What Does Rising Talent Look for in a CPA Firm?
Public accounting has changed a great deal in order to keep pace with the way client needs have changed, requiring specifically talented professionals to evaluate these needs from multiple angles.
This may be one reason that rising stars in the CPA world need a different type of environment to learn and thrive. At our firm, we have taken an aggressive route to test programs, encourage feedback and ensure that skilled employees have a clear path that is customized to support their individual preferences around skills development and professional growth.
We have also learned that young team members benefit from a focus on four areas:
When young associates join the firm, we emphasize the importance of having a passion for what they do. In addition, we have a group coaching model that allows individuals to experience the different service lines and industries we serve. They work with coaches to determine which arena they most enjoy, and they may elect to move around within the company.
Once they choose their path, we then tailor their education, exposure and experiences. This two-year “incubator” also helps them gain an appreciation for their co-workers’ experiences, challenges, and thought processes.
We recognize the unique challenges that women face in the profession and mentor women to thrive. As such, our firm has a successful Women’s Opportunity Network (WON), through which team members can maintain a dialogue on important issues like how to maintain a fulfilling life/work integration. All employees value balance, but finding it can be incredibly tricky for women going through major life milestones at the same time their careers are gaining momentum.
CPAs today need to be well-rounded business professionals, with an understanding of how all the disciplines of business interact. We consider it part of our role as a firm to ensure they have the education they need to succeed.
We therefore offer an innovative program in partnership with a regional college, supporting employees who enroll in customized CPA exam training and an MBA program. Classes may be attended on campus or remotely, and employees who complete the program have their tuition subsidized.
This type of program gives rising CPAs an important option to “Fast Track” their careers, and eliminates hurdles that often hold young professionals back: they can study together, receive financial support, and take classes at a convenient location and on a schedule designed for working professionals.
3. Giving back
While some feel that advising clients on the nonprofit side of our business provides a fulfilling outlet, younger employees often want to go beyond that service to give back in the form of volunteer time and money. For example, our firm donates 10 percent of our net income annually to nonprofits and we provide employees with one paid day of service per year so they may feel empowered to make community service a priority in their life.
Firms can also put initiatives into play such as matching donations, charity drives at outings, and supporting board service among senior employees and partners. We know that not only do employees value this type of commitment, it reinforces that who they work for and what they do plays a larger role in the community.
4. Collaboration and flexibility
Our firm has what we call a “One Firm Structure,” which means that our clients are serviced and appreciated by the firm as a whole, not just one individual partner in a silo. This attitude of teamwork is a major part of the culture and contributes to a shared vision about the future of the firm and the strategies that will help us meet our goals.
Rising talent appreciates the firm’s top-down, disciplined emphasis on firm-wide coordination of decision making, cooperative teamwork, and shared accountability. In order to ensure that our skilled employees can maximize their customized career path, we foster flexible work arrangements as needed, especially for those balancing career and family demands. This includes identifying and removing barriers to flexibility and finding ways to enable productivity beyond traditional work sites.
For example, we continue to evaluate and pilot programs and technologies that may reduce travel obligations, and maintain connectivity and teamwork for both our mobile workforce and clients who may be hundreds of miles apart. By tackling each of these four areas, our goal is to demonstrate our appreciation that every team member is unique.
Young employees should be able to choose the paths that speak to them and in that way continue to own their professional development and future. Firm leadership teams that support this spirit will see their workforce perform better, they will retain more talent and they will see their team members act as long-term advocates for their firm.
Dave McManus CPA is AAFCPAs’ co-managing partner, providing assurance, tax planning & compliance solutions to privately-held commercial companies. His client base consists of multinational manufacturing & distribution companies, real estate developers, auto dealerships...