Based on what I’ve heard from small firm leaders across the country, staffing concerns did not worsen too much during this year’s tax season, but practitioners are still facing challenges finding or replacing staff. As firms emerge from the busy season rush, they have an opportunity to take a few smart steps to alleviate their staffing issues.
Take stock of the pandemic’s impact. We all know that the pandemic has changed the way we work, but it may not yet be clear which options are the best solutions for each firm. When it comes to hybrid, remote or traditional work schedules, for example, there’s no one right answer. It is certain, however, that firms have become aware of the importance of work/life balance for all their people and the desire among many to continue with full or partial remote working options. After the anxiety and uncertainties of the last two years, many talented people have also made it clear that they don’t want to work the traditional hours that were expected pre-pandemic.
The best way to address these challenges is to remain flexible. Small firms have great agility and can foster strong team environments, which can help them choose the best approaches for the firm or for each individual.
Look into internships. Many small firms have reservations about taking on interns because they’re not sure how to find them and whether they have the time to train them and put them to best use. The small firms that I know that have taken on interns have not regretted it, however. Before you dismiss this option, I think it’s important to consider the benefits. In addition to the contributions that an intern can make, you may also find a talented person whom you’ll want to hire when they graduate.
Not sure your firm has sufficient work for an intern? The PCPS Internship Program Quick Start Guide recommends partnering with another firm to split the intern’s time. Firms get the help they need and the intern may get exposure to a variety of different services and industries.
Internships also can make it possible to get to know faculty from local universities. Through these relationships, you may be able to expand your hiring options by learning about experienced alumni who may be right for the firm. To gain visibility and to get to know students and faculty, the PCPS guide suggests staying involved on campus throughout the year by participating in career fairs and mock interviews, speaking to business classes and mentoring students.
Also, keep an eye on the PCPS George Willie Ethnically Diverse Student Scholarship & Internship. Applications have closed this year, but this program is a great opportunity to get an ethnically diverse student pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in accounting introduced to your firm.
Emphasize unity and accountability. When you started your firm, you and other firm owners all shared a common vision and work ethic. Partner unity and accountability are what keep that vision alive. Sometimes, though, it’s tough to recognize when that common purpose has been lost or forgotten. As a result, it’s worthwhile to take some time to consider whether partners still agree on the same goals for firm strategy and culture. According to the PCPS Partner Accountability & Unity Guide, when your firm has an accountable culture, it makes it easier to manage expectations, raise team trust and confidence and drive performance.
Lack of accountability or of a sense of common purpose can have a negative impact on retention. Team members may not stick with the firm if they don’t have a clear sense of what the firm stands for or understand performance expectations and career paths and opportunities. The PCPS guide includes a Leadership Accountability Model™ that illustrates which elements are necessary to foster genuine accountability and high performance in a firm.
Help staff develop soft skills and foster client relationships. Staff are more likely to stay if they feel they are learning new skills and taking on new challenges. With busy season behind us, now is a good time to work on the essential skills that staff members don’t learn in college. This is not a task that the firm must take on alone. State CPA societies often have young professionals’ group where your team members can learn how to network and build new business relationships. These groups often coordinate events with young lawyer or banker groups where new CPAs can develop referral sources for the firm. Also consider sending your promising young people to at least one national conference a year to broaden their understanding of the profession. The AICPA & CIMA ENGAGE Conference even has a special EDGE Career Development track designed just for younger professionals.
In addition, involving your team members in client relationships demonstrates your commitment to their careers and makes them feel part of the firm. Bring them along on client meetings and, when possible, encourage them to build relationships with people at their level in client businesses.
Be the firm talented people are seeking
There are a few things that staff are typically looking for in an employer:
Flexibility in how and where they work.
Transparency about the firm’s goals and values and about their own career opportunities.
Challenges that can help them build skills and be part of a great firm.
Small firms are well positioned to be the firm that offers these benefits and more to staff members.
Carl Peterson, CPA, CGMA is the Association’s Vice President of Small Firm Interests. Have questions for Carl? Contact him directly at email@example.com or 651-252-4618. And be sure to sign up for Carl’s Small Firm Update webcasts. The next one will take place on June 15 at 2:00 to 3:00 PM ET.