By Mark Dow, CPA, and Marianne Badurina, MBA
As our country begins our “new normal” in the wake of the pandemic, accounting firms and companies must reinvent themselves to match new employee expectations that were reshaped during the lockdown. Potential employees are looking to work for organizations that are focused on providing staff with career empowerment, flexibility in terms of work/life balance, a work environment that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and a more balanced commitment to helping staff grow professionally while simultaneously growing the overall practice.
The hiring landscape is even more competitive than it was pre-pandemic, so organizations must communicate key differentiators as to what makes their company stand out from the rest and make any necessary internal adjustments so that current staff can continue to grow and thrive at your organization.
Here are five suggestions on how to satisfy these two very important post-pandemic staffing objectives simultaneously.
1. See the big picture.
Often, new graduates aren’t certain what they would like to specialize in upon graduation and some seasoned staff members may wish to pivot slightly and try something new. If your business model allows for it, permit staff to gain exposure to all parts of the business, see the big picture, learn from other staff members and understand all parts of the engagement process from start to finish. This promotes continued job growth of current staff members and can be appealing to new candidates during the hiring process.
On the job, it is empowering for staff members to know the results of their efforts, how their contributions impact the overall business and how their hard work affects the client. During an engagement, all members of the team may have their own respective duties – putting their pieces of the puzzle in at exactly the right time to help create the total picture. However, never underestimate the importance of staff understanding the other components that make up the entire puzzle. Understanding the why behind their work gives current staff an increased sense of satisfaction of a job well done at the end of the engagement and potential staff a sense of purpose right from the start.
If service specialization is an important part of your practice, allow current staff and potential candidates the opportunity to work with a variety of clients from a multitude of industries. Staff members may gravitate to an industry that they previously knew nothing about. It is always more fulfilling to work for clients in industries that we personally appreciate, and the quality of work provided will only increase as a result.
2. Create a flexible work environment.
Candidates are looking to work for companies that allow for flexibility in terms of their remote work policy. Prior to the pandemic, the majority of “work life” was spent physically in the office. Now, work life often extends beyond the office walls, offering more of a balance for employees. In the end, it is important to stress to potential candidates that is it the results that are truly important rather than where work is physically performed. If an employee’s workweek is a road trip and their roadmap has them working at home one day, at a client the next day and in the office the following day, if the destination includes deliverables that are done well, done right and there is consistent team collaboration and strong client communication, then this firm/company and employee relationship is mutually beneficial.
Comfort level from both sides is key and the lines of communication must be established and open. What works well for one person, may not for another. Schedules can adjust throughout the year depending on a variety of factors, including but not limited to, client workload, employee needs and other requirements. Commitment on both sides to find the best combination and weighing in all the factors is crucial for continued success.
3. Give consistent and constructive staff feedback.
Employee performance improvement is predicated on quality and consistent and constructive feedback. Feedback should not just be given incrementally – i.e., every quarter – it should be continuous, and at the very least, at the conclusion of each engagement. Candidates love to hear that organizations have employee feedback programs. In addition to real-time feedback during an engagement, utilize one of the countless software programs dedicated to this type of communication. Programs create reminders to provide feedback, which helps encourage hard work, while also addressing any issues that may have occurred so they can be avoided in the future.
Staff encouragement and senior staff availability matter to both potential and existing employees. A ten minute “chat” can go a long way. It’s a selling point to know that staff members’ careers will continue to take shape not just on an annually or quarterly basis, but on a weekly or even daily basis. This provides a greater feeling of empowerment and less isolation, especially in a world that includes more remote work.
4. The size advantage.
There are benefits to being a small, medium and large organization. Smaller organizations often have close-knit cultures where employees form strong bonds, celebrate wins together and have an unmatched level of cohesiveness. They also can make decisions more quickly when necessary and employees do not have to travel up a long chain of command to get the answers that they seek. Large firms are often more widely known, work with bigger and more well-known clientele and can provide employees with a pathway to high earnings potential. Medium-sized firms often offer a combination of both.
The unique benefits provided by a company’s size may be more appealing to some candidates, while the benefits of a different size company may be more appealing to others. Although we can’t generalize completely, demographics often do play a role. New graduates from certain area schools may prefer a larger organization, while more seasoned staff who already have years of experience working for a large company, may be interested in exploring the benefits of a smaller one. Therefore, use size to your advantage. Make a list of key characteristics your organization can provide based upon its size and market them to potential candidates. Interview current staff asking them some of the reasons they like working for a company your size. Spend some extra time talking to your staff who have worked for organizations of other sizes and discover what they prefer about a company your size in comparison to their past experiences.
5. Social responsibility is your superpower.
The business world is shifting, in part because of the changes brought upon by the pandemic, but also because many candidates are reprioritizing what they deem to be truly important when it comes to their own careers. Social responsibility, workplace duties and work-life balance used to live comfortably in their own distinct buckets. Now, these items are merging and are no longer mutually exclusive. The concept of “having it all” and working for an employer who cares about its employees’ well-being, is concerned about the world in which it operates and is interested in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, is becoming just as attractive to prospective candidates as salary, bonuses and 401k plans. Organizations that effectively showcase these social initiatives are the ones that will find success in this next chapter.
Cement your company’s commitment to change with trainings, identifying unconscious bias on all levels, encouraging networking and attending seminar events focused on diversification. Supporting events and initiatives that are centered around diversity outside of your organization will likely bring diverse candidates to your company.
Henry Ford once said, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” Times are changing and sometimes an effective hiring strategy for one company may not be the same for another. Information sharing among peers is key and networking in-person or virtually with other professionals in the industry is more important now than ever. Encourage your leaders to become members of industry organizations on both the local and national levels. Have them take it a step further and join committees such as those offered by MassCPAs. Every interaction is a networking opportunity.
Communicate to your entire organization that just like client service is part of everyone’s job, so is promoting the company and recruiting its newest members. Interview current staff as to why they enjoy about working for your company and you may find key differentiators you haven’t even thought of yet. Best of luck during this exciting time of growth and possibility for our organizations and our industry.