Episode #4: The Gift Of Feedback with Jeremy Jones
There is nothing more insightful as a leader than listening to the feedback of the people around you. Realizing this is one of the significant pivotal moments of Jeremy Jones, the Head of Audit and Partner at Frazier & Deeter. In this episode, Jeremy tells us the gift of feedback, tracing it with his story of growing up on a farm where his belief systems developed and eventually affected his career. Sharing stories of how the feedback he has received over time has shaped who he is, Jeremy share insights on leadership, building relationships with the team, and the gold that comes from upward feedback.
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The Gift Of Feedback with Jeremy Jones
Jeremy Jones is our guest. He is a partner at the Frazier & Deeter accounting firm located in Atlanta, Georgia. He heads up the audit and insurance practice and have many years of public accounting experience. During our discussion, we talked about how Jeremy grew up on a farm and how his belief systems have developed over time, affected his career and also his home life. He shares stories of how the feedback he has received over time have shaped him in the past, now and into the future.
I'm with Jeremy Jones from Frazier & Deeter in Atlanta, Georgia. Go ahead and give us a little background on yourself.
My name is Jeremy Jones. I head the audit practice at Frazier & Deeter here in Atlanta. I've been with the firm since 2001. I lead the audit practice but also have client responsibilities. I work mostly with manufacturing and distribution companies and then real estate and construction companies.
How did you end up deciding on that specialization?
Probably by chance more than anything. I graduated from the University of Georgia in the mid-‘90s and went to work for another firm. I predominantly worked in manufacturing, distribution and construction. I love things. It was always fun to see a manufacturing company develop something or a construction company builds something. I was like, “That's what I like and that's what I'm going to stick with."
One of my first jobs was with Ryder Logistics. We would go into the warehouses and I'd be so excited. That's a nerdy part of me, but I love seeing the operations. The more you go into them, you figure out how you can fix them.
I like calling myself a manufacturing nerd. I've gotten a lot of tours of plants just by telling people, “I'd love to see your plant. I’m a manufacturing nerd. Show me how you do what you do,” and people eat that up. That’s cool. You never know what you're going to see being made.
Why don't you give me a little background on how you got here now? Did you always want to be an accountant? Was this your dream when you were younger? How did you start out?
My story is like yours and I promise I'm not copying. I grew up in a small town in middle Georgia. I had lower to middle-income parents. My father was a farmer and my mother stayed at home when I was younger. Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, there was a big drought in the southeast. My father lost everything to bankruptcy and then he started working in what's called the Kaolin Mines. It's like mining chalk. He started at the bottom and worked his way up over the years. My mom went back to work and she was a bookkeeper.
I didn't know what she did, but in my senior year of high school, we were forced to take half a year of accounting. I took half a year of accounting and I fell in love with it. I applied straight into the University of Georgia, into the accounting school. I got into accounting school and that was it. I knew I was going to be an accountant and then my junior year, I did an internship in the industry and I didn't like it at all. I was going to the same office every day doing the same thing. I decided to go into public accounting and this is where I ended up. It's been awesome ever since.
Going back to your father, he was a farmer. Is that where your path would have been?
It's funny because when I was probably twelve or thirteen, it was that day that changes your life around. We were at my mother's parents' house and having lunch on a Sunday after church. I remember standing in the kitchen getting ham or something and my grandmother's on one side and my mother's on the other and they're like, “You never will be a farmer. We are going to make 100% certain.” A week later, my dad and my grandfather had the exact same conversation with me. I would have been twelve. It’s because it was a hard life. It was very hard and you're dependent on so many factors. The weather being one of the biggest ones. To ensure that I wouldn't become a farmer, they put me to work on the farm at twelve and I did that until I was fifteen and then they put me to work as a mechanic because they didn't want me to be a mechanic either, even though that had a great reputation. They made sure they beat any manual labor out of me earlier to go to college.
Did you enjoy the work?
I did. It was hard. It was fun but now I won't even cut my own grass, which made my wife really mad. The work is not that big, but I'm not going to do it. I can hire people for that now. It saves my time to do things that I want to do in my life.
