Few firms are willing to do what it takes to attract the best and brightest talent. How many CPA partners have a son or daughter in public accounting? If you can't make the profession attractive to your own children, how can you sell it to their peers?Today's workforce is not as complex as some may think. In fact, most employees are merely looking for the basics: challenging assignments, opportunities to grow as professionals, authentic work/life balance and economic rewards.

Can it really be so hard to offer these?

Here are 10 strategies that will accelerate your firm's efforts in attracting prospective employees (as well as clients).

1. Document a strategic plan. Without a plan, what do you tell prospective employees about the firm's future? For that matter, what do you tell your existing partners and staff? Bright people expect documented strategies and a game plan.

I strongly recommend keeping it simple and easy to communicate by utilizing a one-page format. Nobody likes to wade through a 50-page document.

2. Know what you want. Do you know what talent and skills your firm requires? Have you documented job descriptions for every position? You have to know what you want before you can get it.

3. Adopt proven testing methods. Too many firms fail to utilize human resource experts and tools when recruiting - and they pay the price. Don't settle for clones of partners or those responsible for hiring. Strongly consider implementing tests like the Kolbe Index, which calculates an individual's drive and work instincts.

4. Invest in training and learning. Training and learning is no longer a benefit - it's an expectation. And it's more than just technical competence represented by continuing professional education. Leadership must commit to the investment. Moreover, anyone at the partner level should be capable and expected to train, as well as to learn from training experiences.

5. Train your managers. Having competent managers who understand people is critical in retaining your best employees at every level. Those in management serve as cartilage between the friction points of a firm. They need training as much or more than any other firm employee.

6. Provide the best technology. The cost of a new notebook computer is a small price to pay in order to please a valuable employee. The best employees expect the best tools. It's as simple as that.

7. Offer authentic work/life balance. One of the reasons many children of CPAs shun the profession is the absence of work/life balance they witnessed while growing up. A few firms offer 90-day sabbaticals every three years for all partners, and 30 days for people who have been in the profession for over five years. All firms would benefit from such programs, because they promote the one-firm concept, as well as offering employees a chance to rejuvenate.

8. Hire non-accountants. Smaller accounting firms often make the mistake of hiring too many accountants and not enough professional support staff. One need not be an accountant to be successful as a learning coordinator, HR professional or IT specialist. Larger firms have employed non-accountant professionals in both chargeable and non-chargeable roles for years. Think again about job descriptions and hiring the right people for the job.

9. Manage your firm as a corporation. Competent leadership and governance are critical in the effort to retain and attract quality personnel. Employees are often confused by the partnership form of governance, and receive inconsistent and contradictory communications. Select a strong chief executive and give them the power to lead. With a good strategic plan, firms do not need consensus on every issue in order to be profitable and fairly managed.

10. Clean out the "log jam." There must be room for advancement, or bright people will not stay. Provide clear passageways for advancement through effective management (No. 5 above), goal-setting and holding people accountable. Every employee should be required to complete a 90-day game plan that focuses on financial performance, training/learning, processes and client satisfaction. Remember that turnover can be good - as long as the bottom 10 percent leave each year.

While there are no magic formulas, these initiatives will differentiate your firm and make it a strong contender in the fight for today's best and brightest employees.

Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.

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