What to do when employees spread their wings

Bird leaving the nest
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Small practices face stiff competition when it comes to retaining talent. So if practitioners want to get the best out of their team, they should be prepared to let talent leave the nest.

On stage at QuickBooks Connect, Alan Hemingway answered a small practice owner who was concerned about retaining talent when more lucrative opportunities come calling.

He encouraged the practitioner to give their employees opportunities to grow and explore work outside of their day-to-day duties. But Hemingway ultimately concluded that if they want to go, you should let them go.

In his Beverley-based firm Hemingway Bailey, he has created an environment that fosters young talent. The millennial team helped Hemingway achieve a forward-thinking and completely cloud-based firm. But training more ambitious employees does carry a risk.

Like the small practice owner asking the question, Hemingway himself faces the same quandary: three staff members have recently left his firm.

It is a fear held by small practices. And it was certainly voiced during the Attracting and engaging the right talent panel session at QuickBooks Connect: How can a small practice retain talent when a brighter opportunity calls from the nearest big city?

Hemingway now has to recruit replacements for his young team. That scenario could discourage others from hiring young talent or even resent the departing staff for soaking up the training before jetting off for bigger things. The argument is reasonable. Where is the value in hiring young talent (or any talent for that matter) and training them, if they’re just going to leave? 

But Hemingway looks at recruitment differently.

Develop future business leaders

“One of the mantras I had, when I started the business and took on the first employee, was that I wanted to develop future business leaders,” he told AccountingWEB. “And hopefully, those future business leaders stay with us. It's disappointing when they go on, but now there are three very good people going out there, contributing to the local economy.”

Obviously, small practices would rather avoid waving off young talent. The emphasis on advisory work is only going to become more lucrative. But with a somewhat glass ceiling of progression, small practices will usually be on the losing end of a bigger firm’s poach.

Of course, Hemingway didn’t expect when he took on his staff that they would leave after a couple of years. But he still advocates giving his employees experiences outside of their day-to-day duties and responsibilities. “One of the big things we do with trainees is we don't just let them sit at their desk doing bookkeeping and accounts stuff,” he said.

“We get them out and about doing mentoring, going to exhibitions, Accountex, and the fun stuff because it's back to having those communication skills. It brings them on personally and makes them better people.”

The argument for building talent, even if they might go

While more training and experiences will not stop them from seeking bigger money opportunities elsewhere, the firm has benefitted from their input. “We got more work out of them than we would have done if we'd kept them on a leash like some places do,” he said.

And now Hemingway is ready to recruit - the firm’s reputation in the marketplace for providing good training makes the process easier.

While some might look for someone to step into an advisory role, Hemingway is still looking beyond qualifications. “Recruitment-wise one of the things we tend to do is not being dazzled by A-stars because we need the personality and communication skill,” he said.   

That’s why he is not panicked by a staff exodus. He takes a very open approach to recruitment. And that goes for age as well. Older applicants have life skills and experience and if they’ve used a “big system” in the past they will sure be able to pick up the cloud quick enough.

If he approaches colleges he insists that he sees all the CVs; there might be a diamond in the rough that others dismiss. “One of the big criterias we look for is if they do anything away from school: Did they do any charity work? Did they do any football? Any sports coaching?

“Because that all developments their communication skills. It also proves that they don't think about themselves. They have the commitment and an altruistic nature. What we don't want is for them to sit in the corner of the office tapping away. We don't want that sort of person.”

Hemingway’s unruffled about his recruitment. He knew that at some point one of the team would go. While he didn’t expect them all to move on at the same time, he knew he couldn’t stop them if a bigger company comes calling. That’s why you’ve got to let them go – and there is always the chance they might return to the nest.

About Richard Hattersley

Richard Hattersley

Richard is AccountingWEB's Practice Editor. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.


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