You made the decision to become an accountant and went down this path where audit has more interaction with clients where you're not in the same office every day. During your path, what moments have you pivoted or your mindset's changed about something because you've been either faced in a way that you were forced to face it or it was an observation or an a-ha moment at a certain point in your career?
Probably the most pivotable for me would be the point I was a manager or senior manager. I should always know this. People are smarter than I am now, but I realized it wasn't about me and it was about the people and taking care of the people below me. The way I dealt with them. I don't have to be harsh to get the results I need.
What happened? Was there an experience?
I got called some names by someone that I respected who was below me. You've actually met her. She pretty much let me know that was not the way to get the most out of her and out of others. It changed the way I interacted where instead of me expecting people to go and do an audit and do what you're told, it’s to think about them and their lives. What they have going on in their lives and maybe tweak what I say and how I say it. I can get even better results because they know I care for them and I genuinely do care for them. I always did, but sometimes it was hard when you're trying to get to the end results to show that.
That's a hard thing to face. Why that day? Is that the relationship you had felt?
I think it was the relationship and it was seeing how my demanding nature impacted others. I could still be very demanding. All the 97 people that work in the audit department could say I’m very demanding sometimes and I can be, but it is always for the best of the department and the best of the people.
There's having expectations of people but still with care where they know you care about them. That's a hard part about leadership. As you go through the ranks, people don't speak up as much and give that feedback up. You start believing your own truths rather than listening to the people around you.
I often joke that being a partner is the loneliest place in the CPA firm. People don't want to have lunch with you and people don't want to talk to you. They are scared of you. Even if you're the nicest guy, they still are afraid of you. These are lonely places in the tops.
There's a part of leadership where you've got to give bad news too. There's always that line.
People hate coming to your office. You preface everything. “You’re not getting fired. Please just come see me about a client.”
How do you help people with that same shift that you had? What do you notice that changes a belief system for them? How do you get through to them?
A lot of it is just being open and honest with people. Years ago after this experience, I started a no-butthole policy. I've tried to spread that across my world, with clients, with friends and push that down on all of our people and say, “If you don't want to be treated this way, don't treat other people that way. If we all do that, you're going to be happier and healthier. The jobs are going to get done quicker and better than if people are miserable to show up to work every day.”
Is there anything you've had to shift from your career and personal life so that you're not overrun by work?
We're still working on that. I had a Life360. We started here at Frazier & Deeter where I will go into a room and I will have between six and eight people in the room with me. Some will be my partners, others will be managers or people below me. It's a chance for about an hour where they download on me, everything good, everything bad, what I need to improve on, how I need to improve, whatever it may be. The takeaway from that is I didn't have real actionable items that I need to work on. During our training week, I sat in front of the entire audit practice. It might not be the best decision, but I sat in front of the whole audit practice. I had a group of people that I consider trustworthy, open and honest give me feedback in front of everybody. All that being said, delegation is a thing I struggle with. That's something that I'm still trying to work with constantly. Every one of those people on the panel said, “You’ve got to get rid of some stuff. You’ve got to trust others.” One person even said, “I feel like you never trust me.” That was not the truth.
What did you do to shift that after?
I downloaded everything I had to. We had some very deep conversations around the trust factor and why she felt that way. Why I'd never gave her the stuff that she thought she could handle. It did shift our relationship and I give her a lot more trust and a lot more things.
That's a hard thing to do.
I’m still struggling.
As far as any feedback, whether it's client feedback, customer feedback, your co-worker feedback, people get afraid to ask the question. A lot of times I ask clients or other businesses and firms, “Do you ask your customers if they're satisfied?” The answer is yes. When you specifically ask what they're doing, “They come back.” That isn't real feedback because you need to know what specifically you can improve and that people see that you care enough to action it.
It's amazing when you give people the appropriate format to give upward feedback. We ask our people to give upward feedback twice a year, even up to partners and it is anonymous. When people get in that mindset and get in the routine of giving upward feedback, the amount of jewels you can pull out that upward feedback is amazing.
Has there anything that affected the business in total?
In total, especially from our younger staff and younger generations, they are always throwing out great ideas. It’s sometimes through the anonymous feedback because they're afraid of my reaction or our managing partner's reaction or some older partner's reactions. They'll throw it into the anonymous feedback.
