How to build your ‘performance currency’ and how to avoid the ‘Dirty Dozen’

Hosted by Neil Amato

Carla Harris is an author, speaker, and executive with Morgan Stanley, and she was one of the keynote speakers at AICPA & CIMA ENGAGE 2022. In this episode, she explains the terms "powerful presence" and "performance currency" and gives advice for those seeking a career shakeup.

Also, several news articles are referenced, including the ongoing release of the IRS's "Dirty Dozen" tax scams: part 1 on abusive CRATs and Maltese IRAs and part 2 on tax refund theft and fake charity appeals. Coverage of those scams continues on The episode also mentions JofA coverage of a keynote session featuring former Duke University men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and the release of the PCPS Top Issues Survey.

What you'll learn from this episode:

  • What Harris means by the phrase "powerful presence" and whether it can be developed over time.
  • Ways that someone's powerful presence can be muted.
  • The difference between "performance currency" and "relationship currency," which Harris details in her first book.
  • The $1.50 analogy to performance currency.
  • What clients are looking for from professionals in 2022 and beyond.
  • Her advice for people who seek to change their career environment or change the culture in their organization.

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:

— To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato at


Neil Amato: Welcome back to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. This is your host, Neil Amato. We've got a lot of news to go over, including the release of the IRS's annual "Dirty Dozen" tax scams. First lesson: be very wary of investing in any Maltese IRAs.

And there are more examples of scams detailed in JofA coverage in the past week, which we will highlight after our main interview, with an ENGAGE keynote speaker who explains the meaning of the term "performance currency." You'll hear that after this word from our sponsor.

Amato: I'd like to welcome Carla Harris to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. Carla is a keynote speaker at ENGAGE. She is an author. She is a holder of several titles at Morgan Stanley, and we're glad to have her on the podcast. Carla, thank you for being here.

Carla Harris: Thank you for having me, Neil.

Amato: There's a word out there that's prevalent in some of your books, maybe also in your keynote speeches. It's the phrase powerful presence. What I'll start with for you is this: what does it mean to you to have powerful presence?

Harris: It means to basically command attention, Neil, so that when you're in a room, your energy of intentionality is felt by everybody in that room. That's a powerful presence, that you're there for a reason.

Amato: Do you think presence is something that some people just have naturally?

Harris: I think yes. Some people do have it naturally, but I do believe it can be acquired. When you're thoughtful about why you are where you are, what you intend to do, even if it's just to connect with someone, but to have that intentionality and that focus, it certainly is something that can be honed. But I do believe some people have it naturally, you're right.

Amato: If you yourself didn't have it naturally as you were growing up and advancing in your career, how did you develop presence?

Harris: Yes. I don't believe that I had it naturally, especially earlier in my career and I'll tell you what can actually mute it, even if you do have it naturally. If you are unsure of what you're doing or why you're there or you are lacking confidence of any kind, so maybe you do know the material, but you are lacking confidence around your ability to connect with the client or to deliver the material, those are some of the things that could impair your presence.

But as I became more aware of the fact that while I could be seen as certainly as one of the few women on Wall Street and one of the few women of color on Wall Street, I could be seen. But being aware of the fact that I could make an impact, being aware of the fact that I really did have command of the information, being aware of the fact that I intended to deliver it and deliver it with impact, just really being in that head space, if you will, and having that intentionality are the things that I think made my person and my presence manifest in a room.

Amato: I'm not sure how closely this other phrase is related to powerful presence, but I want to ask you, what is performance currency and then what is relationship currency?

Harris: Yes, thank you for that question, Neil. It's one of the terms that I coined in my book, Strategize to Win, which was released in December of 2014. I wrote about this because there are two types of currency in any environment: performance currency and relationship currency. Performance currency is the currency that is generated by your delivering that which was asked of you, and a little bit extra.

Every time that you perform above people's expectations, you generate performance currency. It works like the stock market. Anytime a company says that they will deliver 25 cents a share and they deliver 40 cents a share, that stock goes up, and so will yours. Performance currency is valuable for three reasons.

