Transparency is one of the prime hallmarks of the members of Accounting Today’s Best Firms to Work For – and the numbers prove it.

The 300 or so firms that participate in the Best Firms ranking fill out an extensive survey on dozens of their HR and firm policies, and in most cases, the difference between those that make the list and those that don’t is almost negligible – a couple of percentage points. When it comes to transparency, however, the gap grows much wider.

At 86 percent of list-makers, staff members reported that they had a good understanding of how their organization was doing financially, versus 76 percent of firms that didn’t make the list. Similarly, staff at 90 percent of the Best Firms reported that changes affecting them were communicated to them in advance, against 79 percent of other firms, and 92 percent of Best Firms had employees who said that they understand what’s expected for career advancement, versus 84 percent.

To fight that sort of disengagement, Ennis Pellum & Associates, a 30-person firm in Jacksonville, Fla., reports that it has an “’Open Book' philosophy of managing the business -- we take great care to communicate and involve our people in our goals and plans, how we'll get there, progress updates, and we encourage everyone to share ideas on improvements and opportunities.”

Feeling like they understand the direction of the firm is crucial for many employees, and create a much greater sense of engagement, which may explain why the vast majority of this year’s Best Firms to Work For report that they have open door policies that encourage staff to ask questions of partners and firm leaders, while at the same time going out of their way to communicate the firm’s goals, strategies and results proactively through newsletters and company meetings that happen annually, quarterly, monthly and sometimes even weekly.

At Boston’s Wolf & Co., the president and CEO holds quarterly webinars for the firm’s 204 employees, “with a focus on financial performance, business development, and ways that individuals can contribute to the firm’s success,” while for the 108 employees of St. Louis’ Allen Gibbs & Houlik, “Our chief executive talks directly to us in department meetings to tell us the state of our business and allow us to ask any questions we want, so we get unfiltered communication.”

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