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Accounting Career Development: 3 Ways Accounting Firms Can Develop and Retain Employees

Jean Rakich  

· 5 minute read

Jean Rakich  

· 5 minute read

When it comes to activities that aren’t easily measured in ROI, many of us in the accounting profession have a hard time justifying time spent. If your firm is like most, offering employees services they’ll truly appreciate — such as accounting career development — often fall to the bottom of the to-do list. But, if you’re an owner of a firm and can’t seem to find the time, know this: Actively developing your staff will make your life easier, more rewarding, and even contribute to increasing your firm’s bottom line.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CPA firm employment in August 2015 jumped by 4.1% year-over-year. And the total number of individuals employed in the accounting profession clocked in at 1,007,200 people — its highest ever. While these numbers seem encouraging, there is a flip side. Professional staff turnover within CPA firms is at its highest level in over 10 years, at 17.1%. Clearly, this demonstrates an intense need for a renewed focus on employee development and retention within the profession.

When you truly invest in developing your employees, they become smarter, more productive, and higher performing. That means a happier staff, happier clients, and more money. In turn, you have more time to focus on value-added activities, like your firm’s strategy, direction, and overall impact on clients. Remember those things? They’re why you dreamed of being a partner in the first place. It wasn’t for the love of paperwork.

Take Paul Miller, Founder and President of Business By Design, who encourages his employees to stay abreast of current events. “Our firm works with small business owners and entrepreneurs, so it’s critical that our staff know what’s going on in the broader business world and economy,” says Paul. “We want them to think beyond their technical responsibilities, develop their own point of view, and understand other people’s perspectives. This knowledge and experience translates into deeper relationships with our clients.”

Further, if you’re a forward-thinking and developmentally aware manager, you’ll be able to recruit and retain the best talent. That means you can build and keep a solid staff that you trust. So, when that Caribbean vacation finally rolls around, you’ll be able to enjoy it — without checking email.

By focusing on developing critical thinking skills, Paul’s staff is able to work through unexpected situations on their own. Moreover, the firm focuses on “knowledge transfer” so that client information is not locked up inside the head of any single staff member. “By sharing information, any member of our staff can assist a client, as opposed to only certain staff members working with certain clients.”

Most importantly, though, focusing on employee development allows you to make a positive impact on the life of others by teaching and guiding them through their careers. If you’ve had a mentor in your work or personal life, you know how valuable that can be.

So, with the New Year upon us, now is the time to resolve to make staff development a part of your work day, every day. Here’s how.

1. Embrace your role as a leader and mentor

As the old adage goes, you can’t help others until you help yourself. So, hone your leadership skills, learn how to provide good feedback, and focus on becoming a better listener. Encourage your staff to share their goals and ideas—and help them see each through. Understand that you are not just a boss, but a coach and guide who has valuable wisdom and experience to impart. Being a manager of people is a noble gig, so embrace it.

Who knows? One day they may be quoting your insight as a mentor to another up-and-coming professional. And that’s when you know you’ve truly made an impact.

2. Empower your employees

This revolves around autonomy. Empower your staff to make smart, informed decisions on their own. No one wants someone looking over their shoulder. Trust them, show them they are valued. Let them try new things — and make mistakes. Give them the ability to make an impact on the firm. This can include supporting their ideas, giving them more responsibility, backing them for a higher-level position, or even promoting flexible work arrangements. With a culture of empowerment, your firm will be one people want to work for because you’ve built a solid foundation of trust and respect with your employees.

3. Encourage employees to network and develop themselves

Encourage your employees to get involved in networking and professional groups that support their career goals. Share what networking avenues you’ve taken within the profession and who your mentors are. Emphasize the importance of building a professional network early and promote development through internal or external opportunities. Encourage their thirst for learning, stretching and focusing on accounting career development.

Who knows? One day they may be quoting your insight as a mentor to another up-and-coming professional. And that’s when you know you’ve truly made an impact.

Career development at your accounting firm

I’d love to hear how your firm focuses on employee development and what benefits you’ve seen as a result. Feel free to tell me in the comments below!

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