Who does the hiring at your firm? In CPA firms, at least in those under fifty people, the recruiting and hiring activities are usually assigned to one particular partner.
Other partners and staff might be involved in various activities and interviews but usually one partner takes the lead. Sometimes, it is an experienced manager who leads these efforts.
I have observed that in many firms, this person has been playing a key role in recruiting for many years. They personally visit the college campus and conduct the formal interviews during the fall recruiting season. Sometimes they draft a manager or senior, who is an alumnus of that institution to accompany them and share the interviewing duties.
This leader also attends campus job fairs and “meet the firms” events. They may also be visible at accounting fraternity events and meetings. They work closely with the firm administrator in organizing many activities that are part of the recruiting efforts. Finally, they probably make the key decision in who receives an offer and who does not.
I want to suggest that you consider replacing this individual with another key person at the firm. I also think it is a good practice to only allow this recruiting leader to be in the role for no more than five years.
Why? Because people tend to hire people just like them. Of course, they do this without even realizing it. Studies have shown us that employers seek out candidates who are not only competent but also culturally similar to themselves.
You need a variety of skill-sets and personalities to build a successful firm. The most successful firms have programs in place to promote diversity within their firm. So, when it comes to a leader for your recruiting efforts – mix it up every so often.
In the CPA profession, we talk a lot about delegation. Usually, my conversation with partners is about how to get better at delegating. So many CPAs are very poor delegators.
Today, I want to address the multitudes of you (staff, managers, admin) who are receiving delegation. I recently read a very helpful article provided by MindTools. One of The Five Ways to Deal With Delegation is No. 2 – Check The Facts.
Check The Facts:
Give yourself the best chance of success by gathering from your manager as much information about the task as you can. He may lead the delegation process, but you’ll be able to balance your and your boss’s needs by asking him questions such as:
- What exactly is the task? What’s its purpose and value?
- Why are you asking me and not another colleague? Do I have the most relevant skills, or the most time available? Do I need training or resources?
- When does it need to be done by? Is the deadline realistic or flexible?
- Who else has an interest in, or influence over, the task? Who do I need to involve or inform? (Influence maps and stakeholder analysis can be useful tools here.)
- How would you like to manage and monitor this task? How often, or at what stages, and in what format, would you like me to update you about my progress? Also, how much freedom to make decisions do I have?
- Which of my existing work should I “park” to free up the time and resources that I need to complete this new task?
The answers will give both you and your manager a clearer understanding of what’s expected. And you’ll know whether you can accept the request outright or if you need to agree a compromise.
Those of you delegating, be sure you can supply the answers to all of these questions. Read the entire article to learn about No. 1, 3, 4 and 5.
The informative article also gives you tips on how to say “No” when necessary.
Many young accountants working in public accounting have a strong desire to work their way up the ladder and become a partner someday.
There are a few problems with this scenario. First of all, “someday” is not nearly descriptive enough for young accountants just beginning their career.
Most non-partner accountants have no clue what they have to do to become a partner nor what they must do once they become a partner. Even worse, many current partners in accounting firm really don’t have a clear understanding of what is expected of them, even if they have been a partner for years.
You have heard it and read it many times, people entering the profession of public accounting want to know what their career path looks like, beginning on day one. They want to know what the next level, and all the levels after that, look like and how long does it take at each level.
I have observed that many firms have realized they need to document the career path process at their firm for their new hires. But, what about the current partner group?
I remember, several years ago, listening to Sam Allred of Upstream Academy describe a few things that CPA firm partners need to do:
Give up The Right to Remain Silent – When you become a partner, you must speak up at THE meeting (the partner meeting). It is not acceptable to nod your head and then go door-to-door after the meeting talking to the other partners. Not speaking up, in the proper forum, creates artificial harmony.
Keep an Open Mind – I relate this one to the 7 Habits, “seek first to understand and then be understood.”
You Give Up the Right to Make All Decisions – Sole-practitioners have this right. When you make the decision to be part of A FIRM, you give up that right.
Learn to Make the Proper Commitment – Saying/thinking, “I will stay out of the way” is not making commitment. It’s a case of “grudging compliance” vs. “spirited commitment.”
Willingness to Get Outside Your Comfort Zone – You cannot stand still. Becoming partner doesn’t mean you “made it” and now you can coast.
You Become a Leader for Change, Not an Anchor – You are helping row the boat, not sitting in the back and throwing out anchors when something doesn’t go your way.
