In one of my previous jobs, our entire editorial staff was once assembled for what was billed as a “team-building get-together.”
Its purpose, in theory, was to bolster morale and re-energize us for a number of mammoth editorial projects that were pending.
The executive editor who had organized the soiree, then, inexplicably, singled out two members of the staff and waxed ad nauseum about how these two more than anyone else were responsible for the success of the publication.
Nothing like a little ego boost — for other people — to keep you inspired.
Needless to say, the rest of the session sank faster than a one-bladed helicopter. Within a month, two members of the team had left, while several others, including yours truly, were actively searching for greener pastures.
For some reason, I recalled this unpleasant chapter in the pantheon of human resources disasters, while attending, the American Institute of CPAs’ Tech + Information Technology Conference last week in Las Vegas.

While I was saddened to see the Mirage hotel — the conference’s venue — and once the crown jewel of the Vegas Strip now transformed into a shopworn inhospitable hulk — I came away not so much with a greater understanding of all things technology, but I think with a greater vision of how to manage people.

At first, I found it a bit incongruous that a tech-centric meeting would showcase a decidedly HR topic like attracting and compensating key employees, but nevertheless I learned that while the boilerplate language of corporate-speak is that “We strive to treat everyone the same,” the truth is that not every employee is the same.

Some are dependable plow horses who handle the heavy lifting and operations, and some are thoroughbreds, rainmakers whose charisma and abilities boost the bottom line.

Both need to be and deserve to be compensated differently. Both need to be challenged and inspired, or, like my colleagues of 15 years ago, they will go elsewhere.

That means flexibility, a critical practice employed far too infrequently in many firms.

They also want to “learn” — and that’s not always to be confused with “trained.” I listened to the importance of establishing a “learning culture,” which requires not just a point person to shepherd the program, but a buy-in from the corner office as well.

This is not your father’s accounting firm, and sadly, not nearly enough firms are cognizant of that fact.
You won’t get many folks, if any, willing to bank 2,800 hours to remain on the partner track. There are far too many other options for today’s knowledge workers. Sure, they may invest a couple of years at one of the bigger firms for the experience, but then they’re off. And trust me, they’re not coming back.

One of the presenters at the confab said that ideally, a firm should invest 12 percent of an employee’s salary in training and learning.

While that may seem unrealistic, perhaps forward-thinking partners may want to begin with half or one third of that and see how it goes from there.

Take it from someone who has heard it before: The most unsettling words you’ll ever hear from one of your direct reports are, “Do you have a minute?”

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