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6 Things Today's Employees Want From Firm Leaders

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The days of unwavering loyalty -- regardless of what the company does -- are gone. Employees are looking out for their own well-being more than they have in years, and it's time for firm leaders to step up to the plate. Here, Amanda Lilley discusses six things you can do to improve your staff retention rate and attract new talent.

Jun 29th 2022
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Retention is front of mind for the leaders of many CPA firms, as the accounting industry grapples with a labor market that favors the employee more than the employer. Some call it the Great Resignation; others refer to it as the Great Reshuffle. Regardless of what term you prefer, focus attention on how to keep your current employees, especially your superstars. Firms use many different tactics, but here are some strategies I’ve seen work for firms trying to retain their great talent. 

1. Make Sure Your Compensation Strategy Is Competitive

The job market is too hot right now for firms to rely on fringe benefits or culture to keep employees around. Ensure that your salaries are at least competitive with other firms in your area. Also, because compensation has steadily increased over the past few years, review compensation benchmarking data at least semi-annually, if not quarterly. This has been a stark awakening for firms that have historically made compensation adjustments during annual performance reviews. 

A recent trend has been enticing employees to stay put by offering one-time retention bonuses. Typically, employees sign an agreement to stay at the firm a minimum amount of time, say two years, or else pay back a portion of—or all—the bonus. While offering a one-time bonus can be successful, I’d encourage you to focus your attention on what other retention strategies you can implement to ensure those employees stick around after their agreed-upon time. 

2. Focus on Training and Development 

Now is a great time to review your current training and development offerings at your firm. Are there areas where you could make training more valuable and impactful to your star employees? Does your training program look beyond technical topics? As accountants, we naturally focus on technical training to ensure we are up to date on the latest laws and regulations, but also to get those important technical CPE hours. Consider introducing soft-skill topics at your firm such as effective delegation, time management or prioritization just to name a few. Recently I’ve had many firms reach out Offering leadership development programs is a great way to invest in your superstar talent and shows that you are investing in their professional growth.  

3. Offer Attractive Career Opportunities

I commonly hear older generation partners stating that “these days the younger generations just don’t want to work like we did.” I counter their perceptions by pointing out that they want to work differently than the generations that came before them. One way to keep good employees working for you is to provide opportunities for them to experience their version of success and flexibility. For some, this may mean making it to the manager level and staying put; others may want to become a partner but not have ownership in the company. For those employees, a non-equity partner position may be enticing. Discussing these options with your employees signifies your commitment to retaining them regardless of the career path they choose. 

4. Mentor, Mentor, Mentor

If you don’t currently offer employees any sort of mentorship, I would encourage you to start putting the pieces together to formalize a program at your firm. Mentorship can help your employees feel they are supported and that someone has their best interest in mind as they face challenges throughout their career. What works well is assigning all employees with a mentor on their first day with the company. You could use personality tests to determine best matches between mentor and employee, or base matching on similar career goals and paths. Provide both the mentor and mentee with resources to help get the most out of the program. I’ve seen this include guides that outline conversations to have or topics to address during their mentorships.

5. Ask for Their Input

There’s no question that employees love having their thoughts and opinions heard. If employees don’t feel that their voices matter in the eyes of leadership, chances are they will start withdrawing and eventually leave. I’m not suggesting you start including your superstar employees in management meetings but do start checking in with them regularly to ask how things are going. Ask questions such as:

  • Is your client load reasonable, or do you feel overwhelmed? 
  • Are there things the firm could do to help you feel more supported? 
  • How do you feel about the frequency and quality of feedback you are receiving?

Employees who may be hesitant to speak up on their own are usually more forthcoming when prompted by their employer. Another great way to hear from your employees is to conduct stay interviews, an increasingly popular tactic amongst firms who recognize the importance of communicating with talent while they are still with you about what they enjoy, or wish could be changed. Waiting to do an exit interview to ask questions about what made them decide to leave is too late. By that time, you’ve already lost them. 

6. Recognize and Reward Efforts and Achievement

One way to keep employees satisfied, engaged, and retained is to recognize them for the work they are doing for you. This can be as simple as an email thanking them for working hard and exceeding expectations or taking them out for coffee or lunch to show appreciation for getting a large client project out the door early. If you have a company newsletter, including a section for employee shoutouts is also a great way to recognize achievements. For bigger accomplishments such as winning a client proposal, I’ve seen firms offer one-time spot bonuses to employees involved in the process to “share” in the earnings. It’s important that all, but especially your good employees feel their contributions are valued and seen. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to retaining all your good employees but implementing some of these suggestions may prevent that next superstar from looking elsewhere. As always, firm leaders need to prioritize being attentive to good employees and making sure that they are creating an environment that allows the employees to thrive and create a meaningful career. 

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