t have to be in the bricks and mortar to help,” Chet reports.   

Why not just get rid of clients, as some CPA firms have done?

“We considered getting rid of clients, but the reality is that those are the clients we see in our community.  We know them personally,” Chet attests.  They are friends, and those at the firm have watched how the businesses have grown alongside the client relationship.

Chet says that their clients like having them being there helping and guiding their businesses.  With more time now available at the office, those at the firm can spend additional, stress-free time with clients, in addition to having a better work-life balance.  “Having time to spend an extra 10 to 20 minutes with clients makes all the difference,” and it fuels growth for their own firm.  

The Importance Of A Reading Program At Work:

Clients matter.  Free time in the office also matters.  The way to bridge the two, Chet has found, is through the at-work reading program.

The program was implemented just two years ago at his firm and has full support by the partners.   

Chet finds that the benefits of reading are tremendous to everyone on the team and to the firm as a whole.  He says that reading each day has:

  • Increased productivity
  • Improved client relations
  • Enhanced “soft-skills”
  • Created a more positive culture
  • Taught new concepts
  • Encouraged even more reading

For some, they have not even read a book since high school or college, and according to Chet, the program has been a great opportunity for them to start reading again.  

Typically, the first hour of the morning at the office is used inefficiently.  Ironically by reading, Chet has found that “people kick-started their first hour” at the office.  Reading 15 minutes in the morning, gives them “the opportunity to reboot and to get the day going.”

Since the program started, those at the firm, together, have read over 800 books and 130,000 pages.  About 90% to 95% of the firm participates on any given day.  

Through the reading program, the firm is “better preparing our team to have conversations with clients,” Chet thinks.  

The team is learning how to:

  • Ask the right questions
  • Be empathetic
  • Be helpful
  • Be active listeners
  • Give better constructive feedback

Those at the firm “develop the reading habit and [are able to] pour into something more technical,” and then they can apply what they learned with the clients.  “It’s amazing the impact it has over time over the last couple of years,” Chet exclaims.  

The firm even has its own library filled with great business and strategy books.  Some of the books that are a hit in the firm:  

  • One Minute Manager
  • Power of Choice
  • Good to Great
  • How Full is Your Bucket  
  • The Fred Factor
  • The Energy Bus
  • The No Complaining Rule

“The good books become viral” in the office, Chet says.  For example, 15 people may have read one book over a 2-month time and it could be a real conversation piece around the water cooler.  Reading is creating a great camaraderie.  “It created a different kind of conversation in our office.”   

Reading creates better time management, better interaction with clients, and better skills for the firm that results in happier employees and your ability to master a work-life balance program within your firm.

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