Engaging Employees through Consistent Feedback 

by Rodney Harano, CPA, CGMA 

CW Associates, CPAs is the eighth largest firm in Hawaii. Our firm officially got its start in 2008, but we are the successor to a firm that began in 1989. Our firm is very traditional with 65% of our work being audit and attest and the remaining 35% being tax. Approximately one-half of our staff have national firm experience and graduate degrees, and four of the five partners are former presidents of our state society. We continue to be very active in the profession, both locally and nationally, and strive to create a firm culture that inspires our staff to maintain that level of engagement. We are a proud member of the AICPA’s PCPS, EBPAQC and GAQC sections and also actively participate in a PCPS Networking Group.

The primary way we encourage employee engagement is by giving our staff an active voice in the firm. We have several initiatives that incite this engagement that occur throughout the year. We want to ensure our staff have a venue to discuss their issues and pain points, and also convey that we hear their feedback and are making adjustments to improve for them.

Use Engagement to Assist with Succession
The partners recently initiated a program in which we meet informally with staff at all levels, including administrative staff, in small groups. These meetings typically occur over breakfast or lunch, and allow staff the opportunity to provide feedback to partners face-to-face. We also have formal town hall meetings at least once a year or when the need arises. Partners are excluded from these meetings, and the team has an open venue to discuss whatever they would like. Our managers report back to the partner group with any feedback or suggestions that come from these meetings. These town halls have been extremely helpful in getting feedback from the staff and making changes in our firm to better serve our team.

We also strive to keep staff informed of and involved with the direction of the firm on a regular basis. Whenever we have a major initiative or are taking on a new client or engagement, we are sure to meet with the staff and get buy in from the team before proceeding. We recently were asked to propose on three large audits with a short fuse, and the audit calendar was at near capacity. If we were successful in getting the work, it would require overtime for the teams. Before bidding, we were sure to get staff involved to ensure we had the resources available to complete the work. We were successful in getting the audits, but because we were short staffed at the time, the partners actually worked in the field to assist the staff and meet the deadline. Seeing partners in the field and allowing staff to work with them in that capacity was very encouraging for the team.

Staff are heavily involved in the strategic planning for the firm. In 2014, we conducted a two day strategic/transition retreat for the entire team. We got staff input on the growth and direction of the firm, and had open discussions about our structure, future and succession plan. Using the feedback from that retreat, we created a strategic plan focused on our firm’s culture and values. Also from that retreat, we created the Associates Council. This group is made up of six employees from different levels and departments in the firm. They meet once a month to discuss issues and initiatives, and the chair of the Council reports back to the partners at the partner semi-monthly meetings. We also use the Council as a sounding board for partner thoughts and ideas. It has become a very valuable two way communication vehicle.

Finally, we also have an annual team building event. Generally the event will be more fun in nature and require our team to work together to complete an objective. Our most recent occurred this past July. Those events often provide insight into which members of our team will actively participate and step up to become a leader. All of these engagement initiatives are a key component in maintaining our firm’s succession plan. Our current partner group is aging, and succession is a major issue in our firm. These initiatives give us ample opportunities throughout the year to identify who is developing an active voice and vision for the firm. Those individuals are strong candidates for our firm’s next generation of leadership.

Everything Relates to Firm Values
Our strategic plan is focused heavily on our firm values and e consider these to be ‘non-negotiables’. Family and community are two of the more prevalent firm values. We are currently looking into volunteer opportunities in our local area that will allow us to combine team building and community service into one event. To focus on the importance of family, we have an annual firm-wide dinner for our team and their spouses at the holidays, and we actually close the office from Christmas to New Year’s to allow our staff to dedicate that time to their family. Everything we do relates back to those non-negotiable firm values.

I feel that our dedication to employee engagement has had a significant impact on our firm in terms of retention as our turnover is very low. Firms throughout the profession are working very hard to find qualified staff, and it’s important to work just as hard to retain those staff once you find them. Our people are the most important asset we have, and it’s critical that we are demonstrating constant employee engagement in the way our firm operates.

CW Associates, CPAs is a mid-size firm based in Honolulu, HI. Rodney Harano, CPA, CGMA is the managing partner.


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