A recent survey conducted by the AICPA showed one of the biggest concerns accounting firms are facing today is employee retention and engagement. This is no surprise and is endemic throughout the entire profession. As the economy takes a turn for the better, the rate at which team members are leaving their current employment or seeking further opportunities is accelerating. Many of the people leaving firms are the emerging leaders. While turnover is expensive and time consuming, finding new emerging leaders is dauntingly difficult in many firms. I recently reached out to some accounting firm leadership who are focused on tackling this mounting issue. I asked their leaders “What are you doing to keep team members engaged and energized?” I also asked emerging leaders the question “What helps you to stay engaged and energized? “ With this feedback, three strategies emerged that could assist any firm in improving employee engagement.
Strategy 1: Provide Personal Plans for Growth and Development
The saying, “One size doesn’t fit all,” does apply in the work environment. Customized growth and development plans for team members and emerging leaders pack a big punch with employee productivity.
Customized programs show team members they are viewed as individuals. These programs if built correctly focus not only on fundamental skill building but also allow emphasis on each individual’s needs to grow and succeed in their job. It is often tempting to generalize your team members. It is important to remember that no two people work or complete tasks exactly the same way. As a leader in the firm, establishing an open and free format growth plan can help everyone to be conscientious of the many workstyles that exist in a firm and help keep the lines of communication open. Weyrich, Cronin & Sorra does a great job of this. Firm leadership establishes goals for each partner to spend focused time on developing their team members. “We have identified who we think our emerging leaders are, and as a group we look for opportunities to teach them or help them understand our business. I always find time to meet with them or share an article I read that I think may apply to their personal growth,” said Frank Saverese, Managing Partner. Feeling comfortable with your mentor/coach is vital; consciously pairing team members with partners or supervisors allows for open communication throughout the growth process. This is a critical component to creating a successful program.
Strategy 2: Create Opportunities to Spend Time with Firm Leaders Outside of Busy Time
Marc Derstein , Managing Partner at Detweiler Hershey said it best, “Most of the things that make a partner good-happen outside of the busy season. If you are technically competent you can be a strong contributor (but) what really will differentiate a younger professional is what they do when all of the returns are done and financial statements are out.” Team members may surprise you with ideas for what they are able to do for your business when given the opportunity. The real growth of your business happens when you leave the office, head to a meeting or lunch or an afterhours event. Creating buy-in from team members happens when the 8-5 job is done. Consider how often are you including your team members in opportunities to network, meet new people and attend an event. Inviting team members to join in allows you the chance to see who expresses interest and who seizes those opportunities. This also allows you to watch them develop as leaders and help to shape their understanding of the business. Be sure to be active outside of the regular business day. Share the things that are enjoyable and those things that motivate you as a firm leader. Show how work can be both rewarding and fun. Your team members may observe and emulate those efforts! After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Strategy 3: Focus on Building Personal Skill Sets with Team Members
Maintaining technical skills is important for any accountant, but what we hear time and time again from emerging leaders is the need to absorb the confidence and skills to develop client relationships. Often times, leaders think that people will either possess these skills naturally, or they will not have them at all. With a little time and focus on learning these skills, however, team members can be provided with the tools needed to be successful. When speaking with Jessica Giresi from WithumSmith & Brown about what skills emerging leaders are most interested in learning, she expressed, “In my field, building like and trust with clients is essential in providing the best service possible. Therefore, in addition to maintaining technical knowledge, it is important to continuously build personal skill sets to understand how to interact with various personality types.” Most up and coming leaders don’t start out in their careers knowing this. Leaders should make sure that to discuss the importance on building relationships. Technical ability is assumed in accounting professionals. The soft skills are often the hard skills and they are critical for effective leadership.
Susan Miano, an emerging leader at Friedman offered additional advice, “It’s key to learn how to be fearless in engaging referral sources.” Susan understands the importance of learning how to be effective in building relationships and bringing in clients. If you haven’t begin to invest in providing coaching and opportunities for your team members to develop these skill sets, now is a great time to think about doing so. Confidence in your emerging leaders will quickly follow.
Economic growth means great things for the accounting industry but also means it provides openings for emerging leaders to look at outside opportunities. Great opportunities exist for those leaders who find ways to engage team members; as we have heard, taking the time to provide personal growth plans, creating opportunities to spend time with team members after the busy time and focusing on soft skill set development are ways to keep them engaged and focused on helping you keep your business moving forward.
About the author
Angie Grissom serves as the President of The Rainmaker Companies, a leading provider of alliance, consulting, and training services exclusively for the Accounting Profession.She is passionate about the current and future leadership in the accounting industry and pushes firm leaders to build firms that empower people and have strong future leaders and unmatched client service. She encourages leaders to think outside the box and have a focus on getting results.