insight magazine

Today's CPA | Spring 2022

Are We Fulfilling Our Roles as Leaders?

Leadership is hard—that’s not a reason for a lack of proactive leadership.
Todd Shapiro ICPAS President & CEO

Many of us are still reeling from or trying to navigate COVID-19’s impact on our workplaces and lives. It’s impossible to walk through downtown Chicago (like many cities) ignoring the shuttered restaurants and still sparsely populated streets. Sometimes the vibe on a weekday feels more like a weekend. And, how often have you asked or been asked, “What’s your office doing?” As we grapple with leading in-person, hybrid, and remote workforces, I’ve said before—and truly believe—that we’re living through the most significant unplanned management experiment of our lives.

And what of the Great Resignation we’re hearing so much about? Is it real? In 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 33 percent of nonfarm workers quit their jobs. While that sounds high, 28 percent quit their jobs in 2019. That’s a lot of turnover, but people changing jobs is nothing new. I think the real question we should be asking is, why do people leave? There are many factors that play into one’s decision to stay with or leave an employer: compensation, flexibility, type of work, how one is treated, etc. Some of these factors can be summarized in one word: culture.

The “work environment” (in-person, hybrid, or remote) also has a tremendous impact on the culture of an organization. Work environment can significantly impact ongoing staff training and development, onboarding of new staff, employee commitment to the organization, collaboration, and succession planning.

I think it’s important to discuss how we decide which type of work environment to implement within our organizations. That said, it’s more important than ever that you proactively lead in the decision-making process.

What I’m talking about is a proactive intentionality to develop the culture you believe is best for your organization. Because of rapid pandemic shifts, it seems many business leaders have become more reactive. I’ve heard many in senior management say that they’d like their staff to be in-person at least part-time, but they feel they can’t tell them to do that. Instead, they’re hoping people just start coming back to the office. Hoping isn’t intentional leadership—it’s an abdication of leadership responsibilities.

A managing partner recently told me that his staff will only come in if there’s a reason to, like an office lunch or happy hour. Similarly, other business leaders have told me that their people will all quit if they have to work in-person at least part-time. Will they?

Let’s be honest, many businesses are experiencing higher than historical turnover rates. Is that really because business leaders are requesting their people to return to in-person work? I argue it’s not—many businesses offering voluntary in-person office policies are experiencing high turnover. I’m not advocating for a fully in-person, hybrid, or remote work environment. In fact, I don’t think there’s a “right” answer. What I’m advocating for is that we, the leaders of our organizations and the profession, be proactive and intentional about shaping the cultures of our organizations.

If you think your organization’s culture is best served by staff being in the office at least part time, then intentionally move in that direction. The same applies to those who believe in having a fully voluntary or fully remote workforce. Regardless of the direction you go, some staff may threaten to or, in fact, quit. The question remains: What’s best for your organization?

Remember, leaders lead. The decisions we make won’t always be popular with everyone. In fact, rarely are decisions popular with everyone. However, that doesn’t mean we should decide what to do out of fear. Rather, we must make decisions based on what’s best for the long-term culture—and success—of our organizations as we move forward from here.

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