Here are the top seven reasons accounting staff are discontent (from The Staffing Crisis, by Bruce Marcus):

  1. Workload
  2. Compensation
  3. Recognition
  4. Exciting work
  5. Balance
  6. Internal communications
  7. Expectations

Accounting staff turnover is at an all-time high. Some estimates show it is averaging 30 percent!

One look at the top reasons for staff discontent in the most recent surveys of accounting staff and you will see why this issue is not getting solved: It is a lack of leadership — or, more specifically, alignment (of partners). Just look at the list: Six out of the seven have nothing to do with compensation! Actually, they all deal with the three major areas that many firms consistently underinvest in, or even ignore — people, leadership and culture.

Is your firm really operating as “one firm” (as coined by CPA management guru David Maister)? Or, is it really multiple firms within one firm, each with the distinct style of each partner in charge of specific practice areas? What is your culture? Is it culture based on purpose or culture by default? Or, worse yet, multiple cultures?

Our experience is that too many firms have partners myopically focused on their own individual book of business (versus the firm’s client portfolio) and the partners are pushing the work through senior managers and managers who are caught at the front lines of the talent war.

They are dealing with demanding partners and inexperienced staff who refuse to devote their lives to organizations the way we all used to (also known as the “generational issue”). The result is that this generation of future partners is more at risk than ever and many are voting with their feet.

We recently sat down with our Years 5 and 6 Leadership Academy participants and learned that these professionals really know a lot more than we think they do (and we really aren’t fooling them). Here is what they had to say to the question, “If you were managing partner, what would you do?”

The top eight tips to solve the staffing crisis:

  1. Alignment: This is the number one issue facing CPA firms: All of your major initiatives should support your firm’s strategy and vision (one firm), which create alignment among your partner group. (Note: If you do not have a vision or clear strategy for your firm, get one fast). If you do not have alignment and consistency among your partner group in how they are managing (or not managing) your talent, you could be at risk.
  2. Leadership development: One of the top retention strategies is a clear leadership development program for your top talent. (Learn how MACPA’s Leadership Academy can help you here.) Remember, investments in leadership development have one of the highest ROIs in companies (10 to 1 in research in the Information Masters).
  3. Client culling: Bad clients drive out good clients and your staff know it! Don’t kill your team working for less than optimal clients. A good client ranking and prioritization process can actually have you making the same money for half the hours worked.
  4. Scheduling and staffing: Build in time for after-action reviews, allow for flexible schedules and watch over-scheduling of top-performers. Also, make sure the scheduling process is consistent with the client-ranking and firm prioritization goals.
  5. Recognize and reward hard work and top performers. Make sure there are differences for your stars and emphasize the whole firm and teamwork whenever you can.
  6. Weed out poor performers: Even with a severe staff shortage, poor performers will hurt productivity and morale. Our surveys indicate that most managers in CPA firms would rather bite the bullet and pick up the excess than carrying poor performers.
  7. Nurturing career development: Is the path to career advancement clear inside your organization? Do people know how to advance to the next level? Make your partners accountable for leadership development and retention and help them build the necessary competencies in these critical areas. This is another highly rated and easy-to-implement retention tool.
  8. Encourage them to join their professional association: Associations are a fertile leadership development environment. Many, like the MACPA, have specific programs for new and young profesisonals to help connect them to their profession.

For more: CPA consulting gurus Rick Telberg and Bruce Marcus offer some great insight into solving the staffing crisis in a recent article. Read the full whitepaper here.

How are you dealing with the talent war?

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