Crowe Horwath learning and development executive Lisa Roen and Susan Hodkinson, chief operating officer of Toronto accounting firm Soberman, discussed their firms’ formal employee programs during a talent retention session Thursday at the Winning is Everything conference in Las Vegas, but stressed that success is less tangible.

“You can put all the programs in place in the world, but it goes to nuance,” explained Hodkinson. “It’s making sure you can listen.”

Partners should do this by checking in with employees frequently, she continued, and advocated the initiation of “stay” interviews as often as exit interviews. During these, management should discover what is keeping employees at the firm.

They can also deduce whether those people are still on the right track.

“We don’t want permanent senior managers,” she said. “Everyone we hire, we say: we want you to be our partner one day. We only hire people we see being at the table if they want to get there.”

After Hodkinson’s firm lost some people—all women—who left the profession to work in industry, she sought out their reasons.

“These people, at this level, felt like meat in a sandwich between partners and staff,” she explained. “There were huge pressures for chargeable hours on what was new work to them, while supervising and evaluating the work of other people. They felt so successful and now felt like they were failing.”

The problem, again, was communication, she said.

“They didn’t know how much we liked them—we didn’t say: you are a future leader in our firm. Unless we tell you you’re doing something wrong, to assume it’s all okay, that really doesn’t work.”

Crowe Horwath’s most vulnerable retention level is senior staff, according to Roen.

“We’ve really stretched people last few years and people are tired,” she said. “It’s a question of feeling valued and appreciated. “

Both firms employ mentorship programs to better track employee happiness and progression.  

And both Roen and Hodkinson remind partners to adjust expectations when it comes to Generation Y staff.

“Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t keep all your people,” advised Hodkinson. “The great majority of this generation won’t stay in one place.”

In the meantime, management should keep the younger workforce’s different priorities in mind.

“Generation Y people want to know the firm is doing something good for the world,” said Roen.