'I'm convinced it's all about our team," said Christy Pierce, managing partner at Atlanta-based Braver Schimler Pierce Jenkins, about her firm's success. "We have an extraordinary group of people who work very well together, we respect each other from a multitude of different places - from professional strengths as well as personal characteristics and abilities - and when we need each other, we're there. It permeates the office."

With 35 full-time employees, BSPJ, which garnered the top ranking in the Best Firms to Work For midsized category, offers a number of incentives to build that team, including full health care coverage to new employees on their first day.

The firm also offers a $1,500 incentive to every employee who successfully completes all the sections of the CPA Exam within 24 months of hire, and actively works to show employees that they are serious about personal and professional growth. Forty-seven percent of this fiscal year's staff received internal promotions. Employees are encouraged to be active in their communities and are given time off to attend to their volunteer commitments.

"In the last couple of years, the employees have seen the commitment by the firm in order to provide avenues of growth for each individual," said Barry Schimler, the firm's founding partner. "With times getting tough, we promoted four people who had been with us for a while, working with them on an agreement to bring them into the partnership, not necessarily with a book of business, but giving them the opportunity."

The economic crisis also prompted the firm to take an approach of transparency in its dealings with employees by holding meetings every few months to talk about what's going on within the firm. "There's never been any guesswork from our team on where we are," Pierce said. "We really have worked hard to continue to do the things that we've been doing to strengthen ourselves individually and as a firm. And that means a lot of things."

What that means for the firm is placing significant emphasis on education and development in both the professional and technical skill set areas, personal skills related to management or communication, and helping employees learn their own marketing and practice development skills that are important to individual team member growth.

"It's continuing to look at our processes and procedures and trying to make ourselves as efficient and as focused as possible," Pierce explained. "We try to take care of each other and the team and we do a lot of odds and ends, so to speak, to make life a little bit better."

Those odds and ends include providing lunches on Saturdays and afternoon "treats" on Wednesday, when the firm offers snacks and trivia games to break up the week. There is also an active hiking group that treks the trails behind the firm's office after work and during lunch. BSPJ has a regular recognition program for tenure, special contributions to the firm, or clients, leadership, innovation, team work, and practice development. They also gather monthly to recognize birthdays, employment anniversaries and other special events. But employees' most favorite perk by far, according to Pierce and Schimler, is that the firm closes the office at noon on Fridays in the summer.

"Collectively, we are doing our jobs in making this a great place to work," Pierce said. "It's what each and every person in our entire office does because we work together. We mix people up, they work with different people within their own departments, within other departments, and it's the attitude throughout the office from how we treat each other to how we work through client problems to how we work through challenges inside the office. And that you can't force."

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