The wheels on the bus go round and…fall off

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Last Updated September 29, 2023

the wheels on the bus


This blog is part of the August Thought Leader newsletter.

We’ve all heard the song, “The Wheels on the Bus,” and a lot of you have heard us say (over and over), “You need to have the right people in the right seats on the bus.”

But what do you do when you find the right people for the right seats OR you find fantastic people who give you hope that they’re right—only to have them quit so you end up back where you started?

In other words, what do you do when the wheels fall off?

Staffing had been an issue in the profession for years—long before I entered this space back in 2000. There are articles upon articles out there with the reasons and the statistics, so I won’t waste your time telling you all the reasons why. You know the story as well as I do, so I won’t preach to the choir.

However, a high percentage of the hundreds of coaching calls we take every month still include conversations about staffing and the challenges the profession faces. Ross had some great tips in February’s Thought Leader; take a look back if you missed it.

Starting August 23, we have a two-part webinar series on staff retention coming up for Rootworks members (who can log in and register for Part 1 here). Inspired by that, I thought I’d seize the opportunity to give you a few additional tools for your toolbox to help you hire—or at least retain—staff through these dog days of summer:

Have you been trying to hire and haven’t had any luck?

  • People with experience are few and far between. Review your job ad and be honest: Would you want to apply for your position? Make sure your ad stands out. You don’t want to sound like a traditional firm, working 100 hours a week during tax season with no flexibility and no technology.
  • Look inward. Do you have a less experienced staff member who, with training, could excel in the position you need? Either commit to training them upward OR put out an additional job ad for a less experienced position and look for someone you can train upward. Yes, it will take more time, but the investment is worth it.

Are you including less experienced staff in cross-training opportunities?

  • Bring someone into meetings to take notes and listen.
  • Cross-train bookkeepers on one or two payroll clients.
  • Cross-train payroll staff on one or two simple monthly/accounting clients.
  • Have your tax preparers shadow your reviewers to see how returns are reviewed and learn what to look for.
  • Commit to a mentorship program. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Task more senior staff to meet with less experienced staff on a weekly basis to see what they need help with and explain their thought processes.

Are you at a point where you’re ready to give up on hiring?

If so, it’s time to transition to protecting your existing staff from burnout.

  • Evaluate the capacity of your existing staff.
  • Cross-check your capacity with your existing client list.
  • Commit to firing or selling off certain clients if you’re over capacity.
  • Raise fees for existing clients (because honestly, you’re probably too low anyway).
  • Stop onboarding new clients until you can commit to letting an “old” client (or clients) go to free up capacity.

Have you had an open and honest conversation with your existing team?

  • Ross covered this in February too, but it’s worth repeating!
  • Your staff needs to know that you’re looking out for their best interest. Don’t assume they know what’s going on behind the scenes; make sure they know.
  • Take time to meet with your staff. Ask them about their goals and talk to them about where you see them in your business. You don’t need every employee to be motivated to grow, but if you have seats to fill, you want to know who might be interested. And more importantly, THEY need to know you see potential in them. Again, don’t assume.
  • Include them in your hiring search. Give them updates, let them know what position you’re trying to hire for…and make sure they understand why.

You might look over these points and wonder where you’ll find time to accomplish any of them. Or you may just dismiss them as a dream because you’re underwater yourself and can’t imagine even attempting to balance one more thing.

The fact is, if you don’t find the time to balance these things now, the extended deadlines will creep up on you. And we’ve seen it happen over and over: You’ll put all these projects on hold, and once the deadlines are passed, you’ll just continue the burnout cycle.

There isn’t enough time left in this article to hit the subject of time management, so I’ll urge you to evaluate what you have on your plate, choose just one small step as your priority and move forward from there. Because trust me; one small step a week or a month will add up in the long run.

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