Get everyone involved. In a small firm, this is a time to get your people together, schedule distribution of organizers and review new technologies and processes. Ask for input from everyone in the firm, including any new people, who can be encouraged to ask questions and participate in the excitement leading up to busy season. The takeaway should be a sense of shared purpose and the positive anticipation of a good busy season ahead.
Spot needed improvements and evaluate clients. In our meetings, we talked about what went wrong the previous year and what made it stressful. That sometimes led us to decisions about client termination. It can be a painful step, but making a realistic decision on a client who’s not right for the firm can actually energize and better engage your staff—since they’re on the front lines of dealing with difficult people—and show them that their opinions and concerns matter. The PCPS Client Evaluation Tool can help you in your assessment.
Plan to be flexible. For our firm, family came first. We didn’t want anyone to miss an important event or time with their loved ones. And we found that when we let people have a hand in managing their own schedules, not only did the work always get done, but they were also more enthusiastic about meeting client needs because they had some control over their time. This policy can extend beyond family to other activities. For example, one of our staff always went hunting in late January or early February. We found that as long as we knew about the request in advance, we could schedule around it.
Accommodate remote work. Small firms are very well suited to offering staff the chance to work remotely. Our people truly appreciated the chance to avoid a commute or to catch up with work from another location when necessary. The PCPS employee engagement initiative site offers several tools to help you make this arrangement work.
Promote community involvement. When the firm joins together to raise funds for a meaningful cause or volunteers together, it gives staff pride in where they work and builds team spirit. Community involvement also includes getting engaged in the local business community, something we encouraged as well, especially for younger staff. It was a great way for them to learn the business of a CPA firm and develop soft skills, such as networking and public speaking. As a firm, we were very much involved in the local chamber of commerce and in builders’ associations, since we specialized in the real estate industry. But our staff members were also urged to join organizations they were passionate about, so that they could give back and get involved in their own way, and become business leaders in those areas. And the holidays are an especially good time to begin or enhance this involvement, since there are typically so many community activities and events.
Commit to education. Throughout the year, we always encouraged staff to take more than the minimum education requirement. We talked to them about what kinds of CPE would be most helpful to the firm, but we were open to training in new areas that were exciting to them. By turning CPE into something more than compliance, it became another tool to keep staff engaged. In addition, we also tried to show staff how much they mattered. Starting from day one with a new person, even someone with little to no experience, we would look for ways to include them in client interactions. As one example, we made an effort to take them along to client meetings. Even if they didn’t participate, they knew immediately that their career development and inclusion in these conversations were important to us.
Celebrate. Our holiday party gave us the chance to spend time together and allowed me to show my appreciation for each individual’s work. We also allowed employees to bring a guest so that they would feel a part of the firm family. We always tried to do something unique, such as picking a new restaurant or activity that made each year’s event special.
The holidays are a time to have fun, deepen friendships and reenergize before busy season. If you remember that all of these steps also help better engage your staff, you’ll start the new year with a team that’s well prepared for a profitable and productive season.
Carl Peterson, CPA, CGMA is the AICPA’s Vice President of Small Firm Interests. Have questions for Carl? Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-252-4618. And be sure to register for Carl’s next Small Firm Update Webcast on December 15, 2:00 - 3:00 PM ET. We wish you a successful busy season! Look for Carl’s columns, as well as a new round of Small Firm Update webcasts , beginning again in May.