Thriving at Staff Management When Most CPA Firms Struggle

Our Chicago MP Roundtable recently spent a morning with the profession’s #1 expert on all things staff-related, Jennifer Wilson. Jen is perennially listed by Accounting Today as a Top 100 most influential person in the accounting profession and by INSIDE Public Accounting as one of the Top 10 most recommended consultants to CPA Firms.

Here are some key takeaways from her talk.

Staffing is the biggest challenge firms are facing today, with succession a close second…and they are highly interrelated.

The next generation of talent seeks empowerment, efficiency, flexibility and leading-edge technology.

Entrepreneurial millennials want to impact their firms at a young age.  They want to be involved.  They would love to attend partner retreats, go to conferences, attend sales pitches by partners and attend meetings with clients and referral sources.  This doesn’t mean that firms need to do all of this, but it should put partners on high alert that millennials hunger to learn and grow and don’t want to be treated like worker bees. If firms don’t figure out ways to make this happen, they risk losing them.

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

Turnover under 10% usually means a firm has marginal staff they are holding onto—and holding onto marginal staff often causes high performers to leave because they don’t like working with ineffective people.

CPA exam pass rates are declining.  The solution is for firms to nurture the staff through the exam process by (1) creating a study plan, (2) assigning a “shepherd,” and (3) bringing in professors.  Some firms are paying for the CPA review course for hired staff who haven’t started working yet, thus helping them get the exam out of the way before they begin.

Firms need to dramatically reduce their tax preparation time by increased use of technology, including scan and populate software.  Tax prep is gradually going away anyway and the reduction in menial time enriches the staff’s work.

When recruiting, don’t be reluctant to raid other firms.  If the competitor’s staff are happy, they won’t talk to you.

LinkedIn is a fabulous tool for recruiting.  Type in the parameters of who you are looking for.  Look at the person’s connections and find someone you know who is a mutual connection.  Ask that person for a warm introduction.  Then, introduce yourself to the staff person by saying:  “We both work in Chicago and our growing firm is looking to add top talent.  Do you know anyone who fits our needs?”

Wilson shared two great ideas for using social media as a recruitment tool:

#1:  “Back channel” references.  Job candidates routinely give references but we all know that recruits only provide people who will say good things about them.  Back channel references are people that the recruit did not give as a reference.  You find these back channel references by going on LinkedIn and finding a mutual connection.

 #2:  Check the social media sites of recruits to see if there are any biases that would make them incompatible with your firm’s culture.

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