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Retaining Top Talent Still a Requirement for Firms

Focus on people now to keep turnover costs down when the economy improves.

May 2010
by Heidi Brundage and Mark Koziel/Journal of Accountancy

For years, finding and retaining staff were the top two concerns of management at public accounting firms. But when the economy soured, client retention quickly became the top issue for CPA firms of all sizes, according to the 2009 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey, a biennial survey of public accounting firm owners on their greatest practice management issues. At first glance, it appeared that firms would need to completely change course and focus on non-staffing issues. But client retention and other firm goals can only be achieved by having staff members who possess the knowledge and skills to get the job done. Treating people as your greatest asset is essential to a firm’s success.

From a dollars-and-cents perspective, turnover is a serious business factor that all firms should monitor. When the economy turns around and business picks up at larger firms, those firms will start hiring again. Firms and corporations will again be in a talent war for CPAs. When and if a team member voluntarily leaves your organization, you will spend a great deal of time and money hiring a replacement. Don’t wait until then to focus on retaining your best people. Consider the following ingredients of staff retention success now to ensure the well-being of your firm and its members.

Culture Is Key

The initial step in achieving retention success is instilling in the firm’s culture that people are the top priority. This must come from the top of the leadership hierarchy and flow down through the organization. Building a cohesive staffing system — one in which each function, such as recruitment, training and performance management, is integrated with the others — will demonstrate a commitment to the people power of your company and will regularly breed retention efforts. Effectively managing and retaining today’s human capital is a continual process that is affected by every policy, procedure and decision related to your people. It is in a firm’s best interest to view retention not as a separate initiative but as inherent to firm culture. When retention becomes a priority, that mindset flows through the firm and staffing programs will naturally gravitate toward maximizing employee satisfaction and retaining the best and brightest talent. A culture based on retention promotes positive energy and the desire for employees to stick around because they belong.

This article has been excerpted from the Journal of Accountancy. View the full article here.