How to Keep Your Star Players on the Roster
It’s time to rethink the workplace, how work gets done, and what leaders can do to keep top performers on the team now and as the job market recovers.
If you think your best employees will stay put right now because
the global pandemic has driven up unemployment rates and
minimized mobility, think again. And if you don’t believe your top
performers are worth fighting for, you could be in for a big surprise
when it comes time to recruit their replacements.
“Top performers do four times the work of others and the math
proves it,” says Dick Finnegan, CEO at C-Suite Analytics, pointing
to a study
that found that the top 5 percent of any company’s
workforce produced 26 percent of that company’s total output. This
holds true during all economic conditions, he notes, and it’s
particularly relevant right now.
“Our COVID-driven national unemployment rate is high, and you’re
going to hear things like, ‘James quit, but there are a lot of people
looking for work right now, so go find me another James,’” Finnegan
says. “You can easily find a warm body to fill the seat, but if James
was a top performer, you probably won’t find another one like him.”
Citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Finnegan also points out
that when you compare the number of people who are voluntarily
quitting their jobs right now versus the same period in 2019, the
difference comes to just 18 percent. That means 82 percent of
workers are still quitting and moving to new jobs voluntarily.
“There’s a lot of action in the job market, even though we tend to
think there isn’t,” Finnegan says.
Clearly accounting firms still have to think about employee
retention—and particularly about retaining that small percentage of
team members who do four times the work of others—at a time
when an economic recession, a global pandemic, and other outside
forces are capturing most of their attention.
Put simply, this isn’t the time to sit back and assume those star
players will stay on the roster just because their lives have been
upended by the events of 2020. “A company might think it has it
made because the firm offers career ladders, a great benefits
package, or some other perk, but those are not the things that
make people want to stay,” Finnegan says.
Finding—and Keeping—Star Players
As head of professional recruitment for Adecco, Jason Kaiman has
his finger on the pulse of the employment market. Regardless of
factors like the potential for COVID spikes, political unrest, and
economic uncertainty, Kaiman says companies should remember
that the underlying crisis is health-related and not specifically an
economic crisis. “Knowing this, a lot of organizations that we’re
working with continue to hire and grow their teams, the obvious
market conditions notwithstanding,” he explains.
Specifically, Kaiman says professional services firms are scouting
for “A-level talent” that will help them become more efficient,
nimble, and technologically adept. Achieving that goal requires a
different mindset than the one companies had pre-COVID. A recent
Adecco survey of 8,000 professionals (including those working in
accounting and finance) pinpointed scheduling flexibility, the ability
to work remotely, and a company’s ability to adapt to change as
the “new” employee retention criteria.
“About 76 percent of the individuals surveyed said that the mix of
remote work and office work in the future will be critical,” Kaiman
says, pointing out that accounting firms aren’t generally known for
their flexible work arrangements. This presents a great opportunity
for firms willing to provide remote work options for parents whose
children are now learning from home and for workers with health
concerns who don’t want to come into an office.
With 84 percent of the employees surveyed by Adecco expressing
confidence in their employers’ ability to transform and change,
Kaiman tells accounting firms to consider their current resiliency
levels and how they can be improved. “Historically, accounting
organizations have been somewhat conservative,” he explains.
“Now, some are taking a lead role in transformation while others
are waiting to figure out what their next step will be.”
Finally, with 21.2 percent of people nationwide working remotely as
of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ October count
, Kaiman says
accounting firms must rethink not only where their star employees
are performing their work, but also how they’re managing those
tasks outside of the conventional office environment. That could
mean rethinking the traditional hourly schedule and shifting over to
more of a project- and deadline-centric workflow.
“Consider adding flexibility into how the job gets done, versus the
number of hours that someone is clocking in on a daily basis,”
Kaiman advises. “That’s going to be the new norm on the other side
of all of this, and most employers have already adjusted to it.”
Along with setting up more flexible work arrangements and allowing
star players to do their work on their own terms, Finnegan says
accounting firms should also be talking regularly to their employees
about their job satisfaction. Organizations can implement the “stay
interview” (a concept Finnegan invented in 2012) to open lines of
communication with their existing employees that often go
unexplored between the hiring interview and the exit interview.
Finnegan says that every organization should implement stay
interviews to help managers better connect with their team members.
A structured discussion that takes place between a manager and
each individual employee, the stay interview should focus on the
specific actions that the company can take to strengthen that
employee’s engagement and satisfaction with the organization.
Finnegan boils down the stay interview to five key questions, each
of which should prompt an open discussion that the interviewer can
use to impact change in the organization: When you travel to work
each day, what things do you look forward to? What are you
learning here? Why do you stay here? When was the last time you
thought about leaving our team and what prompted it? What can I
do to make your experience at work better for you?
“The employee’s responses to these questions opens the door to
retention and engagement solutions,” Finnegan says. “Ask yourself,
‘How can I make small changes to my employees’ jobs so they can
do more of what they want?’”
Another proponent of the stay interview, Jennifer Lee, executive
director of learning and development at JB Training Solutions, says
the firms using the concept to both listen to and share information
with their star performers will have a better chance of retaining
them once the work world begins to normalize and the job market
picks back up. Additionally, a satisfied employee’s enthusiasm can
spread across the team and lift overall retention for the firm.
Lee says recognizing superstar team members for their efforts,
supporting them with relevant training, and coaching them virtually
will go a long way toward keeping them on the roster in all business
conditions. “Your superstars are the people who are always there for
you, doing a good job, and 100 percent all-in for the organization,”
Lee says. “The more you can recognize that, the better.”
Finally, remember this “new normal” isn’t going away anytime soon,
so changes are probably in order. “The way you did business in the
past can’t be the way you do business going forward,” says Illinois
CPA Society member Gary Shutan, CPA, MBA, partner at Wipfli LLP.
“We’re all dealing with this right now, and the firms that do a great
job at adapting to those changes will be the ones that don’t have
to worry about their people leaving. In fact, more people are going
to want to come to work for them.”