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Happy staff feeling appreciated

Focus on people to help solve recruitment crisis


As pressure continues to mount on firms to recruit and retain top talent, Nikki and Nigel Adams talk with guests Dan Heelan and Chris Maslin on how to become a “people first” firm.

8th Aug 2022
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The issue of recruitment has become a hot-button topic throughout the profession, as firms battle it out to snag and retain a seemingly diminishing pool of talented individuals. Yet, while many continue to slog through the job advertisement pages, some pioneering firms have seen the way the winds have been blowing and have instead looked at different tactics to tempt top talent. 

In the most recent of our Accounting Excellence series of talks, Nikki and Nigel Adams, directors of the Ad Valorem Group and last year’s winners of the Accounting Pioneer Award, are two such practitioners who have gotten ahead of the curve and reaped the benefits.

Along with Chris Maslin, director of Maslins Ltd, and Dan Heelan, business services director at Heelan Associates Ltd, the panel discusses how they too have unlocked the potential of investing in people and how you too can support your team. 

The talent crunch

While members of the panel had so far ridden the recruitment wave with varying degrees of success, they agreed that their firms had not been immune to the pressures of the talent and skills crunch the profession had been experiencing. 

“I remember AccountingWEB’s John Stokdyk telling me that he felt there was a training issue that actually dates back to when we were in the financial crisis,” Heelan said, adding that the after-effects of the pandemic and a move to working from home has stunted the growth of young accountants looking to enter the fold.

“I think it’s a scary place right now if you’re young and wanting to come into the practice world but can’t get access to people regularly to help train you.

“Accountancy qualifications are really good, but they only teach you basic skills. And, as we all know, you have to do a lot of learning and experience outside of those skills. So I think that is almost a perfect storm of a problem that we already have.”

Maslin agreed with Heelan’s assessment, noting that while he has fared better, his firm’s dynamic was significantly affected by the pandemic and has instead relied on younger, less experienced staff to fill in the gaps.

“But in terms of the recruiting, we’ve nearly always recruited juniors, often with no experience whatsoever, which makes it easier because the pool is much much wider,” Maslin said. “But they come to us unskilled in the accounting world, and then, whether it’s three years later having done ACCA or whatever it may be, they go on as a much more valuable commodity in the employed world.”

Building a culture

Yet, actually attracting these younger starters to the profession was an issue in and of itself, according to the panel. Everyone noted that the profession can’t seem to shake off its dull image, meaning that they have had to think outside the box in order to tempt potential candidates.

“Are we convincing ourselves that this is a difficult market, or do we just need to change the narrative to make what we’re doing sexy? Because I believe what we do is fascinating,” Nigel Adams said, with Heelan noting that, “Nobody knows what accountants do.”

With this in mind, there was agreement that investing in the culture of their firms was key in creating a workplace that appeals to the younger generations hungry for their next step on the career ladder.

For Nikki and Nigel Adams, this has meant ensuring that employees at every level of the firm feel like a proactive member of the firm’s vision of success.

Talking on the topic, Nikki said that their firm has strived “to create that feeling that you’re part of something; you understand what part you play and it should be something that plays to your strengths.”

Maslin expanded on this point, adding that, if it wasn’t for his firm’s commitment to positive culture, his team may not have survived the significant changes that IR35 wrought. 

“When the IR35 changes rocked our numbers, psychologically it had a big impact on staff because everyone wants to be in a firm that’s thriving, not just surviving.”

Heelan had also seen a shift in importance towards work culture during his more recent stint of interviews, saying that the topic of culture was a key question from prospective employees, and with the tightening recruitment market, culture will continue to be important.

“Having a vision about where you’re going and being able to distil and explain that to people is absolutely critical,” Heelan said. “I think when you’re a smaller team you might not really see the importance of vision and culture in an easier market. It’s an absolute must if you want to compete for the more experienced talent.”

A radical rethink

This focus on creating a culture that staff can feel proud to be a part of was one of the reasons behind Maslin’s decision to conduct a radical overhaul of his firm, offering his team the opportunity to move into an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) model. 

And although the change is still in its infancy, with Maslin’s team making the jump only 13 months ago, when asked about the internal dynamics of his team, he admits that the change wasn’t the paradigm shift one may expect.

“In terms of how staff reacted to it, it’s tricky. Firstly, there’s an element of disbelief because you say to them: ‘You now collectively own this firm’,” said Maslin. Staff then wonder if they still have to do the work, to which of course the answer is yes. “But there’s the financial aspect of it – if we make a lot of money, that money then goes to the staff,” he continued.

And this method of giving employees a meaningful stake in the business goes both ways, according to Maslin, as he explained how the shift has created a healthy dose of caution when it comes to investing in the business.

“Since switching to an EOT model, I’ve been trying to instil in them that you can invest in something, but have to remember the cost, as this is directly going to be coming out of the money that you get. The profit goes down, which means less profit share for you. So it’s just trying to get all of the staff thinking about that.”

However, the main point that Maslin wanted listeners to take away was that, while his model is currently working for him, it’s about listening to your team and understanding what the collective wants.

“Don’t just assume that what you might want, if you were in their shoes, is going to be what your team would want.”

Looking for more insights into how you can transform your practice into a “people first” firm? Tune into our most recent episode of Accounting Excellence Talks to hear more from our expert panel. 

Accounting Excellence

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