What tool do you use for that?
We've shifted. It's different every year. The latest one we did is through Smartsheet, which is a technology we use. People can upload into Excel what their thoughts were and then it gave us real feedback. It's been good.
How have you dealt with that as your career shifted and you've got younger and younger generations underneath you? That's got to break some belief systems as well in how you lead or how you go about running a practice now.
It is hard and we talk about it a lot because the younger generation coming in see things through a different lens. We saw it when we started our careers in public accounting. It's hard because we have to shift the way we work. We have to shift the way we expect them to work, the way we work with our clients, our expectations of clients. Everything has to shift. I struggle with it. My peers at the partner level struggle with it. Even some managers struggle with how do we motivate and keep them engaged and let them reach their full potential while staying in public accounting.
Is there a way you've changed how you've gone about that? I own a yoga studio and I hired my son when he turned sixteen to work at the front desk. He came in because we do social media with our customers and he's like, “My friends are not on Facebook. Old people are on Facebook. Why are you on Facebook?” I’m like, “Our customers are on Facebook.” He's like, “None of my friends would ever know about it.” I put him responsible for Snapchat and the social media things that we didn't understand that they were using every day. It's like trying to figure out how they've got good observations because your new clients coming into the firm are going to be young. It's not just the people that work for you, it's the people that you're serving as well. What have you seen as major shifts that you have had to do?
Overall, we've had to be more flexible. Back when I started my career, I will show up at 8:00 AM and you stayed until the job is done. It’s being flexible, no mandatory weekend works during our busy season. No mandatory Saturdays, not hounding people when they show up to work or when they leave, just give them flexibility there. That has been a big shift.
How do you feel about that internally?
I still struggle a little bit at times. The struggle is I'm here at 7:30. Why are you getting here at 10:00? I leave at 7:00. You leave at 6:00. It's always jealousy. When people psychoanalyze me, it's jealousy. It's different. They are different than we are. I've adapted to it. People show up past mandatory 9:00 AM start time for training and I have to breathe deep and understand that they may have something going on with their life. I don't know right now. I'm adjusting.
That’s an important thing as far as being a leader and how you have to work through your own way of believing work should be. It’s taking those pauses before you respond. Do you notice they work differently?
They’re smarter than we ever were. That's one of the things. It's trying to get the younger generation involved with innovation and technology. I talked about that with our group. I need you guys to be driving innovation and technology because as old people, even though I don't feel old, we're still living in Windows 97. In today's technology, they’re so much smarter and better. Another big shift is us giving them the reins and saying, “You have autonomy. You have the freedom to go find new technology.” It's not just technology. It’s innovation. How do we work better and smarter every day? These guys have it down and we don't.
They're okay with delegating. They’re okay with making sure that they've balanced everything. Do you notice productivity being different or are you still getting the same outcome?
I think it’s not the same outcome. It's different. Sometimes, depending on what the tasks are, if they don't love the tasks, they don't do them as well. They'll freely admit, “I'm not excited about this. If you want to excite me, give me something that excites me. Give me a client, an industry or a task, even if it's a non-chargeable task that excites me.” I'll give you everything.
It’s challenging for you.
Everybody is different. Every single person is different. Some people want to recruit and some people want to train and some people want to work on technology. It’s different.
It produces better things for the business.
We just have to tap their potential.
Going back to when you became an accountant, you made a big shift from being a farmer. How did you have the confidence to do what you do?
It was terrible. There were many opportunities I blew coming out of college from recruiting. I grew up in a small town. Nobody went to college before me. I had no idea what this was about.
Why did you blow them?
I didn't know what to do. Back in the ‘90s, they weren't coaching us up as much in school. We were not prepared for the interview process, for internships and for the real world. Luckily, I got in with a local firm here in Atlanta that was awesome. I spent the first four years there and it's a smaller firm. They took me in and taught me everything I needed to know and then I came to Frazier & Deeter in 2001. It was good.
Did you start building confidence through that or were you still viewing yourself as coming from farming?
It took me a long time to get over that. I still don't have a lot of confidence, so let's not say I've gotten over it yet. My wife, I'll give her the credit. She probably got me over the hump more than anybody.
