Hiring (Again)

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Reznick Fedder & Silverman wants to be cubed.

Ken Baggett, managing principal of the Bethesda, Md.-based firm, says, “We want to be 10 cubed, which means in 10 years, we want 10 offices and we want to be one of the top 10 accounting firms.” He adds, “The way to achieve this is through our staff, and staff development is our No. 1 goal and client service is No. 2. If you have a staff that does a good job and enjoys it, excellent client service is guaranteed.”

So in an increasingly competitive hiring market, how does a firm like this meet its goals to recruit and keep people? In fact, how are firms of all sizes grappling with the fact that, in a short time, the job market has come back?

Partner Insights

Upgrade Your Talent Now

Neil Lebovits, CPA, president of Saddle Brook, N.J.-based specialty staffing firm Ajilon Finance, urged companies at the American Institute of CPAs Technology Conference to take steps now to attract and retain top talent, and to make proper staffing a priority regardless of the economic situation.

“CPA firms have a hard time with retention even during good times. For about three years, employees get certified and figure out what they want to do and then leave the firm for other opportunities,” say Lebovits.

“Firms need to deal with retention and recruiting strategies, and the ones that start now will be better positioned when the economy improves,” he adds.

He provides these four tips for getting ahead:

  • Communicate with Your People. You need to get in the heads of your staff and they need to know why you are making decisions, and where the firm is going. The best way to do this is to hold quarterly meetings.
  • Invest Now. As profitability improves, companies are still putting off rewarding their employees until tomorrow. They need to show that their employees are an important investment and spend money, now.
  • Train Your People. The first thing in the budget to be cut is training. “Some companies are now waiting up to a year to train new employees. What kind of message does this send to the staff?” asks Lebovits.
  • Recognize Performance. When employees reward the company with outstanding results, reciprocate the effort. You can provide incentives such as trips, company cars, or home computers.
There is no one right answer, when it comes to recruiting and retention. However, each firm has to look in the mirror and see what they have done right, what they have done wrong and build from there,” says Lebovits.
With 600 employees, RF&S maintains offices in Atlanta; Bethesda, Md.; Baltimore; Charlotte, N.C.; and Sacramento, Calif. During the past two years, the firm has expanded its Government Services practice and invested heavily in technology to ensure meeting its 10-year goal.

At RF&S, flexibility is a hallmark of the firm. And the firm offers family-friendly options such as telecommuting and flexible schedules. “We also encourage employees to share their ideas and influence company policy by serving on committees,” says Baggett.

“We created a technology committee to develop, implement, and automate the audit process and also to invest in technology resources that would allow our staff to work more efficiently,” adds Baggett.

Atlanta managing principal Timothy Kemper, who led the technology committee, notes that the key to the committee’s success was making everyone in the firm part of the process. “It’s important to have staff buy-in. We want our people to feel that they have a stake in the firm.”

RF&S has also introduced a Flexible Work Schedule Initiative and created an Extranet for online collaboration with clients. “We are offering employees several flexible work schedules to choose from over the summer. The program includes either a compressed work week, flexible hours, or reduced work schedules,” says Baggett. New wireless and video conferencing capabilities in each office add to the flexibility.

For the fast-growing Government Services practice, Frank Banda was brought on board to head it. Plans call for a permanent staff of at least 12. “Two of our largest offices are located in the Washington area and we see a lot of opportunities here,” says Baggett. “We have one contract now that will have 60 people working on it in a three-year period. We will have to hire contract labor and, as time progresses, a technology person to join the group.”

RF&S isn’t the only CPA firm aggressively hiring and beefing up practice areas to grow its business. Many CPA firms and technology resellers are finding that as the economy heats up, they need additional staff and must improve retention policies to keep top talent in place.

“Firms have had a real good tax season and came out a little beat up after having worked too many hours,” says Tom Davis, CPA, of Valdosta, Ga.-based TC Davis & Associates. “Many firms are going to staff up, but people are expensive.” In fact, Davis foresees a 15-percent increase in staffing prices. However, that’s not stopping him from hiring at least two new workers.

Ramping Up
Anders Minkler & Diehl and its technology affiliate, AMD Technology Solutions, recruited heavily in the past year and plan to stay in the employee hunt.

The St. Louis-based firm filled three positions in the last six months as it expands and develops high-end practice areas. The firm has hired a principal to expand the Valuation & Litigation Services Group, a partner to head business development efforts for the Assurance & Advisory Services Group, and a director of marketing.

On the technology side, Ed Stode, director of AMD Technology Solutions, hired three engineers and a full-time sales person. “We went a year without a sales person and spent more time stabilizing our base of clients. Now that the economy is more stable, we’ve become more aggressive,” he says.

 “When hiring, we use word of mouth and job posting boards, such as Monster, but I always look for engineers with at least five years of experience who have a strong industry background,” says Stode.

To make working for the technology group extra appealing, Stode offers engineers a $750 yearly personal technology allowance. He explains, “The allowance is to be spent on technology-related items such as digital cameras. We like our engineers to play around with new technologies because when clients ask, they’ll be able to help.”
Also, overtime work is compensated with extra pay or time off. “We’re small and compensate for not being the highest paid by rewarding employees in other ways. That helps retain engineers, and most importantly lets our clients see the same faces,” say Stode.

Calling All Sales People
If hiring technology and accounting staff is difficult, hiring sales people represents an even greater challenge for those selling accounting software and related products.

In an effort to help partners find quality recruits, Best Software recently announced the Partner for Growth program and the “100 in 100” program—through which it hopes to add 100 field-trained sales executives to the existing business partner channel in 100 days. The system can produce up to $10,000 to hire sales people, who are typically earning $60,000 to $90,000 a year, depending on experience.

Participating firms will receive a subsidy to offset new-hire start-up costs, special lead generation assistance to fill the sales pipeline, and expedited new-hire training on Best products. Best is also working with a profiling/recruiting company, Opus Marketing.

“The hardest person to hire is the sales person,” says Taylor Macdonald, Best senior vice president of business partners. “When hiring a program consultant, you can give them a test, talk to clients they worked with, but with sales it’s not that easy.”

In Macdonald’s view, an effective sales person needs to have general business knowledge, more specific industry knowledge, some product knowledge, and of course sales skills. “When hiring sales people, you can waste six months or more in time, salary, and training before you realize the person isn’t going to work out. With the [Opus] profiling [input], we are trying to eliminate that for our partners,” says Macdonald.

The program appeals to Judy Thronell, president of Best partner Baytek.

After the 2003 Best Insights conference, Thronell wanted to focus more on the Act line. “Act is one of our newer practice areas and one where we see tremendous growth. We are also developing complementary practice areas such as helping small and midsized companies develop a CRM plan,” says Thronell. She plans to apply funds from the program to help add one more certified Act contact management consultant and one more MAS 90 person this year. Baytek, which is also an Authorized Peachtree Resource Center, has offices in Mountain View and Fresno, Calif.; Denver; Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle.

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