Three actions to develop and retain accounting talent

Personal development
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Karbon’s accounting talent survey found that firms around the world are struggling to acquire and retain great staff. 

95% of respondents reported that they experience challenges related to recruiting, while 57% estimated that their staff are remaining at their firm for less than five years on average.

With 91% of firms looking to grow in the next five years despite troubles with recruiting, this talent challenge is going to be felt more acutely over the coming years.

To overcome or prevent your own struggles, your number one priority should be to retain your existing staff. Keeping your top talent happy will cost you less in terms of money, time, stress and resources than finding a replacement.

So how can you achieve this? To develop and retain great accounting talent, I recommend the following three strategies.

Strategy #1: Be a destination workplace

Thinking about and improving what you offer your employees in terms of benefits and perks is often thought about as a strategy to attract new staff, but this also plays a key role in encouraging your existing staff to remain with you.

This doesn’t always mean offering high salaries: to most staff, especially millennials, money isn’t the most important thing they look for in their employer.

Listen to your staff and find out what is most important. Take stock of what matters and determine what fits with the culture of the firm.

What training and development opportunities do you offer? Are there social activities for the team? Do you get a day off on your birthday? Is the workplace office modern? Can a staff member work remotely? Are there flexible working hours?

Maybe your staff members just need to know that they are appreciated. Acts like writing a personal thank you note for a job well done can cost you nothing, but can be the difference between a staff member that loves you versus one that leaves you.

Strategy #2: Make training a priority

87% of firms believe that being an accountant today requires very different skills to those required five years ago. Training is no longer nice to have - it is a requirement to compete in the marketplace both as a firm and as an individual.

Not only will developing your staff improve their delivery, but it will help keep them engaged and interested in your firm and the work they are doing. You need to be developing tomorrow’s top accountants and, by doing so, you’ll extend how long they’ll stay with your firm.

Incorporate formal (eg CPD courses, webinars) and informal (eg on the job, personal reading) training across both technical and soft-skill subjects. It is widely agreed that various soft skills are essential for accountants to possess, yet developing these is not a focus for the majority of practices.

Soft skill training is carried out by only 45% of firms. These are sacrificed in favour of technical accounting skills, and technology and system skills.

If you want your team to grow and improve, there is one non-negotiable - you need to drive their development from the top. This is not only a matter of setting time and money aside to facilitate training.

Managers need to remain engaged throughout the development process of each team member. Sit down with each employee to help them identify the critical skills they need and how they will be developed, schedule check-ins dedicated to discussing their development, and continuously help them grow by putting them in positions you know they will benefit from in the long-term as they carry out their role with your practice.

Strategy #3: Empower your team to grow

Staff members also want to feel empowered in the accounting workplace. Allow your staff to take ownership and make decisions that are right for your clients and your firm.

Mistakes may be made, but they are part of the learning journey. Be like a parent, and slowly retreat from decision making as your staff become more and more capable.

Make things more challenging via stretch goals and assignments. Leverage this to cross-train staff to spice things up for them but also to protect yourself in case a staff member leaves.

Use performance reviews and regular catch-ups to find out what are the career aspirations of each staff member. Embrace the small talk and be present with your team. By doing so, you can help foster a culture of sharing—personal details, ideas, what works, and what doesn’t. Learning, sharing, and growing are motivating. Intrinsic motivation is a key ingredient for employee retention.

Managing talent is not without obstacles, but they can be overcome. Don’t make the climb that much tougher on yourself by losing your best talent to your competitors.

Spend the time now to make the changes to your workplace, training and staff management to not only keep the staff members that matter, but also to make your firm more attractive to those you wish to attract.

About Ian Vacin

Ian Vacin

With over 25 years of experience in technology and over 15 years of leadership experience in the accounting industry at Karbon, Xero, and Intuit, Ian is passionate about helping accounting professionals be as successful as possible in order to positively impact the small businesses that they serve.

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