Today’s work force is different from when most CPA firm partners started in the accounting profession. In the 1970s, 1980s and even into the 1990s, the work force was based more around service.

Today, the economy has changed, as has the work force. Many workers today are creative in that they add economic value through their creativity.

Along with problem solving, their work may entail problem finding. Noticing that a better mousetrap is needed, rather than just building one after someone else has identified the need, is characteristic of the creative workforce.

Some in the profession view this as positive, while others want to stay in the service economy - and they wonder why we don’t attract the best and brightest to the profession.

These new creative employees have a different value system, which often conflicts with that of the past. Some of those new values are individuality, meritocracy rather than seniority, and diversity and openness.

So what motivates these people, and why aren’t they gravitating in huge numbers to the accounting profession? First, let’s clear up the fact that the content of the job and the nature of the work environment matter much more than the compensation; the accounting profession has not had a stellar track record in this area.

How many accountants (especially those who are partners in an accounting firm) have encouraged a son or daughter to enter the public accounting profession? I frequently ask this question when speaking to partners, and the number of positive responses is embarrassing - as well as very telling about the profession and the need for positive changes.

The conventional wisdom is that people work for money and they will go where the financial opportunities are the best and security is the greatest. That assumption is wrong and motivating creative people has always required more than money.

What workers wantThe Top 10 motivating factors

1. Challenge and responsibility: Being able to contribute - knowing that one's work makes a difference.

2. Flexibility: A flexible schedule and work environment.

3. Job stability: Not lifetime security, but not uncertainty, either.

4. Compensation: Base pay and core benefits.

5. Professional development: The chance to learn and grow.

6. Peer recognition: The chance to win esteem and recognition.

7. Stimulating colleagues and managers: Leaders and managers who neither micromanage nor ignore them.

8. Exciting job content: The chance to work on interesting and intellectual projects.

9. Organizational culture: The employee feels at home, valued and supported.

10. Location and community: A big factor pertaining to the job and city.


If it were simply about money, you could at least hire mercenaries if you were willing to pay top dollar. The problem with mercenaries is that they don’t help to build the culture. Perhaps too many firms have hired mercenaries in the past, and some have even made them partners!The best people in any field are motivated by passion. And passion varies because people are different and complex. Given that most accountants understand compensation, it is no surprise that most firms have failed to develop the culture and passion necessary to attract the best and brightest.

A number of books and studies exist on workplace motivation. They try to sort people into various groups based upon what they value most. We will look at some of these recent studies and how people are responding post dot-com.

Stock options and the ability to share in the upside did not even make the top 20 in a recent study about compensation. Perhaps we have been focusing too much on incentive compensation plans and the financial aspects and not enough on what really is important to today’s workforce - which is well worth considering (see box).

Your first reaction to this list may be to conclude that the IT job sector has been in an economic downturn. The fact is that the things that matter have stayed relatively constant as economic conditions have changed. Three general attributes - a challenging job, a flexible workplace and job stability - remain at the top of the list. As you can see, compensation is important, but not as important as intrinsic rewards.

Employees like to make a difference. They want to contribute. They do not want an 8-to-5 schedule or a dress code.

On the other hand, service workers accept a rigid schedule and a dress code because they must, while creative people don’t have to. Those of you proposing going back to a suit and tie should think twice.

Good, creative people are no longer willing to compromise on dress and schedule in order to get a job. Some people may choose to wear a suit and tie because they like to dress formally, but most will not.

Flexibility means the ability to adapt to different responsibilities and define one’s role in the organization. This is consistent with the desire to make a difference and contribute.

You may also be surprised to note that bonuses are not critical. They rank lower than location, commute distance, casual attire and job atmosphere.

What does this mean to today’s accounting firm? It simply means that more change lies ahead in the way that firms operate in order to attract, motivate and retain our workforce. As stated previously, creative people are motivated by a variety of factors.

Consulting firm Towers Perrin summarizes the primary interests as follows:

1. Work-life balance.
2. The chance to develop new skills and grow professionally.
3. Quick advancement and high rewards.
4. The opportunity to try a variety of things during their career.
5. The ability to move from job to job in search of greater financial rewards.

Most firms will be developed based upon the first three categories. Although experimenters and free agents will come and go, based upon this assumption, training and learning are key ingredients as you continue transforming your firm.

The majority of creative employees want balance in their jobs and lives, and the ability to learn and grow. This focus also creates a healthy culture that will allow firms to change rapidly and utilize their strengths to meet client needs.

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