Number 1, it will get you noticed and create a reputation for you, especially early on in your career or early on in any new environment. Number 2, it will also get you paid and promoted early on in your career, early on in a new environment. Three, it may even attract a sponsor. But over time, performance currency, which I will argue is worth about $1.50 very early on in your career and very early on in any new environment, it starts to experience diminishing marginal returns.

That $1.50 works its way right back down to a dollar because now you have established a new standard of excellence. Since you've been in that environment, everybody knows that you will always deliver. Everybody expects that you will do a great job. So there's no longer the premium associated with your deliverable. The currency that's now most important is relationship currency, and relationship currency is the currency that is generated by the investments that you make in the people in your environment.

Amato: The books you've written are titled Expect to Win and Strategize to Win, and you have a third in the works also with the word "win" in it. What should winning look like for accountants hearing you at ENGAGE and also for other listeners of this podcast?

Harris: There are three things that I think will help people to win. Number 1, that you take away tools or pearls, as I like to call them, that will help you to further maximize your success in the seat that you're sitting in or the seat that you aspire to sit in. The second thing is walking away with renewed confidence that you can and you will be able to accomplish whatever your objectives might happen to be.

Number 3, understanding that engaging with clients will be even more important now on the other side of this pandemic, as clients are looking to be led, they're looking for information, they're looking to understand how things are going to change, and they're looking to you as the expert to give them that direction, to give them that information. So don't discount the valuable platforms that you sit upon that give you that information that will allow you to have a relationship edge with your clients.

Amato: You use that word aspire. That's going to be the topic of my last question. What's your advice to people who aspire to do better in their career and specifically who maybe are not in a career environment they want to, to get into a better career environment?

Harris: Yes. So let me start with the last piece of that question, Neil. If you have realized that you're not in the environment that you'd like to be in, then be very clear, number 1, about what that new environment looks like because many of us run from something to something. If you're going to bother to make the change, don't just run from something to something.

Really sit down to think about what does the environment look like that will allow you to really excel. I mean, think about it. What kind of culture do you want to work in? What kind of person do you want to work for? What kind of people do you want to work with? What are you hoping to do with this next opportunity and how might it lead you to other things?

So really be thoughtful if you're going to make the move. The second is give yourself at least six months to make that move and decide whether or not that move is internal or whether or not it's external. Because some people in the audience may just want to move from their seat, but they want to stay in the house. Some people might want to change the seat and the house.

So think about that because if you want to move internally, it's going to take about three months for you to start talking to people about different seats within the house. Understanding what it takes to get to that seat, understanding what the key success factors are for that new seat, understanding what the challenges are. Because the more people that you have coffee with and you network with and you talk to, the more informed you will be about what it takes to get to that next seat.

When you are interviewing for it, you can tell your story through the context of what that new buyer is really buying. If you want to go externally from the house, i.e., change the house, then it's going to take you about three months to start talking to people in different organizations, understanding who you know in those organizations that could walk your paper in because you obviously want a warm reception as opposed to just applying online or doing something like that.

Then you want to give yourself three months to actually start to interview, start to make the connections, and get yourself a new seat. If you want to change the culture within, then I would argue, don't wait for somebody to give you permission to do that. Start behaving the way you want the culture to be, and you'll be surprised how many people may start to follow you.

Amato: That's really good advice there, especially at the end. You don't have to be in a "leadership position" to be a leader.

Harris: Oh, Neil, I feel strongly you can lead from any seat.

Amato: Thanks again to Carla Harris, who spoke at ENGAGE in a keynote session.

In other news, we have a link to another ENGAGE keynote, that with former Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. We will include the article link in the show notes for this episode, and we'll also have links to the PCPS Top Issues Survey covered by Kevin Brewer, as well as Paul Bonner's coverage of the Dirty Dozen tax scams, an annual IRS list released in a few batches.

One such scam to be mindful of, according to the IRS, is related to stimulus payments, where a taxpayer may be asked through text, phone call, or other method to provide banking information in order to get such a payment.

The IRS does not initiate taxpayer contact by phone, email, text, or social media asking for a Social Security number or other personal or banking information.

Again, we will have links to several articles about the Dirty Dozen, along with the other news mentioned, or you can find them by visiting Thanks for listening to the JofA podcast.