Why is your staff dis­en­gaged?

They need to see that their firm of­fers a path to the fu­ture.

Accounting Today - - Practiceresources - By Bob Lewis

Most pro­fes­sion­als are not en­gaged.

You might dis­agree with this be­cause your mind will go to the few great em­ploy­ees who are pro­duc­tive and will­ing to die for the firm, but these are the ab­nor­mal. The nor­mal em­ployee puts in min­i­mal ef­fort and leaves for the next pay in­crease. Ev­i­dence of this is the high in­dus­try turnover rate and the staffing shortage. Young pro­fes­sion­als are leav­ing pub­lic ac­count­ing to go into pri­vate in­dus­try. Why? They are dis­en­gaged and not see­ing a fu­ture.

Why does this hap­pen? They see their firm deeply en­grained in com­pli­ance and not mov­ing to­ward the di­rec­tion the CPA pro­fes­sion is headed. The fu­ture is not 1040s, tax re­turns and manda­tory fi­nan­cial state­ment au­dits. Your staff knows their fu­ture is in con­sult­ing. They move firms be­cause their other firm is flat. They are seek­ing some­thing bet­ter and then even­tu­ally leave your firm for the next of­fer. They will stay and be­come in­volved if they see a firm do­ing ad­vi­sory work or mov­ing to­ward it.

Whether you want to ac­knowl­edge it or not, CPA firms have changed. Your clients need com­pli­ance, but value ad­vice. Why does au­dit have the low­est re­al­iza­tion in al­most ev­ery firm? It’s needed, but not val­ued. Why are most 1040s not value priced? Be­cause a re­turn is not val­ued. A tax strat­egy, though, is val­ued. Why do busi­ness bro­kers charge high fees? Be­cause they mon­e­tize a life­time of a client’s hard work. Spe­cialty taxes are value billed be­cause they bring cash to the bot­tom line.

How do you en­gage staff? Feed what they value. They see tech­nol­ogy do­ing tax re­turns in the fu­ture. They want to be ad­vi­sors. Yet they need lead­er­ship to carve that path for them. Here’s part of the prob­lem: Most firm lead­er­ship is not con­sult­ing-ori­ented. They are com­pli­ance-pro­duc­tion-fo­cused. Un­der­stand­ably so, be­cause to­day com­pli­ance dol­lars pay the salaries. So how does a lead­er­ship team that is not strong in con­sult­ing teach their staff how to be­come ad­vi­sors?

It is hard to fix what may not ap­pear to be bro­ken yet, but look at most firms. Most are bro­ken al­ready. Staff turnover is high be­cause they are frus­trated. Many do not see a fu­ture in pub­lic ac­count­ing be­cause they do not see firms tak­ing the ad­vice given at con­fer­ences of ask­ing clients what is keep­ing them up at night. They are ful­fill­ing needs. Needs have a place but are sub­ject to com­mod­ity pric­ing. This is why there is low re­al­iza­tion on au­dits. Ad­vice, though, is price­less. If you want fur­ther proof if your firm is bro­ken, look at your suc­ces­sion plan. Do you feel you have a solid suc­ces­sion?

Here is the irony: Firms have their clients’ age, in­come, debt, etc. They can see the client driv­ers, yet they fo­cus on his­tor­i­cal re­port­ing. You have all their in­for­ma­tion. Mine it. Ask them the three to five items they think are most im­por­tant to them. Then, ask them if they could only pick one item, which would it be. Now, ask them the ob­sta­cles that are block­ing progress to­ward their three to five goals. If you do this, you will have ev­ery­thing they value, their most im­por­tant item, and their pain points.

Now, turn staff loose. Get them to do what they do best: An­a­lyze the num­bers of each client. Teach them how to see op­por­tu­ni­ties to sell con­sult­ing and how to talk to the clients to be­gin the con­ver­sa­tion. If you do that, you en­gage them. Once they are en­gaged, staff re­ten­tion will soar.


Bob Lewis is pres­i­dent of The Vi­sion­ary Group (www.thinkvi­sion­ary.com). Reach him at (800) 995-9186.

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