insight magazine

3 Conversations Key to Retaining Accounting Staff

Employee retention is something every accounting firm faces, and often struggles with. By Sarah Johnson Dobek | Digital Exclusive - 2018


Employee retention is something every accounting firm faces, and often struggles with, but it’s critical to firms that are focused on success—and succession.

While every person in a CPA firm may not be partner material, they all play a role in the firm’s long-term success. No matter what, talent retention should be top of mind for every firm.

Many partners think retention hinges on a complicated formula of activities, but the primary reason employees leave a firm, besides burnout, is the quality of relationship with their direct supervisors. Oftentimes, the combination of experiences with partners, directors and managers is the major influence since most firms have multiple people managing engagements with staff.

Beyond the relationships between managers and staff, understanding what keeps key players at your firm, and what they want and need to grow, is key to revving up retention. For many employees, professional learning and development are key drivers for retention and engagement. For others, it’s workplace flexibility. Identifying what keeps talent at your firm and addressing their wish lists and tools for success will give you a winning formula. So, where should you start?

1. ‘Stay’ Conversations: Annual stay conversations are the pinnacle of building relationships with employees. They reinforce your relationships by forging new connections and repairing broken bonds. They also help you understand what an employee wants and needs to stay at your firm. These conversations work because they’re focused entirely on the employee.

2. Hindsight Conversations: Creating engagement requires awareness about an employee’s drivers. Firms should check in quarterly with staff to try to understand what’s driving their engagement. A simple conversation might cover what was most satisfying about their work, whether or not they felt stretched, and what causes them to become disengaged.

3. Feedback Conversations: All people, but especially great people, move on when their appetite for feedback is no longer being satiated. Feedback isn’t just about review points for direct work. Feedback also needs to be focused on the bigger picture. What’s the employee good at doing? What strengths do they bring to the table? How are they accomplishing their goals from your perspective and others? All humans take their cues from their successes or failures. In the absence of feedback, assumptions can be made from a solitary and subjective point of view, and that can be dangerous.

While these conversations won’t guarantee an employee will stay with you forever, they will significantly increase the likelihood of retention. You’ll still lose employees to uncontrollable events, but building meaningful relationships with employees will help retain most of them.

Sarah Johnson Dobek is the founder & president of Inovautus Consulting, a firm specialized in marketing and business development programs designed to help public accounting firms. This article was originally featured on the CPAsNET website.

Leave a comment