What was the big thing?
This is stupid. I fully acknowledge that this was a completely irrational thought. I guess from the time I was six or whenever my father filed for bankruptcy, which there's nothing wrong at that point, a lot of people did. I lived in fear of being broke and living on the street and being homeless. I carried that probably into my mid-30s. It was like in my mind, if I made a decision and it was wrong and it upset my boss, I would be fired. We would lose our house, I would get divorced, my kids would never talk to me and I would be living on the streets for the rest of my life.
You had to get yourself out of that thought pattern.
My wife one day was like, “Do you know how many steps it takes to go from where we are right now to where you think you're going? It's not like that happens in a day.” I was like, “You’re right.” It's a long way. That changed my perspective and outlook on a lot of things. I had confidence to say, “If I make this decision and my boss doesn't like it, he’s just going to say, ‘You made the wrong decision. You should have done this,’ and move on. We're not doing brain surgery here.”
She alerted you to the issue. What did you work on to get rid of that thought?
Every time that thought came into my mind, I would have to tell myself, “That's a completely irrational thought that you're having now. Let's go and make the right decision. It may not be the most popular decision, but let's make the right decision that's best for everybody and implement it. We'll see what happens." You do a couple of small tests. Maybe you made a mistake and you didn't get fired. It’s like, “I'll take a little bit bigger risk. I got that one right.” I do the next one. That was a bigger mistake. I got to pedal really fast to catch up from that, but it was okay.
That's a big deal in a lot of businesses that people get branded for making a mistake one time and then when it's time for them to get promoted three years later, they're like, “Remember three years ago?” Everyone personally and individually are going through those fear moments all the time of, “Should I speak up or do the right thing because if I screw up, then I'm going to be blamed.”
We always joke in our performance management that we all have very long memories of mistakes and very short memories when it comes to all the great things people do. We keep bringing things up and we've tried to do better as a firm and as an audit department on forgetting what they did three years ago. What have they done lately? How are they doing? Have they improved? Are they still making these mistakes? Let's not bring up something that used to be because we've all screwed up a lot.
That's the thing. As we go through, we become perfect. That 360 live that you're talking about is an important thing because you need your eyes open. A lot of times people don't do that because of their own fear of what someone will say, but you rather know than not know.
What we always say is they're saying it anyway behind your back. It’s better to say it to your face and then you could do something about it. You got to check your ego at the door. No matter how little you think your ego is, you're going to get crushed in a 360.
Your story reminds me that we had lost everything young. From that time I was sixteen, I started working three jobs, but that carried into even after college when I had kids. I couldn't let go of something else, some side jobs. I always have that backup plan until finally my husband said to me, “If you can't make your full money doing your main job, then you're creating all the stress on yourself.” You can either get mad at the outside world for their observation or you step back and you're like, “There's something to that and I need to admit what's going on from myself.” I want you to pick a category and I'm going to ask you some rapid-fire questions. The category is family or friends or your teammates. It could be money, spiritual or health.
What does everybody else pick and I'll go the opposite? Let's not go with health because I have started working out and quit working out more than anybody. I don't want to be known as the quitter on your podcast. Let's go one of the other two. I feel pretty confident with that.
I love that you asked the question of what everybody else picked.
We all love our family. Our families are awesome.
What are things or actions I don't have that I want with money?
It’s to be as good as my wife is with budgeting and keeping everything on track.
What are the things or actions I do have that I want with money?
I am forced to live within a budget. My friends make fun of me because I walk in and I have a lot of cash. They’re like, “You're loaded. You've got cash.” I'm like, “No, it's the first and I got my allowance and this is all I get for the next fifteen days.” They're like, “Really?” I’m like, “My wife puts me on an allowance, so I stay within my budget. I don't spend any other than my wife wants.”
It keeps the family happy.
What are the things or actions I don't have that I don't want with money?
Excessive debt. We purposely went through a debt payoff years ago and that has changed our lives and changed our happiness. When you're not worried about making a credit card or a car payment or whatever payment every month, it gives you a lot of freedom.
Do you go to a company to help you with that?