Inside every accounting firm there is a naysayer. It’s the person who denies, refuses, opposes, or is skeptical or cynical about almost everything. It is the person who says, “we can’t do that.” Maybe your firm has more than one of these types. They always seem to see the glass half empty.
In progressive, well-managed firms, firms with strong, rich cultures, you will find people having conversations about the firm that are positive. Conversations that move the firm forward.
In these firms with positive cultures, when someone whines and says, “Nothing good is happening here,” someone else will often say, “Oh, what about the additional holiday they added last year?” or “Didn’t you just get assigned to one of the firm’s top five clients?” Negativity is diplomatically discouraged. And, if something truly negative is happening, management deals with it immediately.
Sometimes there are negative conversations and even less-than-tasteful jokes about some of the firm’s clients. Of course, you also discourage these kinds of comments. However, be aware and be realistic. Do some of your clients need to go elsewhere?
In firms that get it, you will find people who are keeping the vision alive. The vision lives in the conversations inside the firm. These positive conversations about the firm and the firm’s clients will help the firm grow and prosper.
Promote your positive culture by hosting a lunch & learn and ask your team members to identify positive things about your firm. Discuss them and then enlist your team in talking more about the positives on a daily basis.
Also, do the same exercise focusing on negatives at another lunch and learn session. Once the negatives are aired, select one or two and promise the team that management will address them.
I recently read an article via Accounting Today titled, “Make your firm great again: Raise the bar for new partner admissions” by Dom Esposito.
I agree with Esposito on two points: Growing a successful firm begins with the quality of the partner group. And, too many firms choose partners because of needs as opposed to qualifications.
Back in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, accounting firms made many partners because of the then, war for talent. The partners were afraid that some great technical managers might leave the firm for greener pastures, so they brought them into the partnership.
During the recession that hit in 2008, many firms recognized the weak links in the partner and manager ranks and downsized accordingly. However, I would guess that the majority of local accounting firms have never actually fired a partner.
Of course, being technically competent is the foundation of being a CPA and for becoming a partner in a firm. But, there is so much more needed if you really want your firm to become one of the leading firms in your market.
During the partner selection process, ask yourself:
- Are they technically competent?
- Can they continually bring in a stream of new business to the firm?
We are now in a renewed and serious quest for top talent. Retention is a big issue right now at many firms. Be careful as you consider making new partners.
At my firm, we used a two-year partner-in-training program. It was well-documented and gave the current partners and the partner candidates time to assess each other, as partners.
Be sure your firm has a thorough process for admitting new partners. Most firms continue to be too top heavy.
Your winter interns will be arriving soon. I hope that you have attracted some bright, eager beginners. Many of the most successful firms now hire from their pool of interns. Monitor their progress and be sure to make offers to the best ones immediately after the internship ends.
In the accounting profession, CPA firms have been trying to implement unique and creative ways to attract talent for many years. The game is becoming more and more competitive.
Many unique tactics are being used as companies, big and small, try to differentiate themselves in the eyes of talented business students.
CPA firms need to keep pace and develop ways to up their game. Here are some examples via Fortune – The crazy things companies are doing to recruit business school students.
–At recruiting events, General Mills offers students goggles to see a virtual reality tour of the company’s Minnesota campus. The recruits can see everything from the company gym to the executive offices.
–Goldman Sachs is using Snapchat to recruit college students.
–PwC is offering to pay back student loans for its junior employees. (Your firm could do this. The amount would be up to you.)
–General Motors recently parked cars on the campus of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and invited students to take a test drive. Of course, they brought Camaros and Corvettes.
–On Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business campus PwC furnished an ice cream truck. On the University of Michigan campus, they provided a coffee truck (free coffee anytime for all students).
–Land O’ Lakes brought their CEO to campus. It helps students see that they have access to leaders. (Take your partners to campus, not just younger alumni.)
Advice from career services directors:
This generation of students is seeking more connection with their potential employers and the missions of those companies. Today’s students want to be connected with the company’s mission and vision. Have you clearly defined the vision of your accounting firm? I find many firms have not. The partners are not united on where they are going.
The days of attracting top students by passing out cheap stuff – like post-it notes, water bottles, pens, backpacks, lip balm, etc. are over.
Whether you have a very large firm or a very small firm, how you spend your CPE (Continuing Professional Education) budget is something that takes thought and planning. It is a very important activity inside your firm.
