How One Firm Attracts—and Keeps— Today’s Top Accounting Talent
How do you motivate your employees? How do you attract today’s top talent?
If these questions are answered by years-old processes or if catered lunches, bean bags scattered across the office and ping pong tables come to mind, then you could be costing your firm money.
It might surprise you to learn what today’s top talent values most when it comes to job satisfaction and how that translates into what a firm needs to consider when building their strategic plans. Firms that create a culture of meaningful work, deep employee engagement, and strong leadership are outperforming their peers and will beat their competition in attracting top talent.
But what does that look like? What does that mean, and how do you implement the right things?
One example of a firm that has bucked the traditional business model to wild success is Legacy Advantage CPA, a Canadian bookkeeping company with around 12 employees that earned $1.5 million in only three years.
Bob Wang, founder and president, knew while working as a CPA for a big four firm that he wanted to create a business that worked to serve the greater good. So we thought we’d share what we learned about how firms should think about incentives that today’s workers actually value:
Build incentives from your employees’ motivations.
There seems to be a disconnect between what old-school partners think their staff wants —kegs in the breakroom, video games, napping pods —and what the staff really wants.
Bob Wang agrees: “Yes, those are easy bandaids that leaders apply without thinking through what their staff really wants. Most employees are motivated by other ideals, not by shiny objects like a foosball game.”
Instead of thinking about traditional ways or start-up tech inspired ways of showing your employees what you think matters, look at what motivates your employees or potential staff interviewing with a firm.
“There’s a bit of a cultural fit they may be seeking,” Bob says, “but compensation really should be seen as a baseline. When you take that off the table, it becomes a non-issue. Then you can focus on what really matters to them.
In the book Drive, by Dan Pink, he states that there are three things that motivate employees better than money and rewards: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Potential employees and current ones want these questions answered: Will I be empowered by having autonomy and control over my work? Will this position help me become a master of my craft? Will I be part of a bigger purpose?”
And what about other incentives, such as education and training, flexible hours, work from home options?
“It’s really cool to reward people in a way that matters most to them,” Bob says. “For some, that might be going to a leadership conference, training, or something completely unrelated to education and training. There should be a budget for ad hoc appreciation because it’s best to reward in the moment instead of waiting for the next quarter. Most employees appreciate the reward more when they don’t have to wait for it.”
Understand how culture in your firm is built.
“Ultimately, incentives communicate what behaviors employers want or don’t want from their staff,” says Bob. ”Rewards, whether monetary or not, have to drive behaviors that, in turn, drive the core values.
And culture is a part of that.
“The saying, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is true, Culture is important, and too often firms focus on their strategy and neglect their culture. Every business has a culture, and so does every firm, whether the partners know it or not,” adds Bob.
“If the partners don’t create it, then the employees will. Firms should take the time to define the culture by simply asking: What does the ideal firm feel like? Is it secretive or open? Is it the type of office where staff communicates via email or in person? This is the most practical step to defining the firm culture.”
Place value on the right work with automation
Technology may not feel like an incentive--but as technology advances how work is done, it’s becoming an expectation. When the tech your staff is expected to use is bad or outdated, this creates poor morale and halts productivity -- and it tells a story to your employees about the firm. Today’s workers have come to expect and rely on the advances that technology provides— to streamline their work, allow them to work on more meaningful tasks and provide opportunities to learn more, earn more certifications and provide a path for professional development.
This also means that the traditional tax season of long hours at the office and burn out doesn’t have to be the norm. And today’s talent knows it.
“Firm owners and partners need to challenge the model and the plan,” Bob adds, “by structuring their business with more automation. The main problem is the billable hour or the belief that you must work 40 hours per week to get the work done. The billable hour drives laziness because it’s easy to pay by the hour. You end up rewarding work that should have taken six hours because the accountant billed for eight instead.”
Results—and happy clients— speak for themselves.
As a firm owner, Bob practices what he preaches.
“We’re a results-only work environment,” he adds. “We have a set of core values and we operate with a high level of transparency. I allow my team to work anytime from anywhere. They get unlimited vacation as long as the results are achieved.
I offer my employees flexible schedules because as long as the client work is getting done, it doesn’t matter what time it is when they do it. I have an employee who is a night owl; that’s when he does his best work. He works from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. and the work gets done.
I have another employee who likes to wake up early, so she starts her work at 5:00 in the morning. Another employee spent some time in Mexico; she worked a few hours a day.
Our clients are happy, our team is happy, and we’re hitting our goals, all while allowing our staff the autonomy to do their work.”
Applying this to your firm
Legacy Advantage CPA has shown that modern models of business work to great success in the accounting industry, both for the clients and for the firm itself— because underneath the changes, the focus is on their people and understanding what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to motivating their employees.
Your bottom line is directly impacted by your employee satisfaction rates. If high turnover is an issue, you’re constantly paying to onboard new employees and rebuild client relationships.
According to Bob, “The ultimate question firm leaders need to ask is What is the result we want? Then give your team the autonomy to achieve it. Once you see the benefits of having highly engaged and motivated employees you’ll improve the culture of your organization and your bottom line.”