Multiple Generations Drive New Work Paradigms 

by Sarah Brack, CPA, CGFM, CGMA 

At Atkinson & Co., we have been working to bridge the gap in the communication preferences and work approaches that exist between our Baby Boomer and Gen X partners and Gen X and Millennial managers and staff. The changes we have made build on our current success and create an engaging and attractive work environment for future leaders. Driving change like we have requires we take a one-step-at-a-time approach and be proactive and intentional about each change. This has enabled us to navigate generational differences and ensure we provide great service to our clients. 

Moving Beyond Flexibility

We are committed to leverage current technology to run our jobs better, communicate with clients and improve our processes and service methodologies. Our technology solutions also enable our partners and staff to work remotely from anywhere. Allowing for remote work requires that we ensure our team members are clear about what their client assignments and due dates are and our team members must commit that the work will get done. This has allowed us to move away from a traditional “in the office” 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. requirement or mandatory Saturday hours. It also provides team members the ability to work from home in the evenings or other time periods to meet their client commitments while balancing personal commitments. Our flexible environment helps reduce the stress and pressure of our deadline driven profession so team members can work how and when they need to, which  makes our firm a better place to work. 

To make our anytime, anywhere approach work, we commit to be accessible and in communication with each other via texting, email and phone calls. We ensure that we employ a variety of communication vehicles to  appeal to our different generational communication preferences. We’ve worked to overcome the natural concern that Baby Boomers and some Gen Xers have of team members not being physically present while working. We have come to realize it’s more about ensuring deadlines are met and that team members are responsive to each other and to clients rather than actually seeing them in the office. And when we assessed this new working model after this past busy season in a team meeting, we found that firm leaders did a good job ensuring that our team members understood their commitments and the team members did a really good job in meeting their deadlines – two practices that we intend to continue!

Communication with our clients is key, too, so we can better manage their expectations as we change and evolve. For example, if a client engagement requires meeting on a Saturday or being present in the office during specific hours, the team sets those expectations up front so team members can accommodate. We also strive to understand our clients’ communication preferences, too, including mode of communication (i.e. text, email, phone, face-to-face, etc.), frequency in which they would like status updates and who on their team should be included in the communications from our firm.  

Goodbye Charge Hour Goals, Hello Productivity

Another change we have made is that we have eliminated charge hour goals. We found that charge hour goals were causing team members to hold on to work because they were afraid they wouldn’t hit their charge hour goal instead of ensuring that work was being done most efficiently and at the right level. Eliminating the charge hour goal and focusing on the client work allows team members additional opportunities based on availability and skill set and at the same time speeds up the development of our staff because they are working on more challenging jobs at the appropriate level. It has also provided more freedom to take on new responsibilities and learn new things without people being concerned that it may take longer or be considered “training hours.”

Developing Future Leaders

Like many firms, we have been working to develop leaders faster to close the gap between our current leadership team and our staff. This will ensure that we have future leaders ready to take on new roles and responsibilities when needed. Some of the hours and flexibility changes we have implemented have helped us develop a culture that people enjoy. Our next step is to leverage the Mentoring and Coaching and Career Development tools in the PCPS Firm inMotion E-Toolkit. Having a more formal approach to developing our leaders – especially at the manager level – will allow us to address our succession needs in the future and we want to be ahead of the curve and plan for those needs now. 

The PCPS Firm inMotion E-Toolkit, currently in development by PCPS and expected to be released in the fall, will be very beneficial for small and medium-sized firms because it provides partners and managers, who are often immersed in their day-to-day clients, proactive guidance to help manage their firms with the future horizon in mind. With business development strategies, guidance on developing a strategic plan, leveraging technology, and developing staff and future leaders, the toolkit provides future-focused guidance that firm leaders can easily assess and implement. In addition, when using the E-Toolkit, it may be beneficial to include up-and-coming leaders in your firms’ planning and decision-making processes and even provide opportunities for up-and-coming leaders to own the process of implementing some of the agreed upon actions. This promotes a collaborative environment that motivates Millennials and Gen Xers while developing leadership skills and engendering loyalty by building something they want to be a part of and helped to create.

We are excited about the future for our firm and the profession. Communication and open discussion from all three different generations is imperative so that we can build on the wisdom of the more mature generations and learn from the vision and new work paradigms and ideas of the future leaders. Doing so will help us build a sustainable firm for the future!

Sarah Brack, CPA, CGFM, CGMA is a manager at Atkinson & Co., a medium-sized firm with 6 partners and approximately 50 employees in Albuquerque, NM.  For more information about Atkinson & Co., visit www.atkinsoncpa.com.


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