Yeah, we did. I don't know if I can give shameless plugs, but we did the whole Dave Ramsey. It was great. I could tell you a little story on that. I almost got murdered by my wife. My wife is a CPA as well. We went through, Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University at a local church and my wife was into it and I was like, “We'll go every Sunday afternoon and we'll do this course.” We did it and it was fine. We started living or she started living. I was getting pulled along. I had an opportunity to buy-in more shares in the Frazier & Deeter. The way we do it here is you have to bring the cash to the table or get your own debt or whatever.
I went home one night, I was all fired up because I'm like, “I’m going to buy-in more.” We're still fairly young and we didn't have much, if anything at that point. I'm like, “We're going to get a loan and here's how much it's for.” We had this fire pit in our backyard. We were sitting around and we had had a few glasses of wine at this point. We're having this conversation and she stood up, she was yelling at me and I stood up. I thought she was about to push me in the fire pit. That was probably the worst fight we've ever had in our marriage.
It was over me taking debt as she had been working towards becoming debt-free and doing Dave Ramsey. We got through that and I don't think she was going to divorce me, but she may have. I realized that that was very important to her and I needed to make it very important to me. I did that and it made our marriage better. We got on board and we went on The Dave Ramsey Show and did one of the debt-free screams and all that. That was cool. We took the kids and they were like, “You guys are nerds.” They were on the show and it was cool.
That’s an important moment because as we start achieving things we're working towards, sometimes we have to step back and go, “Why do I want this?” Is it ego or is it more that this is going to help the family or is it something bigger than that? That’s a major decision to step back from because you’re like, “I’m part of the club. I get to spend more money.” Then you have to strip that down and make sure, “My wife is more important than that.”
That's where we ended up. It was like, “If we're going to make these decisions in life, it has to be us making these decisions about you. We'll do what's best for everyone involved, not just for your ego.”
I’ll take away a few things you've talked about, but one is that whole confidence, even imposter syndrome a lot of times that we go through. As we go through our careers, I don't think sometimes we realize that fear that we have. Maybe we aren't as good as we think we are. There's a fear of losing our jobs, especially when we're coming into this innovation age. It’s the fear of the unknown and then making the wrong decision or playing it too safe and not living to our potential. It's important. I’m happy that you shared that because a lot of people will look at leaders and be like, “He's confident.” It’s also being able to be open enough to allow that feedback coming in. That feedback isn't just one way and that we're always better the more feedback we get. Is there anything that you would want to add or that you would want people to find out more about Frazier & Deeter as well?
I'd probably say one thing we've done here and everybody should explore it is trying to create a deliberate developmental organization, where people can come to work every day as their whole selves. You're trying to make the organization better by tapping into all those resources. That's changed our culture internally for the good. It's given a lot of people opportunities to make us better as a firm. People always need to be looking outside the box of their organization. “What can I do to bring everybody in and to make us better?” That's one of the things we've used. There are plenty of other things out there, but that's something everybody needs to be looking at as a leader. It’s to understand your ego gets checked at the door and all the people around us, our teams are fantastic. They'll teach us a lot if we let them.
Thank you so much for being a part of this. I appreciate you sharing it.
About Jeremy Jones
As a Partner and Head of the Frazier & Deeter Audit department, Jeremy Jones contributes more than 20 years of public accounting experience to the growth of the Audit and Assurance practice of Frazier & Deeter. His effective problem solving, leadership and communication skills strengthen his ability to perform, review and supervise client engagements.
Jeremy has worked with a variety of institutions, assisting clients with establishing internal controls over financial reporting, analyzing financial trends and budgeting and forecasting, as well as performing, reviewing and supervising audits and other attestation engagements. He has further served as an accounting expert in legal disputes to help determine adjustments to purchase prices or amounts owed under legal agreements.
Jeremy’s industry expertise includes manufacturing and distribution companies, energy marketing companies, construction contractors, trucking companies, automobile dealerships, service companies, technology companies, non-profit organizations, government contractors and real estate developers and operators.
He is a member of the firm’s Retail, Manufacturing & Distribution, Real Estate, Construction, Hospitality and Service industry groups. Within these, he focuses on auditing and consulting with various clients on matters unique to these industries.