In response to the downturn in the economy, this year BlumShapiro decided not to hold an outside party in January for its employees and their families. Instead, it opted to keep the party in-house and donate the money it saved to local homeless shelters.

Community service is important to the 300-employee firm, which has offices in West Hartford and Shelton, Conn., according to managing partner Carl R. Johnson. It's even built into the firm's semi-annual employee reviews.

The performance management process ties individual performance and goals to firm strategies and its mission, vision and values. Employees perform self-evaluations and are evaluated by anywhere from two to 10 supervisors. These evaluations are then summarized and reviewed by a committee of managers or partners from each of the firm's tax, audit and consulting departments, who finalize the goals.

"The evaluations get into more than just, 'Are you doing a good job, are you meeting your goals?'" Johnson said. "But it's also, 'What are you doing to get involved in the community? What are you doing to improve yourself as an individual?' And we push back on those things."

Aside from an annual 4th of July family and friends barbecue that gives employees a long weekend, the firm also holds an awards ceremony where 12 employees are singled out for upholding the firm's four values - valuing people, building client relationships, upholding quality and integrity, and sustaining stewardship. Those awarded then run a firm-wide nomination process for candidates in the following year.

"From the partner level down, we try to support a culture of fairness," Johnson said. "We're continually looking for ways to improve as a firm, but also help our people improve as professionals and as people."

Carol Scott, the firm's chief administrative officer, agreed. "It starts at the top," she said. "The partners and management really treat everybody like a professional. We each bring something different to the table."

Scott said that Johnson often will take interns and staff out for lunch - just because that's what he likes to do. She added that her department is always asking partners and managers if they have recognized and thanked staff for their work. Employees who get promoted to senior and manager level will get taken out to dinner with partners - not only to congratulate them, but to also prepare them for their new role.

"We figure if you have a great staff, you have a great firm, and it really energizes our supervisors if they have a great staff working for them," Scott said.

On the flip side, they also help employees who might not be the right fit for their firm by talking with them and supporting them in finding a new job. "If we don't think it's working out for the person, we try to sit down with them early on and say here are the things we'd like you to work on," Johnson explained. "But we also say, 'If you'd like to look around, we'd more than support you and we'd be happy to help you too.' We tend to hang onto those individuals until they get the job. We've been doing that for years, but I think it helped us obviously when this recession hit because we didn't have to cut as drastically as a few other places did."

In 2001, the firm earned approximately $14 million in revenue; at the end of this year it will reach nearly $45 million, generating a 16 percent increase every year for eight years. Johnson points to what he termed "controlled" growth as the reason for the firm's success.

"We try to do it controlled so people feel good about the growth but it's not overwhelming them," he said. "We have a good group of people here. We do monitor if people start working excess hours, because we found over time that the ones who are just working continually and are just taking on more work is not the environment we want to foster. That tends to burn people out."

"What I like is that we're humble," added Scott. "We think we're good but always think we can be better."

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