Hanging onto high potentials
If you’re a regular reader of my “Ask Re- becca” feature on the Accounting Tomor- row blog, you may have seen this inquiry I
recently received from a concerned partner:
“As the economy in our area (Houston)
starts to pick up, my partners and I are wondering whether our high-potential employees
will stay with us, or whether they’re going to
Hint: Involve them
in your firm’s
BY REBECCA RYAN
about best practices to keep our top talent
happy and on track. (Disclaimer: I speak on
best practices in human capital frequently.)
But the dirty little secret is that while these
best practices can spark ideas for your firm,
they cannot be transported from firm to firm
and have the same efficacy everywhere.
Just like one chemotherapy drug can
completely arrest the spread of cancer in
one patient and do nothing in another, best
practices in employee engagement are unpredictable when administered across a
range of firms.
Dustin Hostetler, a Black Belt in process
improvement who works for Lean CPA (a di-
ing system,” or “We need to do a focus group.”
Both are impartial — or flawed — methods.
If you want to hang onto top talent, you must
engage them in the discussion and the design
of solutions they’ll inherit. Hostetler speaks
from experience helping firms implement
lean practices: “The only way to address and
understand core issues in your firm is to use
a cross-functional team from different areas
in your practice — the people who walk the
walk every day.”
leave. We know they’re getting offers — one is
gone already — but we want to do everything
we can to hang onto them. What can we do
to make sure our high potentials stay with us,
and don’t take another offer?” It was signed,
Will They Love Me or Leave Me?
You can read my response to “Will’s” question at the Accounting Tomorrow blog (www.
Here, I’ll expand on my response, and outline
a tried-and-true method of engagement that
firms of any size or configuration can use to
hang onto their top talent: involving them in
process improvements that will have long-term impacts on the firm.
WHY ‘BEST PRACTICES’ FAIL
We all go to conferences where we learn
Rebecca Ryan is a consultant who helps
firms develop and keep their top talent.
Reach her at (888) 922-9596 ext. 702 or
vision of Rea & Associates Inc., in New Phila-
delphia, Ohio) puts it this way: “What works
optimally for one firm does not automatically
work perfectly in another.”
There are other reasons “best practices” in
employee retention have a high rate of fail-
ure. The two most obvious are:
Blind spots. Firm leaders and HR professionals often can’t see or don’t understand
what really matters to top talent. Case in
point: The American Institute of CPAs’ PCPS
“Top Talent Survey” revealed that partners
believe the top retention tool for high potentials is compensation. When high potentials were asked what was most important to
them, development opportunities were listed
first. Compensation was listed fourth.
Lack of participation from top talent
in designing or redesigning the new approach. To save time and money, many firms
throw consultants or technology (or both)
at problems like hanging onto top talent.
Leaders think, “We just need a better track-
ENGAGE THEM IN THE FUTURE
There have been powerful results in firms
that have unleashed cross-functional teams
to solve firm problems. Whether the challenge was designing a business strategy to
pursue a new niche, streamlining workflow,
or developing a process to keep top talent, the
most powerful results occurred when firms
followed these simple guidelines:
1. Use a cross-functional team of employees who can bring diverse talent and ideas
to the table. Make sure all of your high potentials have opportunities to serve on these
teams, but don’t limit it to high potentials
only. If you need the buy-in from admins in
the firm, engage them, too!
2. Use an objective, outside facilitator to
help the team stay on task, work through any
stumbling blocks, and summarize the team’s
progress and decisions.
3. Put internal and external clients in the
center of the process. Any recommendation
that comes from a cross-functional team
must have 100 percent buy-in and satisfaction from internal clients — e.g., the next
person who touches the tax return. You can’t
have 100 percent external client satisfaction
if your people don’t have the process you’ve
asked them to follow.
Asking your high-potential talent to work
on issues critical to the future of the firm has
several benefits. For partners, it removes a
lot of project work from their plates, and
delegates issues to a more diverse group of
thinkers in the firm. For top talent, it gives
them a deeper stake in the firm, and helps
them see themselves as future firm leaders.
In the words of one young partner at Crowe
Horwath, in Elm Brook, Ill., “If I hadn’t been
involved in a process like this, I don’t know
if I would’ve stayed. It was so engaging. I was
so into it. I figured, ‘If they trust me with this,
maybe they really do believe in me.’” AT
Did you know that workers at the Internal
Revenue Service can accrue four hours of
vacation time every two weeks — even
when they are on sick leave?
It’s true — and you know how I know?
The IRS has posted video testimonials
on You Tube of what particular jobs are
like at the government agency. Through
a playlist called, “Working at the IRS,”
viewers can hear what’s it like to be an
international examiner, a revenue agent,
a contact representative and a special
agent in criminal investigation, in “day in
the life” video glimpses of those who are
already in those positions.
Also on the IRS You Tube channel
(sounds kind of like an oxymoron,
doesn’t it?) are other videos addressing
tax tips for individuals and businesses, information about new credits, deductions
and changes in tax law, and even videos
in American Sign Language and Spanish.
There’s also a new and improved IRS
Careers Web site ( www.jobs.irs.gov/
home.html) that tries to address the
needs of those headed to college, those
out of college ready to start their career,
those looking to make a career move,
and the part-timer.
Who knew the IRS could be kind of …
Anyway, moving on — in other
Accounting Tomorrow news, Jon Barnett,
a staff member at Carr, Riggs & Ingram
in Jackson, Miss., not only passed the
CPA Exam in one sitting, he achieved the
highest grade on the 2009 test — earning him statewide recognition. As a
result, Barnett, who works on the firm’s
audit team, has been awarded the Fred
T. Neely Gold Medal Award by the Mississippi Society of CPAs. He was honored during the
of the MSCPA’s
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