Managers trump firms when it comes to the attraction and retention of people. Are your partners acting as managers?According to Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in their book, First, Break All the Rules, employees leave managers, not companies. I believe the same is true for CPA firms. Employees leave partner/managers, not the firm.

Buckingham and Coffman have spent 20 years with the Gallup organization researching the core characteristics of great managers and great workplaces. The research applies equally to professional service companies, and especially to CPA firms and the current issues surrounding the attraction and retention of people.

They conclude that 12 questions can be used to measure the core elements needed to attract, focus and keep the most talented employees. The questions are:

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

6. Is there someone at work who encourages both my personal and my career development?

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?

8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?

10. Do I have a best friend at work?

11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?

12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

These are very insightful questions and can quickly determine your firm's potential for profitability, productivity, employee retention and customer satisfaction. The authors recommend using a Likert scale for measuring employee attitudes. With a rating of one, employees strongly disagree; with a rating of five, they strongly agree.

They got questions; you got answers
Key word Strategy and tools
Expectations Job descriptions
Quarterly game plans
Tools Technology
Research library
Intranet
On-line connectivity
Unique abilities Kolbe Index -- unique ability teams
Recognition Quarterly accountability reports
Team bonuses
Awards
Cares Appreciation by supervisor
Mentor or coach
Encourage & develop Mentor or coach
Training/learning curriculum
Opinion Participate in planning
Communication with mentor or coach
Vision and mission Participate in strategic planning
Acceptance of firm business principles
Quality Business principles
Culture
Quarterly accountability review
Friend Culture
Social activities
Mentor or coach
Frequent review Quarterly accountability review
Ability to grow Training/learning curriculum
Leadership that is committed to a training/learning culture

From the questions, you probably conclude that there isn't a silver bullet or medication that will quickly transform a firm. What you can conclude is that employee-focused initiatives such as day care, time off and profit sharing are not as important as the employee's immediate manager. In many firms, the manager is a partner.With this said, how do firms improve their management? In order to answer this question, the term "management" must be defined. Too often, firms view the success of management by the size of the partner/manager's book of business. This is outdated thinking, comparable to a pilot who only pays attention to the fuel gauge and ignores the altimeter and speedometer. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, management is defined as the art of managing. Employees require care and feeding. Only focusing on revenue and ignoring planning, people and processes is a formula for disaster.

The accompanying table outlines the 12 questions and suggests strategies firms can utilize to create the culture to attract and retain quality people.

Are your partners good managers? Good leaders? Good partners? These are questions that most firms tend to avoid and focus totally on production and book of business. Some of the characteristics of poor managers are insecurity, failing to develop subordinates, being boastful, abuse of power, and failing to provide for training/learning time.

Some characteristics of excellent managers include being concerned about employees, focusing on the firm's strategic plan, and providing subordinates the resources necessary for success.

Most partners are either leaders or managers. Leaders chase firm vision, while managers chase firm goals. Some of the characteristics of great partner/managers are a commitment to a big vision and growth; a willingness to delegate both authority and responsibility; respecting, valuing and appreciating people for their unique abilities and contribution to the team; continually updating their personal skills (technical, technology and people) for greater productivity and leverage; a commitment to a training and learning culture where everyone in the firm learns and teaches; and consistently offering employees new challenges, growth and rewards.

Attraction and retention of quality employees have a lot to do with firm culture. Every firm has a culture, but sadly, some firms have as many cultures as they have partners. Strong cultures are built upon trust.

The good news is that most firms have some great partner/managers. The question is how firms can duplicate their practices and eliminate those who mistreat others, abuse authority, resist change and fail to develop others. The simple answer is leadership. With strong leadership in all areas of the firm, not just at the managing partner level, firms can develop the culture that is attractive to quality personnel.

While your firm's vision may remain the same over the years, your strategies will change. Now is the time to be honest with yourself about the strategies that your firm is employing - particularly if you are having trouble attracting and retaining quality people. Is it time to make some changes?

Now is the time to act!

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