Every year CPA, firms identify staff retention among their issues and concerns. While this is a longstanding problem, I haven’t seen a lot of initiatives that have had a positive impact -- that is, until I took a deeper look at professional coaching. Could coaching be the answer to retention problems in CPA firms? Let’s start with why coaching works and then take a look at how one Top 100 Firm is utilizing internal coaches.

As we are all watching the Olympics, and pitchers and catchers have recently reported for spring training, coaches are front and center. Looking at the best athletes and teams, it’s easy to see the impact coaches have in developing talent. Good coaches can make good players even better. But the opposite is also true: Good players can’t overcome bad coaches.

Coaches work as a confidante, and mentors create a supportive working environment to help you improve as an employee and increase your value to the organization. Coaches will to take you outside your comfort zone and help you stretch yourself to reach your full potential. They will help you develop more self-confidence. Coaches will help you set your personal goals, define the changes you need to make and hold you accountable for making the changes needed to achieve those goals. Just like in sports, coaches will break the goals into steps and work with you to make the improvements you need to make to achieve your goals.

It is easy to assume that this coaching should be the responsibility of the manager or supervisor. However, the performance manager is focused on the work product and making sure the client is served to their expectation. Just like great players don’t always make good coaches, the best performance managers can’t be expected to be great coaches.

I went looking for the solution and found a few professional coaches that work with accounting firms, including Tara Chrisco, PCC, BCC, at Horne LLP. Horne is a Top 100 Firm headquartered in Ridgeland, Miss., with 21 offices primarily located in the Southeast.

Chrisco joined Horne about a year and a half ago, and is responsible for leading Horne’s Coaching Program. She works with client-serving team members to ensure development along the firm's “Growth Mindset” and career continuum. She is responsible for the overall design and execution of a "coach approach" program designed to retain talent and assist team members to reach and maximize their full potential.

When I asked about her role, Chrisco told me, “We just can’t develop leaders fast enough. We need to be future-ready, so our goal is to develop leaders faster.”

At Horne, employees who have been with the firm for six months or more are eligible for coaching. This is a voluntary, opt-in program and the employee meets with the coach for about an hour once a month. Chrisco and another coach, who works part time, work with associates up to senior managers. For those involved in a partner development program and for partners, Horne uses outside coaching resources.

Chrisco explained the process as a coordinated effort between the performance manager, the coach, and an internal sponsor, working with the employee. These roles are defined as:

  • The performance manager, who sets expectations and gives feedback for the work product;
  • The coach, who works with the employee to help with their career path, utilizing their strengths, helping acclimate to new roles, or to help get them unstuck when they don’t know exactly what they want to do; and,
  • The sponsor, who develops a reciprocal relationship with the employee, helping develop a sense of belonging by advocating for and increasing visibility within the firm for the employee. This is designed to incentivize the employee to step up and achieve.

While Chrisco doesn’t yet have detailed measures to share, she told me she had coached 168 employees in 2017, and out of 315 eligible employees, she has 222 signed up for 2018.

I also spoke with Guy Gage of Partners Coach, and while our discussion began with the advantages of coaching staff to become the “high-performing professional they aspire to be”, we also discussed how coaching can also be used to counsel people out. Gage said, “Coaching needs to help people find where they will apply their discretionary effort.”

As accountants, I know all of you reading this article are already doing the calculation of the cost of coaching in your firm. Once you have that number, spin it around and calculate the dollar value of a more focused and effective staff. Total up the value of the time that managers, seniors and partners are not dealing with “people” issues. Calculate the cost of recruiting and training new employees. Add in the value of your peace of mind knowing you are truly developing the next leaders for your firm. It is easy to see the value add of having coaching resources either on staff, or on call.

Lisa Benson

Lisa Benson

Lisa Benson is assistant vice president of membership development for Allinial Global, a global association of accounting firms. Her background includes experience as a partner in a consulting firm serving the accounting profession, and working inside Top 100 Firms.