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Jennifer Wilson
Six strategies to help you compete in an unprecedented recruiting cycle

It’s all about people—again! Is your firm ready?

March 11, 2013
by Jennifer Wilson

Every year at ConvergenceCoaching, we create a theme to guide our work with clients. In 2013, our theme is “It’s all about people—again!” That’s why I really appreciated it recently when a top 100 firm CEO shared that, in his career, he has seen two recurring cycles in public accounting. The first cycle occurs when the economy is doing well and firms focus on finding and grooming great people. The second cycle occurs when the economy ebbs and firms shift their focus to retaining existing, and securing new, clients.

I like the simplicity of this “people-clients” model, and it is clear that as the economy lifts, we’re entering a “people” cycle now. Just ask any midsize firm in a major coastal city. Most will share stories of key seniors and managers who have left their firms for “greener pastures” this past December and January—breaking the unspoken rule of never quitting at the onset of, or during, busy season. I believe this is the beginning of a wave of pent-up voluntary turnover that has been held at bay by the uncertain economy. And I believe the events that will follow will turn our traditional cycles upside down.

The complicating factor here is that our nation is undergoing the most significant demographic shift we’ve ever seen—an estimated 78 million Baby Boomers will leave their firms, businesses, and organizations in the next 10 to 12 years. This exodus of talent will place extraordinary pressure and emphasis on every U.S. organization’s recruiting, training and development, performance management, and retention programs.

Is your firm ready? Consider these six strategies to help your firm compete in this unprecedented people cycle:

  • Ensure your HR leadership is top notch and empowered. If your firm has more than 60 people, you should have a high-quality, full-time HR manager or director in place. If your firm is smaller, ensure that a partner-level resource owns the HR function and is leveraging internal administration and external support to ensure competitive HR programs. Having a strategic resource devising differentiating strategies and solving cultural or other people issues for the firm is a must.
  • Rev up your recruiting engines now. If your firm de-emphasized on-campus and/or experienced-hire recruiting in recent years, the time has come to reinvest in those areas—and quickly, even if you’re not actively hiring. Recruiting is a marketing function—with a different target audience—so ensure that you have a differentiated message, the right offering, and that you’re reaching your desired employee audience “where they live.” If you’re not using social media actively in recruiting, start now!
  • Be competitive and fair. Make sure you are paying your people at or above market. Treat existing team members fairly and raise their salaries as market pressure increases salaries for new hires. Compare your firm’s benefits to those of competitors and make sure your insurance, paid-time off (PTO), flexibility, and other programs are on par with those of other firms.
  • Re-recruit your top team members. Most HR studies indicate that it costs 1.5 to 2 times an employee’s salary to hire and train his or her replacement, and this doesn’t consider the damage to client goodwill a disruption in engagement continuity can cause. Focus on retaining your best and brightest by engaging them in meaningful discussions of their wants and needs and working with them to map a path within the firm that will meet those and the needs of the firm, too. Read my “How Well Do You Know Your Future Partners?” article (CPA Insider, Feb. 4, 2013) for 12 questions to help guide your re-recruiting conversations.
  • Assess and enhance your firm’s culture. How does it feel to work at your firm? Without an engaging, fun, and employee-centered culture, the other strategies in the above-mentioned article are almost meaningless. Your firm’s culture is a combination of factors including the mindset and behavior of your leaders, the formal and informal stories you tell, your strategies, policies, processes, programs, and more. To examine your firm across six cultural attributes, read “Is Your Firm Old School or Cool?” (CPA Insider, Nov. 28, 2011). Look for areas where you can make improvements and then develop strategies for change in 2013.
  • Let your people be your guide. Form an employee advisory board (EAB) with a mix of generations, cultures, levels, and disciplines represented. Ask EAB members to solicit feedback from your people and bring forward ideas for change. Be open to their input and implement their ideas wherever possible. Use the EAB as a sounding board for ideas about how to improve the firm. The EAB can help shape your strategies and improve your communications.

Within the accounting profession, firms and clients will be vying for the most talented CPAs to run their finance departments and practices. Stay ahead of your competitors. Take steps now to put people first!

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Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and its services at www.convergencecoaching.com.