The accountant’s guide to staffing: Evaluation

Getting down to the paperwork
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One of the keys to running a successful practice is recruiting and retaining the right group of individuals to maximise opportunity and fees.

This applies from the top to the bottom, since everyone from a partner to a trainee or secretary has the ability to impress or annoy your most valuable client or unsettle a previously happy team.

Having taken on a new recruit, it is wise to ensure that their employment contract includes a probation period, which will typically be six months. Generally, the notice on both sides during this trial will be one week, whereas later on it could be anything from one month to 12 months depending on seniority.

I have never seen an extension to a probation period lead to anything other than the employee’s departure, long after they should have gone.

One of the major themes of this series is decisiveness. If somebody does not fit into your organisation, is not capable of doing the job or you are unsure of their effectiveness after six months, it is best for everyone to cut their losses and part as amicably as possible.

The best example that I ever saw of this was a partner who apparently had a good reputation (although for some reason the renowned alcoholism was not discovered until too late a date), who was swinging the lead from week one and achieved almost nothing during their probation period months.

Either due to embarrassment at a bad decision, a shortage of alternatives or weakness, nobody took the obvious step of allowing the individual to leave in the first six months.

Eventually, after 15 months of receiving pay for doing almost no work and, it was rumoured, several months’ more as a gratuity to ensure a legally binding departure, the break was achieved.

If you can’t work out the moral of this story, let someone else run your practice.

Evaluation is also important further down the line. Particularly as trainees qualify, most practices will be in a position where they are happy to let a proportion move on, while the most highly prized newly qualifieds will be targeted by all of those recruitment consultants who pretend to be your best friends.

Typically, most people fall into three categories. These are the budding stars, talented individuals who are more than competent and the no-hopers.

Over the years, firms outside the Big Four have worked incredibly hard to retain the budding stars. Occasionally this works out but more often, they will move on to bigger and better things.

The talented individuals will tend to feel neglected, having received little attention and seen how the budding stars were courted. As a result, they also move on. That leaves you with the no-hopers.

Whilst you should busy be doing everything possible to keep the very best people, do not neglect the next level down otherwise you too are likely to end up in the same predicament.

Reward also feeds off evaluation, since most firms determine pay rises and quite often promotions based on a finite fund. If they get the allocations wrong, this is also a sure-fire way to lose their best assets at every level.

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