The Inefficiency of Accounting Firm Talent Management

Source: Accounting Today
By Adam Blitz

My wife and I recently went to go see the show The Book of Mormon It was a great show, and I highly recommend it. After the show, I happened to reach out to an acquaintance who was listed as a “standby” to one of the lead roles in the show. In talking to the acquaintance, he explained to us that after graduating from UCLA, he was hired to “backup” the star of the show. As such, his job description is to travel around with the tour, learn the role, perform if the lead needs a day off, and most importantly get a feel for what it means to be a professional actor.

I found this implementation of a college student with talent and potential contrary to the way accounting firms hire and train their staff. And I have to ask the question, why? Accounting firms are desperate for new talent and desperate to retain this talent, but these same accounting firms continue to retain old practices that are unsustainable in today’s changing workforce. Once we have wooed talent to believe that the opportunity within our firms is tremendous, we tell these “lowest billable work” newbies to do the grunt work. No wonder why we lose staff and scare people away from the industry; we constantly hire “squares” and try to put them in “round” holes.

I want to focus on this issue. In the entertainment industry, they find talent, nurture the talent, and put the talent in situations to utilize those talents. They don’t hire a college graduate actor and say, “Go do lighting because we need lighting people and you are the cheapest person on staff to do lighting.” In the accounting industry we continue to hire well-trained accountants who have analysis, rationale and technical ability, but we tell them “go tick and tie that balance sheet.”

This leads to the question, what steps should accounting firms take in order to ensure they employ their staff and utilize their talents to help employees grow and test their limits?

1. Shadowing Managers and Partners: Want your staff to see what it looks like to provide true value to your clients and community? Give them the opportunity to shadow your partners and top managers. Let them see what it looks like to be involved in client meetings and consulting activities. By creating a shadowing program, the new staff will quickly be able to translate their education experiences into practical experience. In turn, the staff will be able to use these experiences and apply them to the less complex projects in the office. They will provide high level service to those new clients looking to grow with the firm.

2. Focus on Their Talent: Each staff member is a trained accountant. They will recognize accounting and financial issues if presented the opportunity. Give them the opportunity to analyze financial statements and let them report to clients on the progress. Take these staff people out of the preparation of the financial statements and into the analysis section. These young accountants have been analyzing fake financials in school. Why not give them the opportunity to do the same work in your firm (with real financials)? You will be amazed by the benefit derived from this small change.\

3. Remove Boundaries: Staff coming into firms today are not impressed by 30+ years of experience. No offense to your 30 years. I’m sure you had fun working on typewriters in the 1980s. Young CPAs today are competent, talented and motivated individuals. They have the ability to come in and provide new perspectives and alternative solutions to lingering problems. Give them access, give them responsibility, give them a challenge, and you will be amazed by the results.

 I found this quote by the famous chef, Bobby Flay, to be spot on: “When I'm hiring a cook for one of my restaurants, and I want to see what they can do, I usually ask them to make me an omelette.” Entertainment companies, chefs, computer engineering companies and marketing companies see talent and implement that talent. It’s time for accountants to do the same.

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