The younger generation is beginning to gain more influence at accounting firms.
At the Winning Is Everything conference in Las Vegas last week, Boomer Consulting CIO Jim Boomer led panel discussions among “young guns” and older members of firms talking about intergenerational issues.
“There was a lot of talk about letting people fail and not being so quick to clean up their mess when they do fail to make sure there’s a learning opportunity,” said Boomer, who led the panels. He asked the panelists to comment on the challenges they see at their firms and any struggles around the transition.
Steven Harris, a young partner-in-charge of RubinBrown’s Entrepreneurial Services Group who has been named one of the St. Louis Business Journal’s 30 Under 30 and Diverse Business Leaders, gave his perspective.
“I would say the biggest challenge we see is looking at managing expectations across the different generations,” he said. “When you look at the seasoned generation, visibility is very important. It’s what I would call an ‘old school’ mentality where you have to be there in the office to be credited with different things. Then when you see the younger generation coming in, they’re looking at things differently. They want to work smarter, not harder, in a lot of ways. They want to work from home or work different hours. One of the challenges we have right now is we have a lot of younger team members who think work starts at 10:00 and ends at 8, but you’ve got to match them with the client cycle. What we’ve done in those situations is we created opportunities for them to work with entrepreneurs who like to work those hours. We started an office at one of our entrepreneurial incubator sites where they can get in at 10 and work until 8, and it works out very well.”
Harris said people want to be able to work differently now and firms need to let their people know they have a career path.
Chet Buchman, a young managing partner at Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Loyd, LLC in McPherson and Hutchinson, Kansas, said his firm has experienced similar generational issues. “Everybody wants the same thing where they can spend time with their families, see them grow up, have a quality work/life balance and a professionally rewarding career,” he said. “It was a hard thing for our partners to finally say it’s OK to leave at 5:30 or 6:00 and lead by example that way. That was probably one of the hardest things we’ve experienced, but once they started doing it, it’s amazing how everybody falls in line. Even they start getting it. If they haven’t eaten dinner with their spouse in a long time and now they are, it’s great. That’s all they want to do.”
All the members of his firm fill out a "dream sheet" for career development. He is aggressively growing his firm to be sure they have enough young partners.
Gary Shamis, national strategy and growth advisor for BDO USA’s national office, emphasized the need for firms to use a different business model in order to avoid high turnover. He pointed out that firms have to adjust to a world where there is effectively zero unemployment among public accountants.
“If you don’t do things to build your organization, there’s going to be turnover of 20 percent,” he said. “If you want a different result at your firm, you have to build a different model that bends its way toward Millennials in the workplace.”