10 staff questions firms should answer right now

One of the key qualities that is most widespread among Accounting Today’s Best Firms to Work For is their willingness to share information of all kinds with their employees.

In a profession that has often relied on unwritten rules, unspoken expectations, and tacit understandings when it comes to management, this kind of transparency helps set the top workplaces apart, and with that in mind, here’s a list of questions staff have that firms can start answering now.

1. How is the firm doing?
This can range from widely celebrating new engagements to sharing as much financial data about the firm as the partners are willing to. Staff often have no sense how the firm is performing — and will often assume the worst.
2. What is the firm doing?
Many firm employees (and — whisper it — many partners) don’t know what’s going on beyond their work group or department. Sharing the firm’s current activities and its longer-term plans is important to broadening their vision of the firm. While you’re at it, make sure everyone knows all the services the firm offers.
3. What does this mean for me?
With so much focus on new advisory services, staff in more traditional areas may wonder if there’s a place for them. It’s important to make sure they don’t feel left behind. And even if they aren’t worried, it’s important to help all staff understand how developments in other areas of the firm affect them, and the firm as a whole.
4. What can I do here?
There are more, and more varied, opportunities available at CPA firms than ever before, from new services to new types of partnership and beyond. But staff won’t stick around to take advantage of them if they don’t know they exist.
5. How do I do that?
The pathways to success in accounting firms are not as clear-cut as they used to be. “Keeping your head down and your nose clean” isn’t enough nowadays, but too many firms don’t make it clear to employees how they can advance: the skills they need to develop, the experience they need to amass, the qualities they need to display, and so on.
6. What does a partner make?
For what I hope are obvious reasons, you should not share what individual partners earn — but it’s routinely reported that young accountants have no idea how financially rewarding partnership can be, so giving them a sense of the average partner compensation at your firm may help encourage them to aim for the partner track.
7. How long does it take to make partner?
Even a rough estimate or average would be worth sharing — but too many firms can’t even give that.
8. Will the firm be around in 10 years?
Given the profession’s weaknesses when it comes to succession planning, it’s no surprise that many younger accountants worry about whether their firm is a good long-term bet. Be prepared to make a convincing case for your firm’s longevity.
9. What will it look like?
A strong vision of the firm down the road can be compelling — but you have to have one, first.
10. Can I make a suggestion?
The answer, hopefully, is yes, but you also need to open lines of communication for employees to share their suggestions with you, and to create mechanisms for acting on the ones you receive — because what they share with you may end up being even more important than what you share with them.