[IMGCAP(1)]Is there really a difference in the working styles of Millennials and Generation X versus Boomers? No matter where I go, it seems this is still one of the most discussed – and debated – topics for anyone working in the accounting profession.

To get some sense of what’s going on, I continued my conversation with two professionals who are influenced, and work with, members of all generations. Representing the “older” generation or the boomers is Stan Mork, president of the Information Technology Alliance (ITA). His counterpart is Donny Shimamoto, CPA, CITP, CGMA, founder and managing director of InterpriseTechknowlogies LLC, who participates in the discussion from a “younger” generation perspective as a Gen-Xer.

Kim: Many firms do not adequately address succession planning because they avoid the topic, but what this boils down to is a retention issue. In what ways can firms help keep their best and brightest for the long haul?

Stan: We need to help our young professionals understand the benefits of staying with our firms for the long haul. I think that within the accounting and consulting industry, leaders don’t make it look very attractive to stay with the firm and advance to our positions. I’ve had employees tell me, “Why would I want to be a partner in this firm and work as much as you do?” They see boomer partners in the office at 7 a.m. and working late, and wonder why they would want to make that type of sacrifice, even for the monetary rewards that are available.

I think we have to do two things. First, we must continue to work on bringing more work/life balance into the accounting/consulting environment. Employees have to see that while there will always be peak times where you work hard, there are a lot of opportunities for flexibility and keeping the total number of hours worked during the year to something reasonable. Second, we need to do a better job of educating our employees that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. When I was at McGladrey, we had a lot of employees who were what we termed as “boomerangs” – people who had left the firm to go somewhere else, either to another industry or another CPA/consulting firm, and then came back. I, myself, was a McGladrey boomerang when I left the partnership in the late ‘90s to work for a small technology consulting firm and returned two years later. We often pointed out “boomerang” employees at employee meetings because we felt that they were a great resource to our existing employees who may be thinking about making a career change.

Donny: Older generations generally focus on the career ladder and upward advancement. This is not usually as high of a priority for the younger generation. The younger generation generally looks more for the career lattice – the interconnected web of options present in their career. Some of this may be options for lateral movement or exposure to different areas of the firm. Sometimes, it’s the ability to get exposure to different industries or areas of practice that may not currently be present in the firm. The key is to provide the opportunities that help to align the younger generation’s exploration of the lattice with the firms’ overall goals.

Kim: Final question – when it comes to the sales function, millennials may believe it’s “not their job” to sell, yet the top firms make it clear that it’s everyone’s job. How can firms help their younger members gain confidence in selling?

Donny: I agree that it is everyone’s job to sell, or at least be able to identify opportunities to sell. Firms need to ensure that all levels of staff know what the firm’s core competencies and differentiators are, so that when staff hears or sees an opportunity, they can inform the appropriate “salesperson.” But, their role doesn’t stop there. If they have built any relationship with the client staff that may influence the decision, they need to continue to affirm the value that the firm can provide and how the firm can help meet the clients’ needs.

Stan: I’m with Donny on this one. I think that in every profession, it’s everybody’s job to sell in one way or another because businesses cease to exist if they aren’t selling new business. That doesn’t mean that everyone has to beat the street to find new clients, but they need to be able to talk to a friend or a neighbor about the “great company” they work for and what they do and why they do it better than anyone else. From that perspective, we need to help employees at all levels understand how to give their firm’s “elevator speech” when asked, “What do you do for a living?”

What’s your opinion about the differences between generations? Keep the conversation going by sending me your thoughts; the ITA will publish your responses, anonymously, in an upcoming article.

Kim Hogan is a strategic account manager in Intuit’s Accountant & Advisor Group. Contact her at kim.hogan@intuit.com.

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