Disengagement is lowering the profitability and viability of accounting firms across the country – but there are some simple ways to start re-engaging your employees, according to staffing issues expert Sandra Wiley.

In a session on employee engagement at Thomson Reuters’ annual user conference, Synergy 2015, Wiley -- COO and shareholder of Boomer Consulting Inc. – offered strategies for drawing your employees in, and explained why it mattered.

“It doesn’t matter if you have one employee or 100 -- we’re all trying to make employee engagement happen,” she explained. “A good turnover range used to be 7-10 percent. Now, if you below 17 percent, you’re doing great.”

Engaged employees work harder and better for you – and they’ll also serve your clients better, help you develop more business, and recommend you more to friends as potential workplace, all because they feel good about where they work.

How can you generate that kind of enthusiasm? Wiley had a few of suggestions:

1. Get them to see the big picture. This means knowing your “why” – your firm’s reason for being. “Nobody used to ask, ‘Why are you doing what you’re doing?’ We were very into customer service, but we weren’t asking why,” Wiley explained. “Companies are good at saying what they do, but not why they do it.”

Create a one-sentence description of why your firm does what it does – many of the firms at the session use versions of “We help our clients succeed by offering sound advice and helping them understand complex financial information” – incorporate that into one-page strategic plan, and then share it with everyone.

Making sure that everyone in your staff, right down to your receptionist, understands the plan is critical, Wiley said, because it will give them the feeling of belonging to something larger, and of playing a role that goes beyond just their everyday tasks. Some firms take this so seriously, she said, that they make knowing it part of employees’ compensation assessments.

2. Say thanks. “Who is the most important person in your firm?” Wiley asked. “When was the last time you thanked them for all things they do for you, as well as for some specific things?” She recommends doing something “awesome” for your team – but it doesn’t have to be a big thing. A personal thank-you note or a small gift with a specific reason will work very well.

One attendee noted that at her firm, they leave special cards in the breakroom where anyone can make note of something special that a fellow employee has done; the cards are posted on the breakroom wall, and then read out at staff meetings.

“People are hungry for thanks, and they’re hungry for gratitude,” she explained. “We are in a business that’s so busy all the time that we forget that these are our family members. We spend more time with them than with our families.”

3. Teach them how to run your firm. “I am stunned everyday when I talk to emerging leaders -- many of them who are on the partner track have no idea how the firm they’re going to buy into is run,” Wiley said. “We don’t teach them how a CPA firm runs.”

Like sharing your strategic plan, teaching your employees who the firm runs – and particularly, how it generates revenue and profits – can help them feel like part of the bigger picture, and give them a sense of how they and their work contribute to the whole.

Wiley recommended sharing everything that goes into the profitability equation, from rent and utilities to the cost of technology and suitably anonymized salary and benefit information, but even just a basic understanding of the larger functioning of the firm will help.

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