Posts Tagged ‘talent’

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Talent Spotting – Is Your CPA Firm Stuck In The Past?

“We need an experienced tax senior/manager.” I hear it over and over as I move about the country consulting with firms and speaking at various association/society events.

When I ask a them if they are hiring, most practitioners, firm administrators and HR managers working at accounting firms tell me “Yes, but we can’t find the people we need.” It seems everyone is looking for a tax or audit senior or manager, someone with 3 to 5 years of experience and deep knowledge of their specialty area.

I hear the same story when it comes to succession. Many current, aging partners say they aren’t able to transition their clients to “up & comers” because the firm doesn’t have anyone who 1) who shows the skills and expertise to be a partner and/or 2) has the desire to become a partner.

IMG_4016Times have changed, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, author of the HBR article, “The Big Idea: 21st-Century Talent Spotting,” believes we are now in the fourth era of talent spotting. With 30 years of experience in evaluating and tracking executives and studying the factors of their performance, he considers potential the most important predictor of success at all levels.

The first era, lasted for thousands of years – – humans made choices about one another on the basis of physical attributes. If you want to build a pyramid, you picked someone big and strong.

The second era, which occurred during the baby boomers lives, emphasized intelligence, experience and past performance. Verbal, analytical type skills were the basis for assessing talent.

In the 1980s, the third era evolved and still rules. The way to spot talent is driven by the competency model. We even began considering emotional intelligence as an important competency.

The fourth era is dawning. Here’s a paragraph from the article that, to me, speaks to many of our challenges inside CPA firms:

Now we’re at the dawn of a fourth era, in which the focus must shift to potential. In a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment (VUCA is the military-acronym-turned-corporate-buzzword), competency-based appraisals and appointments are increasingly insufficient. What makes someone successful in a particular role today might not tomorrow if the competitive environment shifts, the company’s strategy changes, or he or she must collaborate with or manage a different group of colleagues. So the question is not whether your company’s employees and leaders have the right skills; it’s whether they have the potential to learn new ones.

The work environment for CPAs is changing. The way we communicate has changed. Social media, focus on specialty services, flexible work cultures and more have proved to be challenging for many accountants. It’s all about the last sentence in the paragraph, above: So the question is not whether your company’s employees and leaders have the right skills; it’s whether they have the potential to learn new ones.”

One powerful aspect is the fact that companies are not properly developing their pipelines of future leaders. It’s not just in accounting. In PWC’s 2014 survey of cEOs in 68 countries, 63% of respondents said they were concerned about the future availability of key skills at all levels.

What I find interesting is that many successful, high-earning, CPA partners are looking for talent that attained a high GPA in college, have outstanding technical skills and are personable, outgoing and able to bring in business…. when they admit that they, themselves, could not be described the same way.

Take the time to read this important article. Use it as a discussion tool for your partner group. This topic is retreat-level in importance.


  • Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of our success.
  • Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Keeping Your CPA Firm Competitive – Being More Generous With PTO

John SmithSometimes I am puzzled by CPA firms. I know, you are probably laughing out loud right now! After so many years working with CPA firms you would think I would have a complete understanding of what makes CPA leaders tick. I guess it could be described this way: I know how they think and what they think but sometimes it amazes me WHY they think the way they do.

Once again I will stress to CPAs – the Talent Wars are here again. Your firm becomes who you hire and who you retain. These people help form your culture and your brand in your marketplace.

I frequently hear CPA firm administrators and HR Directors talk about their various personnel policies. PTO is often a topic. What I am CURRENTLY hearing is that many firms are very frugal with their PTO. Here is where I ask WHY?

Maybe to justify, I need to give you real life experience. At the CPA firm where I worked for so many years, SIX years ago when I left we were offering starting salaries that are very much in line with what I am hearing TODAY – 2014.

Probably about 8 to 10 years ago our PTO policy was extremely generous – 2 weeks PTO to new college grads the day they walked in the door. Upon the arrival of May 1st (the beginning of our “vacation” year), all accounting staff with 0-2 years of service received 15 days. Staff with 3-5 years received 20 days and all staff with 6+ years received 25 days.

I am still hearing that new hires, in many firms, become eligible for  PTO (or vacation) after one year of service and maybe 10 years before they get 3 weeks and never for 5 weeks.

Why was our firm generous, why did we keep in-tune with market trends and attempt to hire the best talent?

Simple answer and one you should heed: Our competition was doing it!

  • A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you've been taking.
  • Earl Wilson

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

CPA Management Monthly Newsletter Published Today

BANL-June102-231x300Every month I email my newsletter to thousands of people working in the CPA profession. The October issue was mailed this morning.

It’s free, so if you would like to be added to the mailing list you can do so by completing the form on my website – here. 

