Ensuring Our Team Members Are Ready 

by Jeffrey S. Bleacher, CPA, CGMA  

Ensuring Our Team Members Are ReadyLike most other CPA firms across the country, at Ross Buehler Falk, we are working to achieve our growth goals while addressing our succession needs.  We need to ensure that we have team members at the right level with the right skills ready when we need them.  Our goal-setting and feedback process is paramount to our success in achieving these objectives and has provided some surprising results.

Our Employee Review Process Became Strategic
We operate with a three-year plan that outlines both organic and inorganic growth goals.  We have also successfully retired two of our original partners.  Our goal now is to continue identifying the next generation of firm leaders,  which requires that we focus on developing our people as fast as we can – based on their career goals and the needs of the firm – so that they are ready to take on client management and other leadership responsibilities.  

Part of our strategic planning process is establishing annual goals that tie to our three-year plan.  Our leadership group establishes these strategic goals and then we share them with the staff and report on them regularly.  One of our goals we set three years ago was to enhance our employee review process and we are very pleased with the results of this effort. 

Two years ago, we implemented the Success Through People Program through Firm Foundation.  Prior to that time, we used a traditional 1-5 rating system for our employee evaluations and rated our people on typical technical skills, personal characteristics, firm process ability and overall knowledge.  With our new program, every employee is assigned a career advisor that is either a partner or manager.  At the beginning of the career development year, which is May 1st, each employee meets with their career advisor to develop key goals in the areas of client service, employee and client relationships, productivity and business growth, technical or industry expertise, work/life balance and career progression.  The career advisor and employee then meet mid-year to review the employee’s progress towards their goals.  The focus is now on driving specific results and outcomes.

Prior to the final career advising meeting each year, the employee completes a self-evaluation on their progress and receives input through a multi-rater review from three people with whom they worked throughout the year.  The multi-rater reviews could be from a manager, a staff person, an administrative support person and/or a partner.  The multi-rater reviews occur right after busy season so that they are completed by May 1st.  The career advisor compiles the multi-rater review and shares it with the individual.  In this meeting, they also establish goals for the following year.

Because of peer review requirements, if an employee works more than 80 hours on any engagement, they will also receive a performance review on those engagements, too.

In addition to these career development meetings, the partners hold an offsite meeting in the spring to discuss team members’ performance at a high level and evaluate employees for salary increases and promotions. 

Soliciting Upwards Feedback
We think it’s important to receive feedback from our staff, too, about how we can improve as individuals and as a firm.  We have conducted an anonymous staff engagement survey for the past few years.  We ask for feedback on different areas of the firm, such as:

  • Do you have the resources to do your job?
  • Do you have opportunities to do challenging work?
  • Are you encouraged to initiate change when you see a better way of doing things?

In the past, the partners compiled the survey results and chose a few areas to work on.  We didn’t really get interaction or enthusiasm with this process, so last year we created a cross-functional focus group with members from all generations, disciplines and levels and gave them the survey results to assimilate and review.  We asked the focus group to come back with their suggestions, which resulted in several ideas to address, including:

  • Adjusting some of our workflow processes and budgets during tax season
  • Providing more lunch and learns on processes and not just technical areas
  • Improving communication in the firm

To address the request for more lunch and learns and staff development in a variety of areas beyond technical skills, we have sponsored CPE events on new topics like social media, email and voicemail etiquette, and arbitration best practices from an attorney referral relationship.  We also find opportunities for staff to shadow partners at client meetings, referral lunches or sales opportunities.  Even if the staff person is just there to listen, they will learn by being exposed to these different situations.

Communication is something we are always trying to improve.  Based on the focus group’s recommendation, we created a communications team and empowered the team to work on the communication flow between our audit and tax departments and improve our communication with the admin team.  They also identified a point person in tax and audit to answer questions about firm policy or department processes.  This helped us streamline the process and disseminate consistent answers back to all team members. 

A beneficial outcome of our upward feedback survey was the realization that we need to provide our team members with leadership opportunities by forming our feedback focus group and communications team, which has given more people the ability to drive change in our firm.

Leveraging PCPS Resources
We are able to do more in our employee development and reviews because we leverage tools and resources – as well as relationships – that are available to our profession.  We are a member of the PCPS Medium Firm Networking Group where we find invaluable ideas for developing our people.  In addition, the AICPA PCPS Human Capital Center provides a host of Performance Management and Team Development tools and resources so practitioners do not need to recreate the wheel as they are developing or enhancing their people development programs.

When people know what’s expected of them with clearly defined goals and they have the support they need to achieve them, they grow and learn, produce results, and meaningfully contribute to our firm. We have seen great benefit in continually evolving and investing in our employee evaluation and team development processes! 

Jeffrey S. Bleacher, CPA, CGMA is the Managing Partner of Ross Buehler Falk & Company, LLP, a medium firm with four partners and twenty five people in Lancaster, PA. For more information about Ross Buehler Falk, visit www.rbfco.com.

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