To get ready for tax season, many firms bulk up by hiring new experienced staff. These experienced CPAs (seniors and managers) join the ranks of CPA firms for the all-too-important April 15 deadline. I have worked for several firms during my career, and what I have found is that the human resource interaction and training in the midsized to small CPA firm is lacking, particularly for busy season hires. I believe the reason is that these firms understandably allocate most of their resources to client services.
More and more work is trickling down to midsized and small firms. This is due to the high level of mergers and acquisitions of CPA firms. Consequently, it is just as important that these firms put appropriate human resource and training functions into place. The midsized to small CPA firm regime typically throws experienced new hires into “trial by fire” situations.
The HR and training functions are “passively pursued” in these cases. For instance, oftentimes staff working with these new hires are asked by the partners or HR how the new hire is doing. That is the extent of a new hire interaction with HR after the interview process. This is a serious problem!
Here are a couple of real-life examples of what has happened to me in these situations:
Once, the hiring firm’s HR department “forgot” that Monday was my start date. As a result, my computer station wasn’t set up, and there were no projects for me to work on. This continued throughout my tenure there. I would literally go to work and have nothing to do. This is not fun! The HR director kept calling me into her office declaring, “I want this to work! You should be going to the partners and forging relationships with them.” My take was that they hired me because they supposedly had a great need; why would I have to try to solicit work?
At the next firm I started with, fortunately they remembered my start date, but they aligned me with what I found to be an incorrigible staff accountant. The interesting thing is that no one ever told me that this person had an unfavorable history with two prior managers leading to their departures. The office’s managing partner asked me to go around to the staff accountants and ask if they had any work for me. You must be kidding me! Hire a senior tax manager for $200,000 and then ask him to walk around the office to ask staff accountants if they have any work for him? They assigned me QuickBooks projects where I was doing bookkeeping work. I was a senior tax manager!
YOU HAVE TO WONDER
The question that kept coming back to me is why would a firm invest in background checks, and then seduce candidates with signing bonuses and large salaries, only to create environments where the new hire is doomed to fail?
Here are a few answers. CPA firms are most often partnership entities. Any increase in overhead will affect all partners’ income. It is often subsequently revealed that not all partners in the firm (especially those who weren’t involved in the interviewing process) want this additional overhead to begin with. As a result, these partners and their captive staff may make an effort to sabotage or obstruct the success of a new hire’s performance. This may sound cynical, but it is true.
These veterans may feel that their jobs are at risk by virtue of this new hire. Consequently, veteran firm staff may not be altruistic in their endeavors to show new hires the lay of the land. The new hire is sent into minefields laden with booby traps that are destined to blow up. When they do blow, it supports the political perspective that the new hire doesn’t have what it takes to work for the firm.
SO WHAT IS THE ANSWER?
For human resources — provide the new hire with a business orientation checklist, a stakeholder checklist, and an expectations and alignments checklist, as well as a cultural adaption checklist. Then align the new hire with multiple mentors. There should be one mentor from HR, one from the partnership ranks, one from the manager ranks and one from staff, and so on. Use the Meyers Briggs profile to make sure that the mentor/mentee relationship is strategic.
For the new hire — when you are joining a new organization you must orient yourself to the business, identify and connect with key stakeholders, clarify expectations and adapt to the new situation. Assess your vulnerabilities.
New hires are often as capable and smart as the staff you already have on board. Give them a fighting chance. Take them out to lunch, make them feel special, try not to interrogate them with questions in your attempt to assess their knowledge range. Have a predetermined schedule of training, an interactive process with human resources, and client work in place before a new hire starts.
The bottom line is that the HR function is in place to be a resource to human beings. Make it such and find your pay day!
Stephen A. Bonick, CPA, CFP, PFS, CGMA, MST, is an accountant in Monterey, Calif.
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