According to BKR (an International Accounting Association), partners can do the following.
1. Start a firm scholarship fund with your local college or university. Your firm gets an “in” with the accounting department professors, you get to vet the top talent, and deserving accounting students get much-needed help in attaining their accounting degree. It’s a win/win.
2. Offer more than “competitive salaries.” Pay your people more than your competitors. People are still leaving one similar-size accounting firm for another for more money. Period. And, you’ll actually save money in the long run not having to constantly replace and train new staff.
3. If you say your firm embraces a “better quality of life”, truly provide one. Show examples of your firm culture, family-friendliness, and community involvement on your social media sites. Word gets around quickly, and your reputation will suffer if a new staff person joins your firm believing you’re different, but still ends up working the same long hours as in their prior firm.
You can’t change deadlines and eliminate client emergencies, but you can be sure you amply reward the people who cheerfully step up and work the late hours and get the job done. And, let those people choose the reward, whether it’s a bonus, time off during slower periods, or a combination of the two. Be honest from the very first interview. Everyone knows public accounting is not a 9-to-5 job.
4. Provide high-quality education from educators. Just because they’re great accountants or rainmakers, most partners and managers are not qualified to teach others or, if they are, do not have the time to do so. While on-the-job training certainly has its place, firms also need to spend money on quality training from professionals who know how to teach. Younger staff, for example, like working in groups and interacting with peers. Send them outside of the firm to professional training programs. Some state CPA societies have young CPA training events.
If you’re worried about another firm poaching your talent at outside events—a typical reason firms give for not sending their staff to outside programs—consider this: If you’re truly complying with suggestion #2, offering people more than competitive salaries, your employees won’t want to leave. And, they’ll know you spent money to help them grow and will appreciate it. They might even come back with some great new ideas to help your firm.
Schwartz says smaller firms shouldn’t resign themselves to the fact they’ll never be able to compete with the Big Four when trying to hire, or even retain, top talent.
“Not everyone wants to work for the Big Four. Some accountants appreciate the smaller firm culture, the ability to work more directly with a client’s business earlier in their careers, and more autonomy over their career path”, Schwartz said. “Their perception of a smaller firm, especially if they began their career at a Big Four, is that they’ll have more input as to the direction of the firm and its success.”