The First Steps for Fast Tracking Top Talent

It is the time of year when I am privileged to work with many firms on strategic planning, leadership development and team strengthening at the partner and full team level.  I mention that because a theme has been emerging over the past few years and this year it is at the top of the challenge list for almost every audience that I am coming into contact with – how to fast track top talent within the firm.  We see the amazing talent that is appearing at the intern and new staff levels.  We recognize the new managers that have a passion for the profession and want to “get moving” on higher level clients and learn the in’s and out’s of the profession from the current partner group.  We get it, except for one little question – how?

Let’s take a look at what I would consider the initial steps that firm leaders need to take in order to be ready to fast track a team member:

  1. Start with the Organizational Chart:  The organization chart is the first stop in your journey.  Even in a small to mid-size firm, your staff needs to see that if they develop skills and knowledge there is a path upwards that they can take.  That means that you must have a structure that shows if you start as a staff member you can move to a higher level of title within the firm if you develop new capabilities and new knowledge.  You may have no one in some of the “boxes” at first, but the structure is important.
  2. Develop Position Expectations:   The job description is the next stop in your journey.   A written job description with technical, business management, client relations, practice development, team development, personal development, personal productivity, management and leadership skills should be developed for each position in the firm.  The temptation will be to just find a sample from one of the many sources available in the profession and use that, but I am challenging you to really analyze those samples and customize the job description to fit your culture.  The more precise the job description, the more useable it will be as you apply it to individual team members in the firm.
  3. Develop Salary Ranges:   The development of salary ranges for each of the levels in the firm is often missed, sometimes because of a lack of knowledge, and sometimes because it seems overwhelming.  If you spend time on this step, you will save yourself and your firm hours of painful conversations in the future.  Take the time to use industry survey’s, local survey’s and on line resources to develop an entry, median and high point in each of the positions at the firm.  This tool will be very valuable in future steps of the process.
  4. Identify a True Compensation Award System:  In public accounting firms we have not grown up with the concept that compensation award can be a process and policy within the firm.  Many other businesses have a policy that they can share with employee’s to help them understand that if they meet certain criteria they can expect a particular reward.  This is an important factor for top talent.  These star performers will often wonder if they perform in a particular way, will it really be a benefit to them.  The answer should be yes, and the policy for compensation should be something that you show them in a tangible and written form.
  5. Develop a Performance Management System:  The foundation is in place, but there is one more piece of the puzzle that is needed in order for you to really motivate the amazing staff members in your firm.  A performance management system is imperative to making the entire system run efficiently.  There are multiple technology systems available to explore including Halogen, Success Factors and viDesktop.  Your process should include:
    1. The initial conversation to set goals and expectations for the year ahead
    2. Regular conversations about performance throughout the year.  I recommend at least quarterly
    3. A space on the network or within the system to add notes about performance as they occur.  This should be open to the supervisor and the employee.
  6. Performance Coaching For Top Talent:  Individuals, who have the potential to be the best long term leaders in your firm, have a keen instinct to want to be pushed to be the best.  This does not happen if they are sitting in a cubicle or office all by themselves.  They need to be coached and given the opportunity to improve on their baseline skills.  This only happens if the firm is spending time on coaching and transferring knowledge to them.

Developing this foundation for top talent so that they can clearly see the expectations, the path for promotion and experience the wisdom of leaders in the firm is a great first step for igniting the fire in your firm’s up and comers.

About the author

Sandra Wiley is the COO and Shareholder at Boomer Consulting, Inc.  She is ranked by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her prominent role as an industry expert on HR and training as well as influence as a management and planning consultant. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant’s Alliance. Sandra has a passion for teaching the next generation leader and has developed the P3 Leadership Academy to elevate the top talent in firms throughout the country.  She also assists in building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff.  She can be reached at

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