Whether it’s more work coming in the door than you can handle, or just hearing that your staff can’t deal with it anymore, staffing is, in my opinion, the biggest vulnerability your firm has today.
At the evening reception of a conference I attended a couple of months ago, one of our members introduced me to a staff member he’d brought to the conference. As we chatted, I asked her how long she’d been with the firm. Three years, she told me.
Then I asked her how she liked it, and her response really stuck with me. She said she’d been in accounting for 15 years, but this was her first public accounting position, and she’d never worked harder in her life. And I think her answer may sum up why firms are struggling with building and keeping their teams.
Now, I’m not sure I’ll impart anything profound in this article that will solve what seems like a significant problem across many industries and professions. But I do think I can offer some advice that will have a positive impact on this glaring problem.
Know your challenges
It would probably be helpful to start by naming some of the challenges I universally hear:
You’d know better than me what you’re hearing from your own team. But it seems to me that it has a lot more to do with frustration than it does with pay, personalities, mistreatment or any other cause. Yes, those situations exist, but frustration is the leading cause. So, for the sake of this article, let’s focus on minimizing frustration: frustration with workload, complexity and leadership, to be more specific.
I’ve come to realize that much of the driver for frustration centers around what I think are two of the most important leadership challenges in firms today. One is firm culture; the other is the firm’s business model. I believe these two concepts are deeply intertwined.
Know your beliefs
Let’s start with culture because I think it informs a firm’s business model. Firm culture is a challenging thing to put your finger on, so let’s think of it as the collective beliefs and behaviors of the firm.
Which naturally brings up a couple of questions: First, what do you believe about every aspect of your firm? And second (but equally important), do your behaviors support those beliefs?
Here are a few ideas to get you started. How would you answer the following?
Know your firm
This is just a beginning, but it’s enough to show you that once you’ve articulated what we’ll call your collective beliefs, the impact on your business model will be significantly intertwined. Your collective behaviors must match all aspects of your beliefs and business model.
I hope you can see that by doing the challenging work of clearly articulating your culture (collective beliefs and behaviors) and then developing your business model as an outcome of the type of culture you want, many of the frustrations experienced by your team will start to minimize and even evaporate.
What’s clear to me is that we’re in a time of dramatic change—slow, incremental change may be too late for many people. Remember, people matter most in a firm.
And if that’s not clear to everyone, you won’t be able to buy enough pizzas or take enough Friday afternoons off during the post-busy season to create the culture needed today to run a modern accounting firm.
The unemployment rate has hit some of its lowest levels in American history. New small business applications have increased by almost 2 million since 2019. And according to the Washington Post, professional and business services added 74,000 jobs.
So, what does this mean for our culture? It means retaining our top employees is critical.
Without a culture where employees are valued, trusted, recognized and connected, the risk of losing them is real—and their departures could have a detrimental effect on our businesses.
The good news: Engaging employees and showing that you value them isn’t a hard feat. But it does take time, planning, authenticity and a shift in mindset.
We can no longer make assumptions about employee happiness or only focus on what works best for our bottom line. As leaders, we must listen to our employees’ needs and implement authentic employee engagement actions.
So, how do we truly understand what employees want and act on their needs? That’s where the employee engagement survey comes in.
The why and how of the employee engagement survey
Simply put, engagement is how someone thinks, feels and acts to help their organization achieve its goals. An employee engagement survey measures data to inform leaders about engagement levels. Just as important, it gives staff a voice—and what better way to feel engaged than to know that your feelings and observations are being heard?
If you’re not sure where to start with surveying your employees, we’ve got a few useful tips.
From survey to action plan
Once the feedback has been provided by the team, what’s the next step? Use the data to create an action plan. Just like any journey, the first step in an action plan is to determine your destination. Use the survey results to identify areas to address firm-wide…and make solid plans to tackle them.
This will take time and planning, so also implement a quick win or two (something you can quickly and easily put into place, like putting the Keurig coffee maker everyone’s asking for in the break room) to show staff that you’re dedicated to the effort while giving your engagement strategy momentum.
Display the survey results and store them where people can easily access the information. Taking these steps, with intention, is sure to lead to an environment of engagement within your firm.
Staffing is an issue for many companies across all industries right now. Finding qualified candidates is challenging, so how do you ensure that the staff you do have don’t leave?
Recent studies have shown that in today’s tight job market, salary and benefits are a major factor in staff members’ decisions to leave a job. But if you’re already competitive on money—or worse, you can’t compete—how can you ensure your staff sticks around?
Here’s the best way to keep your staff happy, engaged and employed with your firm: Create an environment they don’t want to leave.
How? By setting clear job expectations, providing continuous feedback on their performance, offering staff growth plans, recognizing and celebrating milestones, and having a fantastic work environment with flexible work options that create an effective work-life balance.
Let’s talk a little about how these factors can equal or even outweigh more money at another firm.
Set clear job expectations
A common reason staff leave a job is a lack of clarity or training for their job. Make sure all your positions have job descriptions with clear expectations and performance goals. At least one of these expectations and goals should be tied to the firm’s goals. Managers should have regular conversations with each employee on why these goals and expectations are important to the firm, so the staff are clear about how their work matters—and how it ties into the overall picture.
Provide continuous feedback on performance
A formal review process can be daunting for both the reviewer and the reviewed. However, everyone generally wants to get better at their jobs, which requires giving and receiving feedback. We recommend that the meetings be less formal, more conversational and occur quarterly. Here’s a simple template you can follow:
This template allows for continuous conversations between managers and staff, with steady improvement for staff and regular check-ins from managers. The quarterly check-ins can be compiled and used as a record for the annual review—which will be less intimidating since everything has been documented and discussed throughout the year.
