Retention and attraction of talent is definitely the No. 1 challenge in public accounting. The accounting profession will face a crisis if it doesn’t make significant changes in the way it manages its most valuable asset.
This is demonstrated most clearly in a recent survey conducted among firms across the country that reveals that less than a third of them reported having a strategic vision and plan. Of those that did have a plan, approximately 50 percent shared it with managers and staff. When asked why their firms did not have a plan, the most frequent responses were:
1. We can’t get the partners to agree on a vision.
2. We don’t have the time.
3. We don’t really know how to complete a plan.
While these are realities for some firms, they do not present significant obstacles if firms really believe that retention and attraction are their greatest dangers. Notice that I mention retention and then attraction, rather than attraction and retention. Firms that can’t retain people are going to face an ever-increasing challenge in attracting them.
At this point, some may be thinking, “What does a strategic plan have to do with the retention and attraction of personnel?” A lot! Today’s top talent expects a digital environment, a clear vision, and a fluid environment where change is embraced with fast decision-making at the leadership and management levels. Successful firms are adaptable, learn quickly and move with a sense of urgency. Results are directly impacted by employee experiences. Experiences impact their beliefs. Beliefs impact their actions, and their actions impact your firm’s results.
WHAT ARE YOUR CORE VALUES?
People want to know where the firm is going and if they will be able to personally play a significant role and grow professionally. Today people have plenty of choices in choosing a career and an employer. Young people have grown up with an abundance mentality, rather than a scarcity mentality, which significantly impacts their belief system. A vision, mission and core values are integral to a firm’s strategic plan. Potential employees simply do not want to work for firms that do not align with their own core values and beliefs. You may have a vision, mission and core values, but:
1. Do the partners agree and live up to the core values?
2. Do your employees know the core values and are they held accountable?
3. Do you share your plan and values with prospective employees and key clients?
These questions illustrate the notion of alignment. If partners aren’t aligned, it is difficult to retain quality people and almost impossible to attract quality people. Mediocrity tends to define such an environment, and with today’s market, employees are rapidly finding other opportunities. Excellence attracts excellence, mediocrity attracts mediocrity, and the two do not generally work well together.
Let’s examine the reasons offered for not having a strategic plan. Probably the most revealing is that partners can’t agree on the vision, mission and core values of the firm. Becoming a shared vision firm requires planning, thinking and the allocation of resources to a limited number of priorities outlined in a strategic plan.
It shouldn’t take that long to develop a strategic plan. Since there is no perfect plan, accept the fact that your first attempt may only be 80-90 percent complete.
This will not limit your success. Over a three-year period the planning process becomes easier, the plan gets better and the achievements escalate. You can quickly review 10 characteristics of a shared vision firm in this table.
NOT ENOUGH TIME?
The second excuse is generally attributed to time. Many firms spend months developing strategic plans, but never execute them. With the right process and commitment of the firm, a plan can be developed in as little as two to five days. Remember, this is about progress and not perfection. Several tools and exercises can be employed to engage people at all levels of the firm in order to build consensus and get buy-in to the most significant initiatives. Many firms develop multiple-page plans and schedules that are seldom read or referred to. When this happens, the concept of strategic planning and consensus-building really amounts to a waste of time.
GET IN “THE GAME”
A great strategic plan should be much like a game plan in sports. We recommend a one-page game plan that incorporates a firm’s vision, mission and core values, as well as strategic objectives on one side, with the objectives repeated and measurements of success, initiatives, due dates and assignments on the other. Once completed, the document should be laminated and distributed to everyone in the firm. It should also be used as a recruiting and marketing tool.
In order to achieve understanding and alignment with the firm’s core values, we additionally recommend composing a second document titled “Business Principles.” This too should be only one page. It should expand on the meaning of the firm’s core values and be written so that owners, managers, staff and prospective employees can quickly accept or reject it. This document can also be used to ensure client alignment with your business principles.
When you have alignment, you reduce turnover and the potential for litigation and stress — while increasing your attractiveness as an employer and service provider.
MAKE PLANNING A PRIORITY
Finally, many firms say they don’t know how to develop a strategic plan. I believe they know how but don’t have the time, or discipline, to make planning a priority. I have also learned that facilitating the planning process within your own firm is a monumental task. We assist in the development of hundreds of plans every year. Utilizing an outside facilitator will expedite the internal process and provide valuable external expertise. Too often firms get high on their own supply — we have always done it that way! A great facilitator will make certain you remain focused on strategic rather than tactical issues.
Here are seven basic steps to get the process started:
1. Select a facilitator with a proven process and, preferably, industry expertise.
2. Set dates and invite participants.
3. Conduct a planning summit — I recommend two days away from the office.
4. Communicate the plan to all employees.
5. Implement personal 90-day game plans.
6. Conduct 90-day accountability reviews.
7. Annually update the plan.
DON’T GET LEFT BEHIND
Procrastination is your worst enemy. Just do it. Retention and attraction issues are not going to subside. Firms with strategic plans and an efficient planning process clearly have a strategic advantage. They also have a valuable skill set that is in demand by clients.
Remember, value is created through leadership (direction), relationships (confidence) and creativity (new capabilities).
L. Gary Boomer, CPA.CITP, CGMA, is CEO of Boomer Consulting Inc. in Manhattan, Kan.
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