Of course, you need to focus on developing the technical skills of your employees, especially the beginners. CPA firms focus on the various “level” training courses for their one, two and three-year team members. Staff level training is offered by state societies and other vendors and is a great benefit to those beginning their careers in public accounting.
After that initial investment, further expenditures for the benefit of staff seems to decline. Dollars are allocated on keeping up with audit and tax issues but not so much for supervisory, management and leadership training. Firms tend to procrastinate on these very important skills that could mean success for the firm in the future.
Many firms hand out titles without the education and training to back it up. In many cases, CPA firm managers have no clue how to manage. They were given the title because of technical expertise and longevity. Maybe a supervisor is encouraged to attend a one-day “supervisory” training course like the ones offered by vendors across the country, not specifically for the CPA profession. Often, it doesn’t go any further than that.
If you send some of your people to the well-known CPA leadership training courses, I urge you to seriously evaluate the effectiveness of the course. After your people complete a leadership course, monitor their progress. Initially, they are excited about the whole experience but does it last? Do they demonstrate the leadership skills they learned or did they attend leadership training just to promote their personal career?
As you prepare your CPE plan for the coming year, balance the technical with the career-enhancing skills and then monitor the performance of the individuals as they build on what they have learned.
Leadership in a CPA firm means being able to get diverse individuals to work together as a team to achieve a common goal. It means that your CPA team will out-perform the competition. To get there you must be generous with your CPE budget. It’s an investment in the future of your firm.
In these times of focusing intently on the people we employ, never forget that you wouldn’t need your staff members if you didn’t have clients.
I believe that many clients are at risk right now at the majority of CPA firms across the nation. Why? It is very simple, because so many partners are beginning to retire and these more senior partners have not wholeheartedly bought-in to a formalized client transition process.
The concept of finding and retaining applies to both employees and clients. You must find, hire and retain top talent. You must find, obtain and keep great clients.
Some of the same activities to accomplish these “musts” apply to both.
Recruiting and retaining, or as Tom Hood puts it, attracting and developing, the most talented young professionals begins by being visible to them. Consider how visible the large national firms are on college campuses. You can’t be that visible on as many campuses but you can certainly establish relationships with professors and participate in activities in the business school of the universities in your market.
You must have established a great culture that helps you build your brand. If you truly are a great place to work, that reputation will spread.
Attracting the best clients begins by being visible to them. Being visible in your business community and being active in charitable and civic organizations is still a major factor in attracting great clients. You build the relationship first, then you pursue the business. You and your firm must also be active and visible in social media. Your website is key. A prospective client will look at your website and assess your credibility before they ever have a serious talk with you about their business.
You must have established a great culture that attracts highly technical CPAs that can serve the needs of sophisticated business owners. You must build a brand that convinces clients and prospective clients that…. “we pay them a lot but they are definitely worth it.”
Communication (or the lack thereof) in every organization is critical. It is especially important in the accounting world where we have populated our firms with great CPA’s who are most likely not also great communicators. It’s just the nature of the beast and we have to work a little harder at it.
Everyone wants to know what’s going on and in most firms your team has several methods for acquiring information. Those include staff meetings, internal newsletters, intranets, group emails, etc. But, what is number one in every firm? The Grapevine! And you as firm leadership don’t control it.
The Grapevine doesn’t sleep. It works 24/7, never takes a day off and if you’re lucky gets “it” about half right. The mystery in most firms about what is really going on is just too tasty and tempting for most of us to resist.
You’re never going to get rid of it but here are a couple of ideas for firm leadership to consider that will help. I’m not a big fan of meetings and especially creating more of them. But these are important and probably not happening in your firm.
First, get your managers together with your managing partner (MP) three or four times a year. Your managers are on the front line for the firm “managing” your clients and staff. The MP should bring an agenda of items to be shared and discussed and then open it up. Your purpose here is to have a dialogue about important issues inside the firm and to give them a consistent message from the top. Your managers are part of firm leadership and should be helping the entire partner group carry the torch.
Second, on a less frequent basis, set up a lunch for all team members, except partners and managers, with the MP. This should be more of an open forum. At first it may seem a little clumsy but the more you do it the more people will open up and talk. We used to call it our “stump the MP lunches”. Obviously not everything can be shared. But you will go a long way toward helping your team feel connected to the firm and, slowing down the grapevine.