The more people you speak with in the professional services space the clearer it becomes that accounting is rapidly moving from a compliance based profession to consulting with a heavy focus on the value add.
Because of this change, along with offshoring of processing positions, now more than ever accountants at all levels need to be able to influence client’s decision making process and in doing so drive revenue for the firm.
As a result of this direct relationship between revenue and staff ability/performance firms that are able to offer employees the most desirable working conditions are winning out over those who have the, now out dated, belief good employees should feel grateful to have a job.
So then, what differentiates an excellent firm from an average firm?
To answer this you need to understand why people change jobs in the first place.
While every candidate has a slightly different reason for wanting to leave where they are currently working reasons to leave ultimately boil down to one or a combination of the following:
- Work Life Balance
- Career Advancement
- Training and Development
Location / Travel
It might seem like your hands are tied here, however, I think that considering your location should at least inform your recruitment process.
If your business is in a hard to get to location the fact is, if people do not live locally they will not stay.
Someone might say that they are happy catching 2 buses and a train to get to work every day, however, within a few months, or if you are lucky a year, they will be offered a similar job on similar money, closer to home and will leave.
What can you do?
- Ask every potential employee you meet how they intend to get to work every day. If their answer resembles the one above you need to push them on why they wouldn’t be able to get a similar job closer to home;
- Offer employees the option to work from home X amount of days per week;
- Only hire people that live locally;
It might take you longer to find people however hiring locally will result in greater staff retention than the alternatives.
Work Life Balance
Work life balance is a term that gets thrown around a lot and rightly or wrongly, will make most employers recoil for fear of hiring someone who is afraid of hard work.
The reason people want additional flexibility, be it to take kids to school or go to the gym at lunch, is not so they can get out of work, is it can remove a significant amount of stress from other areas of their life and in doing so improves their performance for you.
You will be surprised at the number of people who would be willing to change jobs for even the smallest improvement in flexibility.
Some of the options firms are offering include:
- Option to work from home X amount of days per week;
- Flexibility on start and finish times;
- Long lunch breaks to go to the gym;
- Monthly/quarterly employer sponsored drinks/events;
- Rostered days off;
Obviously not all this is possible for every business and for every job however adding one or two will make a difference to how employees view working for your business and will go a long way to differentiating yourself from other firms.
Salary, surprisingly, is rarely the sole motivator for someone accepting a job. That said there are benefits in offering above market salaries including:
- All things being equal it is the most tangible differentiator between job offers allowing you to attract better people;
- Firms that offer higher salaries tend to offer better working conditions in general;
- If employees know they are on a good wicket they will feel valued which improves staff retention;
The only other note on salary is that, with new hires, candidates do expect an increase and an offer of the same money they are currently on increases the risk they will accept a counter offer.
For career advancement opportunities to exist for employees in your firm one of two conditions must exist:
- Firm revenue needs to be growing; OR
- People need to leave;
It is a delicate balance as the simple fact is that as people progress through their career there are going to be fewer and fewer advancement opportunities.
Because of the above it is just as valuable for potential new hires to see examples of people who have progressed internally to senior positions as well as those who have been developed within your business over several years and moved into great positions externally.
Training and Development
Ongoing training and development is the cornerstone of every good business be it a 1 partner accounting firm or Google.
If employees feel as though they are continuously learning new things and being challenged on a daily basis they are far less likely to leave than if the reverse is true.
This is especially true for smaller firms.
The majority of accounting firms will offer:
- Full CA/CPA Support (some pay up front some pay after the employee passes);
- Study leave to study for and attend exams (ranges from ½ a day to a week);
Some of the additional things firms are offering include:
- Monthly external training by industry bodies be it tax, insolvency, audit etc;
- Internal training on specific topics run by both employees and partners;
- Client secondments;
- Leadership and sales training;
- Full support of other post graduate qualifications including Masters of Tax, MBA etc;
Demonstrating to employees that you are serious about investing in their ongoing development will go a long way to ensuring you attract and retain the best people in your firm.
While investing money in some of the above may at first seem costly, the simple fact is that offering:
- Flexible working environment;
- Genuine advancement opportunities; and
- Investing in training and development;
Will differentiate your business from the competition, resulting in you attracting better people to your business, whose technical capabilities will improve as the result of your investment in training and development, which will ultimately improve the profitability of your businesses.
In closing there is a good quote from an interview with LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman where he discusses the recruitment process for them:
“All of our managers and recruiters ask about how working here will be transformational to your career,” Hoffman says. “For example, our SVP of Engineering, Kevin Scott, will ask, ‘What’s the next job that you would like to have post-LinkedIn?’ That’s not because we don’t want our stars to stay at LinkedIn for a long time. It’s because we’re so committed to the idea that we’re going to be transformative in the prospective employee’s career. So we need to know, what’s the next job after this? What do you want it to be?”
While the delivery might be slightly different in a professional service firm the message holds true. That is in simple terms, our relationship is going to be mutually beneficial, if you work here we will make you better which will in turn make us better.