A survey conducted by the AICPA showed one of the biggest concerns firms are facing today is employee retention and engagement. This is no surprise and is endemic throughout the entire profession. In recent years, 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 leaders who are focused on tackling this mounting issue. I asked what they are doing to keep team members engaged and energized. I also discussed with emerging leaders what helps them stay engaged and energized. From this feedback, three strategies emerged to improve employee engagement.
Strategy 1: Provide Personal Plans for Growth and Development
The saying “one size fits all” doesn’t 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, not only focus on fundamental skill building, but also emphasize each individual’s specific needs to grow and succeed in their job. It is often tempting to generalize your team members, but it’s important to remember 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 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 for 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 the 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 and head to a meeting or lunch or an after-hours event. Creating buy-in from team members happens when the 8-5 job is done.
Consider how often you are 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 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, leaders think people will either possess these skills naturally or 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 Withum 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 to discuss the importance of 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, a Partner 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 are not already 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 it also provides openings for emerging leaders to look at outside opportunities. Great opportunities exist for the 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 move your business forward.
If you are considering ways to develop your emerging leaders, consider The Rainmaker Academy®, a transformational, graduate-level leadership and business development program for high-potential, partner-track professionals. Or Contact Us for a complimentary consultation on how Rainmaker can help to enhance your firm’s growth culture.
About the Author
Angie serves as President of The Rainmaker Companies. She advanced from her previous position as Director of Consulting, which she held for over ten years. Her role in the firm involves high-level strategy, thought leadership, consulting, and program and curriculum development. She transforms the lives of clients through innovation, goal setting, coaching, training, and accountability development.