How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em?

There is a World War I era song titled, How Ya Gonna Keep Em Down On The Farm, after they’ve seen Paris (pronounced in the song as Par-ee)? Farm boys had gone off to war in Europe at a time when farm boys knew no other life than the one they were living on the farm. Up to this point in time they stayed on the farm and worked very hard.

The song title over the years seems to have become a slang phrase to express the frustration with being able to keep people in current jobs.

Think about your CPA firm. You want talented people with a solid work ethic to “stay down on the farm”. This issue certainly needs to be on your list of strategic initiatives in light of the steadily growing competitive activities focused on finding, hiring, developing and RETAINING great talent in the CPA profession.

Here’s a summary of an article I read recently in my local newspaper that came originally from the Seattle Times. It is titled, Managers Turn To New Tricks To Lure, Keep Employees.

A young female employee’s manager asked them to report immediately to a conference room. As she approached, she noticed that the room’s windows were papered over so that no one could see in or out. She thought to herself, “this must be very serious.”

But her company executives had called her there to express appreciation for her hard work and to give her an iPad Mini. The CEO, later noted, “I felt like Oprah, it was my most fun day of work ever!”

As the economy improves and the job market strengthens, some employers are getting creative to hold on to key employees.

I am hearing from many CPA firm executives that they have been very cautious with salary increases and other perks for several years now and are beginning to wonder what they should do to remain competitive. As you have probably, read many times by now, a Gallup survey found that only 3 of 10 Americans were engaged at work, while 50 percent were “just kind of present” and 20 percent were actively disengaged (or miserable).

As the CEO of the small company in the article noted, she must compete with the bigger, corporate entities for people. She can’t afford the expensive benefits of Seattle’s large, publicly traded companies. So, instead she offers a range of smaller perks.

In public accounting, it will continue to get harder to find top-quality people. You have to sell them on your “life is different inside our CPA firm” story and then you have to actually live the story! As one CEO noted, “Once they’re on board, we have to keep them engaged for the long term.”

At your next partner meeting discuss this question:  How are WE going to keep them at our firm after they have learned that the firm down the street offers free gym memberships, flexible hours and free iPads for the BEST performers?


About the Author

RitaRita Keller is the Founder of Keller Advisors, LLC and SurveyCPA, LLC. She is a widely respected voice to CPA firm management. Through her presentations and workshops, she interacts with thousands of accountants annually.  Named as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People In Accounting and one of The Most Powerful Women In Accounting, she acts as an advisor and coach to CPA firm leaders across the country.  She can be reached at