How can you maintain close mentoring relationships in your practice as your firm continues to grow? How can you ensure that talented people have the full range of skills they need to advance in the organization? In our 185-person firm, we’ve succeeded on both counts by creating a coaching program that helps us nurture strong bonds and ensure that our people are working at their peak performance levels.
Our firm’s coaching program grew organically because it was the right step to take with a growing workforce. While it was originally an informal process, it was formalized over the past five years to help us develop team members and emphasize coaching as we merged with another firm.
The formalized coaching program is embodied in our Career Adviser Program, in which each team member is assigned a career adviser. The advisers undergo specialized training in areas that include performance and ongoing professional development. They are required to do a formal check-in with the team members they advise four times a year, and we strongly encourage regular informal check-ins. In addition, if a team member is having an administrative or organizational issue, we might also identify an outside executive coach for supervisors, managers and partners for those specific issues. In one example, we hired an outside coach for a manager who was a very capable employee but was struggling with decision making and other manager level responsibilities. Firms often give up on competent people who don’t have fully-developed leadership skills. We didn’t want that to happen, so we brought in an outside coach and we have seen this particular manager flourish as a leader. When we work with an outside coach, we generally contract for one year then the coach follows up regularly with the employee over the course of another year. We have outstanding results when there is a strong commitment from the person being coached and their adviser. The manager who received successful career coaching is now a Career Adviser himself, so he is using his new skills and insights to nurture a group of potential managers.
The coaching program applies to everyone in the firm, including partners. For the last five years, in addition to the coaching they regularly receive through the Career Adviser Program, we’ve had a formalized 18-month program for partners that include six one-and-a-half-day offsite meetings, 360-degree feedback and one-on-one coaching, as well as sales training. In the past, all of the partners developed their own approach to management and other responsibilities, but we decided it was important to have a consistent program that takes them to the next level of leadership, using a character-based leadership approach. We’ve been so pleased with the results that this year we rolled the program out at the manager level.
There are two critical elements to successful coaching:
- Consistency. While identifying training opportunities is vital, we have found that consistency—in training and in the message we’re sending about our culture and expectations—is also very important.
- Commitment. We have a strong commitment from the managing partner and throughout the partner group. Without one, it’s difficult for a coaching program to be successful. Of course, the person being coached and their adviser also must make a solid commitment.
The office is an extension of our family. We think that what we have achieved through our coaching program is helping us keep team members by enhancing their job satisfaction, which is crucial to retaining top talent.
Michelle L. Wiederstein, SPHR, PI, is director of human resources at Padgett Stratemann & Co. in San Antonio, Texas.
Turn to the PCPS Human Capital Center for tools that include:
- The Firm Competency Model which CPAs can customize to create a career ladder that identifies competencies needed at various levels and in different capacities.
- Performance management resources that firms can use to evaluate team members against established performance measures, including turn-key templates and processes.
- Team development resources based on best practices to develop and inspire high-performance professionals.