5 ways accounting firms can retain top performers

accounting, accounting firms, top performers, retain, career management
accounting, accounting firms, top performers, retain, career management

accounting, accounting firms, top performers, retain, career management

Retaining top performers has always been a priority — and a challenge — for public accounting firms.

With many employers to choose from, competitive pay and the constant demand for talent, public accountants are never far from a recruiting lunch.

I spoke to Kristen Rampe, a CPA and author of the new, humorous book Accounting Dreams and Delusions, about retention in the accounting industry.

“Many firms are aware of top-talent retention essentials,” she said. “Attractive compensation, career progression, interesting client work, quality mentoring and leadership programs are crucial to stay competitive.”

In addition to this standard line-up, I asked Rampe how CPA firms can position themselves to keep their star players around longer. Here are her five ways CPAs can bring new life to retention initiatives:

1. Embrace transparency

CPAs spend the day number crunching. Ironically, many of them are in the dark about the financial state of their own organizations. Give them the “inside scoop” about high-level operating expense categories and margins. This will make your firm more profitable in the long run, and will help them become stakeholders in the organization. They are numbers people, after all.

2. Unlimited expense accounts

Yes, that’s right — and don’t stop reading! If you trust your top talent, this should be possible. And it means that you must stop interfering while your best staff gets the job done. You don’t have to announce it to the world, but let top performers know you’ll stand by their judgment even if it’s not always “ordinary and necessary.”

3. Beat them to the flexible schedule

Your top talent may have a life event coming up: marriage, children, aging parents — the list goes on. Instead of waiting for an employee to bring up a different work arrangement, beat them to it.

When you hear about a baby on the way, as a mentor, you should immediately offer to consider a new kind of schedule or work plan. This discussion is not reserved for the pregnant; dads and partners may also be interested in a change.

4. Ask them what they want

Have you tried a “stay-interview” yet? Like a bite of dark chocolate, they’re addictive and healthy, compared to their milk-chocolate cousin: the exit interview.

The stay-interview is a one-on-one meeting in which leadership (not “someone from Human Resources”) talks with a team member about his or her satisfaction level. It’s a chance to discuss what’s liked and disliked about the job, and what the organization can do for retention. The value of these meetings is far beyond the time they take. Frankly, this is the job of all managers; unfortunately they’re just not doing it.

5. Have fun

Surprise! Your workplace culture should make talent want to stay. If your top performers feel like you don’t walk the walk, or that you are trying to win the “Top 100 Stodgiest Firms” award, it will be hard to keep them around. The bonus is, you’ll discover an increase in productivity and efficiency.


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