Once again, Ron Baker and Michelle Golden are challenging us to “think outside the box” for solutions to creating (or recreating) the CPA firm of the future.

In their latest posts (see Stopping the Leak and CPE/CLE of the Century), they discuss the alarming rates at which young professionals are leaving CPA firms (and it is even worse in the legal profession). I think the word “alarm” is appropriate, and it is time to sound the alarm and wake up to the brutal facts of our reality.

In our work with our Leadership Academy participants and young professionals, we have found that we are on the proverbial thin ice due to several major forces and trends in business and the profession:Dsc04879_5

  • A shortage of people with five to seven years of experience. This is a U.S.-wide situation, not just accounting.
  • The historical first of having four generations in the workplace.
  • The extreme ways in which millennials differ from any previous generations.
  • New definitions of success by the Gen-X managers and millennial staff. (They are absolutely demanding work / life balance.)
  • More work than ever coming into the CPA profession due to Sarbanes-Oxley Act, fraud engagements and a robust economy.

The most important leadership group in our profession right now is the group that is in the shortest supply — our manager / senior manager positions. These young professionals are, for the most part, members of Generation X. They are sandwiched between the partners (who are mostly matures and boomers) and the staff accountants and recent college grads (who are millennials). They are carrying the bulk of the workload and feeling frustrated with their current state.Dsc05100

Over the last few weeks of this summer, I have been working with several CPA firms, catching up on research about the talent shortage and working with young professionals (our own NYPN group and the Louisiana Society of CPAs‘ Young CPA Leadership Group), and I wanted to share my thoughts about how we can “solve” this talent shortage.

  1. Make sure your current managers / supervisors are well-trained in supervisory skills (delegation and feedback), conflict management (so they can compete for the scarce resources in the firm) and generational training to help them deal with the multiple generation in the workplace.Competency_ladder
  2. Have a clear career path for your firm from intern to partner, and lay out the competencies  and levels for each position. This was also one of the top reasons that top talent stays with a firm, according to the AICPA PCPS Top Talent Study.
  3. Work to eliminate poor performers. Our research indicates that one of the biggest issues is keeping poor performers around due to the staff shortage. Your people would prefer that they be managed out, even if it means they have to carry the workload for awhile.
  4. Rank your clients and eliminate and / or raise fees for the “C” and “D” clients. I have heard about firms that do this and raise fees 40 percent on their “bad clients,” making them good clients again. This should help with over-scheduling situations or enable the firm to hire more people due to the extra fees.
  5. Over-hire at the entry-level positions and quickly sort out the top talent.  Look for the best fit to your organization (attitude, “fit,” etc.).
  6. Train, train, train. Invest in the proper training for the supervisor levels on up to make sure they have the skills needed to manage people and communicate to partners and clients.

Bring your managers in today and get them talking about what they see going on and what they would recommend. They will surprise you.

You can start by sending a couple of your young professionals to Ron Baker’s latest conference for young professionals, The Future is Already Here … It’s Just Unequally Distributed. He will actually have a few young professionals who are living examples of cutting-edge professional services firms. When your young professionals return, have them do a debrief and discuss what they saw that could be started in your own firm.

As I said in the beginning: “Something’s gotta give. Don’t let it be your best people!”

Here are some examples of training programs we are running in CPA firms to address several of these critical areas, courtesy of our Business Learning Institute:

Contact our Customized Training manger, Pam Devine, at pam@macpa.org for more information.

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