Offer staff growth plans
The quarterly discussions are also perfect for exploring the staff’s growth plans. Having a defined growth plan helps each staff member understand what their future holds for them at the firm. If they feel they don’t have a future at your firm, they’ll start to look for a future somewhere else. Keep in mind, a growth plan doesn’t always mean advancement toward partnership or ownership. Sometimes it means staying in the same position for an entire career, but with added responsibilities.
Growth plans should include training and development. Consider what professional development or continuing education your staff needs for their career, what upskilling your firm needs for growth—like learning new technologies or systems—or what leadership skills need to be developed. Don’t forget about succession planning, either.
Recognize and celebrate milestones
Appreciation goes a long way—so don’t forget to recognize even the smallest victories. And you don’t need a big budget to do it. Often words are enough; a small token, if the right token, will go further than a large gesture.
Before you do anything, ask your staff how they like to be recognized, as some like a big showing in front of a crowd while others prefer personal notes or small gifts. Consider asking them if they have a favorite candy bar or snack that you can pick up for them as a thank you for a job well done. These types of gestures will often go further than an official reward and recognition system.
Celebrate everything you can: birthdays, anniversaries, notable achievements, promotions, rolling out a new process, finishing ahead of a deadline or landing a new client. The more you bond over things you’ve worked on and celebrated together, the more everyone will feel like they won’t want to leave such a supportive team.
Create an environment staff don’t want to leave
Offering a fantastic work environment with a great culture where people love coming to work is a great way to retain staff. But offering other perks—like working from home, or flexible scheduling so staff can find their own work-life balance—will increase loyalty and make sure your employees want to stay at your firm.
Often the best programs don’t cost a lot of money. They take just a little thinking outside the box.
These days, applicants are in high demand, with lots of choices available to them. More than ever—especially in the case of remote job openings—employment seekers are having to make judgment calls on which openings to pursue, which interviews to engage with and, ultimately, where they can settle in for longer-term employment.
Like it or not, we live in a world of judgment calls. In an ideal world, these decisions would all be “no brainers” because we’d have access to all the information needed to make the best decision. However, reality forces us to make a call based on whatever information we have on hand and available actions within a finite time frame.
So, let’s keep the ideal in mind, and try to close the differential gap with reality in a practical way.
In this article, I hope to arm you with some ideas on how your firm can think about career opportunities—and more ideas on where your firm can take quick action to improve your current implementations.
A career is not a product
Recently, our Education and Web teams have been discussing how we can help members make the most of their recruiting efforts. Historically, firms looking to hire would put up a Careers page, which more often than not contained a listing of positions and relevant skills/prerequisites…and not much else.
Now, if you’re looking to buy a product, this is a great layout. Give the specs, share some details and show how to buy. The problem with this layout for hiring, though, is that it does little to appeal to your target audience.
If you’re a modern firm, chances are you’re not looking to hire for a temporary position. Rather, you’re looking for an individual who will come join your firm to grow, mature and contribute increasing value to your clients.
Pause here for a moment and think about how you’re conveying this today. Is it just an open position posting via LinkedIn or another job posting site?
When your firm seeks to attract new talent to join your team, you’re asking those potential team members to envision how (or if) they’ll fit into what you’ve started. A solitary posting won’t do much to stand out in a market full of openings.
If you want someone to join your team for more than a finite contract assignment, you’ll need to connect with them on a more personal level. Will they fit into your culture? And more importantly, will becoming part of your firm help them grow and meet their career goals?
How to tell your firm’s story
Your website is prime real estate for showcasing your “Why you’ll love to work here” pitch for two reasons:
Ross Desmond, a member coach from Rootworks’ Education team, recommends building up your firm’s story on your website to help you appeal to applicants by standing out from the crowd. Here are his tips on getting started:
Interested in learning more about how you can improve your message to potential hires? Rootworks members can check out our Career Page Creation guide (login required), a new education resource in our Online Learning Library. This guide, which includes helpful resources, will help you create a more appealing Career page on your firm’s Rootworks website.
It’s time to recognize this month’s Rootworks member anniversaries! Help us wish the following firms a Happy Anniversary:
Jason Arsenault CPA LLC
SEK CPAs & Advisors
Wright CPA Group
Logan Graham & Conner Acct PC
Alan A. Lischer, CPA
Pyxis Financial, Inc.
Schumacher Sama CPAs
Blankenship CPA Group
Steadfast Bookkeeping Company LLC
CommonWealth Accountants & Counselors
Graci Tax & Accounting, PA
Somnium Solution, Inc.
Knudtson & Company CPAs, PA
Zelitsky & Company LLC
Eikermann & Associates, LLC
CPA Solutions, LLC
Williams & Company P.C.
Valley Tax Advisors, LLC
The Hagen Firm, PLLC
Dunning & Associates CPAs, LLC
Addicks CPA Firm LLP
Cornerstone CPA Group, PA
Keen & Company CPAs, PLLC
Terrill & Company, Inc.
Frank & Frank LLP
DeWitt Giger LLP
Dohan CPA PA
Duncan, Messersmith & Associates
Congratulations on your success, and we look forward to celebrating many more anniversaries with you and your teams!
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Rootworks members can now use an early access version of Insights, which delivers customer segmentation and pricing data as well as reports for your firm and clients. Connection to QuickBooks Online is required for firms and/or clients.