*This blog is part of the September Thought Leader newsletter.
When you think about the most valuable asset of your firm, what comes to mind? Your tech stack? Your office space? While these play a large part, there’s really just one thing that matters the most: the people.
Which people? Your clients, of course; the firm couldn’t exist without them.
But your staff is every bit as important. And when your team is provided with a setting that allows them to thrive and grow, the byproduct is a firm that runs efficiently and provides top-quality service to your clients.
When looking to attract (or retain) staff members, your job doesn’t end with sending an offer letter to a candidate with outstanding talent. It requires a continuous effort that includes training, development and growth opportunities. Investing in your team is making a significant investment in your firm’s success. So, let’s talk about that.
Invest in your people
In the hustle and bustle of running your firm, it’s easy to forget the value of the human element. And in the accounting profession, where precision and expertise reign supreme, having a budget to invest in your staff isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have. Why? Because if you don’t invest in them, rest assured—another firm will.
Remember that accountants are lifelong learners. They thrive in environments where they’re encouraged to grow, evolve and develop.
And that’s where the Four Cs of firm culture play a significant role in the investment of your people.
Does your staff have a clear picture of the future of your firm? This is the foundation that builds staff development. Firm leaders need to outline where they envision each employee fitting into the bigger picture. Ask yourself these questions:
- Where does everyone fit in the firm?
- What is the vision for staff development and growth?
- Are there clear career paths laid out for each role?
Have conversations with your staff members about where they see themselves and where you see them fitting in. This can help create clarity within your firm and help put the right people in the right roles. Without a clear plan, even the most enthusiastic staff will wander aimlessly (or to another firm).
Having a vision for your firm is one thing; how you execute it is another. There needs to be a continual commitment to staff development. When your staff sees a discrepancy between their career path with your firm and the lack of investment in their continued development, it can cause discord among leaders and staff.
Do you have a plan that outlines how you’re going to make a consistent investment in your team and their professional and personal development? Be sure to communicate with your staff regularly and consistently follow through with action plans for staff development.
Honesty within your firm is paramount, and candor can’t exist without connection (which we’ll touch on next). Leaders have to create a culture that allows staff to be candid about where they see themselves growing and developing in the firm, such as attending seminars or extending their technical training. In turn, leaders must be forthright about the firm’s needs when it comes to delivering exceptional client service. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are we being honest about our needs for delivering client work?
- What roles do we need? Can they be filled by someone in the firm?
Be careful not to pigeonhole talent to avoid pain points. What we mean by that is don’t fall into the trap of keeping an outstanding employee in a box and not allowing them to move to a position where they could flourish even more just because you’re afraid of leaving a hole in their current role. Encourage honest conversations so you can determine where your staff fits best in your firm and where you can provide for their continued improvement. Remember that no one’s a mind reader; you must have those open discussions.
Building trust and establishing genuine relationships is at the heart of any successful firm. Creating clarity around your firm’s vision, developing consistency and encouraging candor all lead to trust and a genuine connection in your firm. Think about whether you truly understand your staff’s career aspirations and if their goals align with your firm’s vision. When you have a good connection with your team, you can speak openly with them about these things.
Also, consider if you’re focused on prioritizing your staff…or if you’re more focused on prioritizing your clients and your firm. Take care of your staff first—and they’ll take care of your clients.
Commit to continuous learning
Once you direct your focus to your staff, you may start wondering about the ways you can begin investing in their growth and staff development. That’s something we can help you with.
Set a learning budget
Chances are that you have staff members eager to learn more about changes to the profession or how to apply new and emerging technologies (think artificial intelligence, or AI). Set aside a budget for each staff member’s learning and development. Encourage them to find workshops, conferences or online courses they’re interested in. Fund their memberships to professional associations or publications that provide continuing professional education (CPE). Make sure your team knows that there’s a budget available to them so they can take advantage of this perk. (Not to mention, it’s a great benefit that will attract incredible talent to your firm.)
Integrating feedback loops into the learning process is invaluable. Talk to your team and ask them—based on your firm’s vision—where they want to improve. What courses are they interested in? Are they looking to take classes to enhance their technical skills? Does your team need more training in soft skills? Customize each staff member’s learning experience based on their preferences and needs.
A great tool you can use to gather feedback is the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). With eNPS, you can garner insights from questions like:
- How likely are you to recommend [firm name] as a workplace to friends and family?
- What’s the primary reason for your score?
This is a great way to learn how your staff feels about your firm. And what’s important is that you approach your staff’s feedback objectively. Keep the eNPS survey anonymous, avoid assumptions of why staff rated your firm higher or lower than expected, and share the results with your team. Most importantly, get to work quickly and make improvements based on the feedback. Make sure that feedback-driven learning becomes an ingrained aspect of your firm’s culture.
Remember, people matter most
In a world that focuses on the bottom line, be the firm that stands out from the crowd—and places value on the people. Their growth and development directly correlate with the success of your firm. And by emphasizing the Four Cs (clarity, consistency, candor and connection), you’re not just investing in the individuals but in the very future of your firm.
Invest in your most precious asset—your people. The dividends will be well worth it.