“It’s the staff, stupid”, to use Clinton-like lingo to get to the point. Our clients universally sub-optimize on their greatest asset, their people. Let’s review the elements of a great staff program for the accounting & advisory industry:
1. A strong mission statement and employee value proposition linked to the statement. The specifics will differ from firm-to-firm, but it’s important to know who you are, what it takes to be successful and what’s in it for your people. If these principles are well constructed, they guide all partners and employees on what’s important and what isn’t.
2. Clarity and alignment on staff ownership. On this issue, it’s not unusual for firms to be at one extreme or the other. At one end of the spectrum, we see firms where individual partners own staff. At the other end of the spectrum, nobody owns staff. Instead, staffs are deployed by HR team members, balancing workloads among partners. Neither of these approaches is optimal. The best practice is for staff to be assigned to practice groups who take ownership of staff deployment, development and appraisal. This aligns these activities to the needs of the business segment and gives staff a home and a purpose.
3. An established career framework. If you want quality staff, you need to tell them how to get there. A career framework does just that, providing specific guidance on how to attain progressive levels of industry and technical capabilities as well as professional and leadership competencies. A well-constructed career framework has partners involved in validating staff progress through levels of development.
4. Focused experiential learning supported by quality mentoring. If you want great people, you need to give them the opportunity to become great by working on the types of assignments that enable them to learn quickly and get the experiences that develop professional knowledge and judgment. And the best ways to make sure this happens are partner commitment and a strong mentoring program where the partners and mentors take an active interest in the experiential learning opportunities for their staff.
5. User-friendly HR technology to enable the HR processes. It’s time to say goodbye to paper, spreadsheets and emails. Invest in a packaged, web- and cloud-based talent management system that makes the processes flow easily. If you want your partners to invest in your staff, give thorough evaluations, have the difficult conversations and mentor properly, you need to make the back office processes easy for them.
There’s no substitute for doing these things well and partner involvement is critical. The numbers speak for themselves. Getting fewer staff to do more work at higher proficiency levels drops right to the bottom line.