Managing CPA Firm Staff: What’s Missing?

We all agree that CPA firms are supremely challenged to develop a great staff.

I recently attended a presentation by three HR directors on what their firms do to manage their staff.  During the entire 1½ hour talk, I didn’t hear one tactic or practice I had not heard before. My notepad was blank  When the speech was over, it dawned on me: CPA firms already know what to do. The problem is they don’t do it well enough.

The ten items below are written in the context of what firms don’t do.  The suggestions are pretty obvious:  DO them instead of talking about them!

  1. Little or no factor in partner compensation for helping staff learn and grow. You get what you measure.
  2. Low usage of upward evaluations of partners by the staff. How can we expect to correct unacceptable behavior by partners toward staff if they don’t get feedback on their performance as supervisors and mentors?
  3. No HR director. Without an HR director, someone in the firm is managing the staff function in their spare time, which makes no sense.
  4. Recruiting. Hiring any staff that walks through the door instead of first, identifying the culture and personality of the firm and THEN, hiring to match those traits.
  5. No talent management strategy. Only 10% of typical, local, multi-partner firms have one, What an absurd disconnect!  The #1 key to success is our staff yet 90% of firms don’t have a strategy to manage them.

     CPA Firm Staff:  Managing Your #1 Asset includes major contributions from two experts in the field: Jennifer Wilson and Jeremy Wortman.  The book addresses ►talent management, ►retention, ►flexibility, ►importance of the boss, ►mentoring, ►leadership development, ►advancement, ►performance feedback, ►recruiting and other issues.

  6. Little or no partner accountability for developing and retaining staff. Partners keep their jobs even if it is crystal clear they are continuously ineffective at developing staff.  Amazingly, many partners are allowed to “opt out” of mentoring programs.
  7. Partners doing staff-level work instead of delegating it to staff because (a) they know, if they do it, the work will be done better, in less time and on time and/or (b) they’re too lazy to train someone to do the work.
  8. At a time when the supply of skilled staff accountants is well below firms’ needs, many firms fail to tap into two opportunities: Retaining women and developing them into partners and hiring minorities.
  9. Partners have a great job: Average compensation of $406,000. (Per The Rosenberg Survey).  Challenging work.  Clients who love them.  Being an entrepreneur.  Unlimited flexibility.  But many partners fail to share these enviable traits with the staff to ignite their pursuit of becoming a partner.   Most firms do a lousy job of even telling the staff what it takes to become a partner.
  10. Flexibility and work-life balance: These are buzzwords today in the talent management arena.  Firms say they have strong policies for flexibility and work-life balance. But the reality is that the workload assigned to their staff, especially the better ones, makes it difficult for them to take advantage of these policies. Partners can tell the staff until they are blue in the face that the firm’s work hours allow a nice work-life balance, but it will have no effect when they see the partners regularly working after the staff have gone home.  Staff see how onerous the work hours are for partners and want no part of it.


2 Responses to “Managing CPA Firm Staff: What’s Missing?”

  1. Ed Traille, retired CEO GALLINA, LLP

    I agree with most of your comments, but I find one important factor missing. It is the failure to hire the right person for the future. Most hiring practices are based upon what a person can do relating to workload and not what they can do to further the firm and take on client responsibility. This is also a compensation factor!

    • Marc Rosenberg

      Ed – as usual, your point is well taken. Thanks for taking the time to share the insight!

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