Art of Accounting: Retaining Staff

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IMGCAP(1)]I believe that CPA firms do best when they hire people out of school and train them. However, this article is not about training or who to hire, but how to retain who you have.

When I had my practice with Peter Weitsen and Frank Boutillette, before we merged with Withum, at some point each staff person’s first job was with us and we trained them our way. We had a substantial investment in them and losing anyone would cause a great inconvenience and cost to us. We wanted to make sure we had the greatest chance of retaining them.

I always felt that people stayed at a job for three reasons—money, satisfaction and growth. If any two existed in a great measure, they would not leave. All three would be fantastic. Money was an easy one. We made sure we paid generous salaries, including immediate payment for any overtime hours. The satisfaction came by the way we assigned, trained and empowered each staff person, and recognized and applauded their efforts. The growth was evident with the way we advanced them and pushed them to their maximum potential—which I feel we were very successful at since we had very low turnover.

However, while we advanced our staff and they grew with the work they were doing, we knew they would look elsewhere if they felt our practice wasn’t growing. To retain our staff we also felt we needed a flow of additional clients, opportunities and services, or their growth would be limited. We also felt it was important to give staff the type of work they could feel good about and brag about to their family, friends and colleagues. We actually worked at identifying these opportunities. And then we pointed it out to them just in case it wasn’t so obvious. I never assumed that the obvious is obvious. In fact, every time an engagement was completed, we would discuss what they learned, the experience they received and how they grew.

We knew that if we didn’t grow we would lose our staff prematurely. So our marketing took on an additional facet—to be able to retain staff, besides all the obvious reasons. The usual focus of getting more clients was supported by targeting clients with interesting situations and getting a foot in the door in an industry. Staffers could prospect for clients in industries in which they had a personal interest. We encouraged staff to do business development along with us, while providing skills training. We mentored staff to develop their specialties and exposed them to trade shows and conferences. We encouraged them to join associations, get on committees, present speeches and write articles.  We gave each staff person a “marketing” budget. We also looked to acquire practices with clients in areas we were not represented well in.

Staff cannot be taken for granted, and creative efforts need to be directed toward retention.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner emeritus at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz published by and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition” published by the AICPA. Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or

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