It's a new era ... and the profession's next generation of leaders put life-work balance at the top of the priority list.

The way firms communicate with their various audiences - clients, existing staff and new recruits - has to make a connection in order to continually strengthen relationships and elevate business upward and onward.

Building relationships with clients is a no-brainer - without them, there is no business. What is not as obvious to some is that developing a solid infrastructure of qualified, experienced professionals is just as important. It is today's young professionals who will assume leadership positions in the future, so it just makes sense to hold on to the best and the brightest. To do that, firms need to create an environment in which these individuals want to continue to work and grow. It's all about making that ever-important connection.

GEN X LEADS THE WAY

To avoid a major disconnect with staff, it's critical to understand the new work mindset. Today's young professionals are dedicated and hard-working. What's important to understand is that they subscribe to a different mentality than, for lack of a better cliché, your "grandfather's firm." It's death to the time clock and hail to a more flexible, value-driven work schedule. And with many Gen Xers firmly established in the profession, the time has come to both accept and understand the value-work way of thinking.

Comparable to Ron Baker's popular value-pricing model, the value-work model centers on the idea of measuring the value of the work and not the time spent in the office. At the end of the day, recording minutes results in little more than a score card, while the quality and quantity of projects completed provides a much more reliable benchmark for productivity.

For Gen Xers, it goes beyond just measurement, however. It's a way of working that lends itself to more flexible schedules and opens the door to balancing their work and personal lives. Firms that start to make the shift in mindset and master the value-work language are those that will achieve that much-needed connection with staff.

Why all the fuss?

It's true that the staffing shortage is starting to dissipate. The economy's nosedive took care of that. With more qualified professionals swimming in the talent pool, a fair share of firms have somewhat decelerated efforts that support the value-work model. However, upon a closer look at staffing hierarchies, shortages or not, the value-work mentality will continue to gain momentum and is therefore important to firm succession plans.

Gen Xers are well-established in the profession. With eight, nine or 10 years of practical experience, these young professionals have advanced to senior-level management positions. Partners have come to rely on them to manage their firms and maintain operations. As such, they are a critical link in the succession chain.

Now in their late 20s and early 30s, Gen Xers are entering "Phase Family" and seeking more balance between their personal and work lives. They choose not to work 80-plus-hour weeks, but rather desire a successful career - while also having the time to attend their children's swim meets and other family functions. As such, more firms will see the growth of the value-work mentality.

So the real question is: What can firms do to support a value-work environment? In most cases, firms are probably on the right track, having implemented technology to streamline workflow and elevate operational efficiencies. For firms looking for other options, the following offers a good start:

Stay apprised of the latest technologies. New technologies seem to pop up daily. Firms that stay up to date on relevant, advanced technologies are those that run at maximum productivity.

Don't be afraid of SaaS. Software-as-a-Service is at the center of the next big paradigm in the profession. The move to fully Web-based software can be scary for firms that are not comfortable with data moving out of the walls of the office and into the "cloud." Nonetheless, the efficiency and convenience that SaaS applications offer cannot be ignored.

Be creative with best practices. Firms are only one inventive idea away from being outdated. It's important that leaders continuously look for ways to improve processes, because there is always room for improvement.

Keep staff communications open. It's unthinkable that firms would not communicate consistently with their clients. It's just bad business. Maintaining open communications with staff is just as critical to a firm's success. Be sure to include all staff in internal communications. The best ideas come from within - and you can bet that young professionals will come to the table brimming with innovative ideas on improving overall efficiency.

Maintaining a positive connection with staff is a critical component within any successful firm. And as firm leaders move their practices forward, it's important to keep in mind the needs of up-and-coming young professionals. By providing the right tools, these future leaders will continue to carry on the firm name with pride - and all within the comfort of a true value-work environment. AT

Kristy Short, Ed.D, is principal of SAS Communications 360 LLC (www.sascommunications360.com), a public relations firm exclusively serving the tax and accounting profession, and a managing partner in RootWorks Communications LLC. Reach her at kristy@rootworks.com.

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