If you sign-up in the next week or so, I’ll send you a link to the October issue. The October articles are as follows:

  • Talent Analytics – A Growing Trend
  • You Are Running A Business – Manage Your Accounts Receivable
  • Yes! I Work Directly With Firms.

As for today, I hope all of you working on taxes in public accounting enjoy October 16th – the day AFTER the last major due date of the year. Get ready for 2014!

  • I've got a theory that if you give 100% all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end.
  • Larry Bird

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Lessons From The NCAA To Help With Your CPA Firm March & April “Madness”

HostetlerDustinLeanCPA-1023I recently received a newsletter from Dustin Hostetler of Flowtivity. His message this month is SO important to those of your working in the CPA profession. Of course, it is something I am very passionate about: The cultivation of talent inside CPA firms.

My comments and other highlights from his article follow. You can read the entire article here.

The NCAA March Madness tournament and the March & April Madness inside your CPA firm have a similar dynamic:

The emergence of previously unheralded superstars and talent that elevate their teams to new levels of success and productivity.

On the road to the Final Four, certain players emerged as superstars. They elevated their game to previously unseen levels and led their teams to impressive performances in the tournament. Their individual performances inspired other team members to also step-up their game.

These individual, outstanding performances didn’t happen by accident. It entailed months/years of practice, development, coaching and confidence building that led to a break-out culmination when their teams needed them most.

It works much the same way for CPA firms. Successful firms have learned that a culture of learning and development is crucial in the attraction, development and retention of top talent.

It takes engaged partners, collaborative hands-on training, trust through leveraging and the acceptance of mistakes. Read the full article to learn more about each one of these.

Are you a Final Four Caliber Firm?

  • Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.
  • John Wooden

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

I Don’t Want To Be Mean Or Disrespectful

However, are you really aware of what some of your people (maybe many of your people) think about you if you are a partner in a CPA firm?

I respect and truly like CPAs. I absolutely love working with them to improve the “inside health” of their firms. They are ladies and gentlemen and really, really nice people. Most of the time we get a lot accomplished and truly have fun. Yet, the usual excuse I get for not dealing with “management” issues is, “I’m too busy.”

As a result, things inside the firm don’t go smoothly and people working at firms begin to think….”there must be a better choice.”

I said all that to set the stage for a comment I received directly and unsolicited from a former team member in a CPA firm. This person was letting me know to take them off my newsletter mailing list. I just want you – CPA leader – to contemplate if this fits you in any way.

“Rita, I love what you are doing, but I got out of the public accounting industry last year after many years. My experience is that partners in this industry make up the worst management I have ever experienced. They are clueless. Keep up your efforts to get through to them.”

This one comment is not rare for me. I get many, similar to the following, that ask, “Rita, why don’t ‘they’ get it?

The talent wars are just beginning to heat-up. You really need to focus on retaining your very best performers (and out-placing your under-performers). If you cling to status-quo your entire firm will be mediocre. All-star talent does not want to work for a mediocre firm.

So – once October 15th passes – please get busy. There is still time this year to actually listen to your people and take action. Ask them what’s important to them.


  • Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.
  • Mae West

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

CPA Firm Staff Compensation Strategies – It’s Money and A Lot More

The talent wars are heating up. According to, recently released research reveals that not only are nearly half of employees looking for greener pastures, but that top performers are the ones most likely to be looking.

I believe this will be an issue for the remainder of 2012 for public accounting. Many top performers have stuck with the firm during the economic downturn and are now itching to move on because it seems like every CPA firm is now hiring.

How do you keep them? One way is to take a critical look at your staff compensation strategies. Maybe it’s time for a facelift. Also, compensation strategies include a whole lot more than actual wages. Most firms that I have talked to this year, so far, are actually paying their people fairly well. Just keep in mind, with today’s workforce, the Beatles were right: …money can’t buy me love.

I hope you will join me tomorrow at 12PM Eastern for a CPA Leadership Institute Webinar: Staff Compensation Strategies That Inspire And Retain Talent. Follow the link to register.

We will talk about money (salaries, bonuses, incentives), the three basics of CPA firm salaries, walking the exempt vs. non-exempt tight-rope plus all of the little things that make the biggest difference – things that don’t cost you much money at all.

  • Gossip is when you hear something you like about someone you don't.
  • Earl Wilson

Friday, June 8th, 2012

The Important Actions In “Life After Busy Season” For CPAs

I’ve talked about it before. How many CPAs go into a 3 or 4-week trance after the April tax due date. I understand….. you are tired, burned-out and need a break. So, you chill for a week or so, take a much needed vacation and maybe even clean-up your office or workspace.

Then it’s suddenly mid- to late May, you have your annual partner retreat. The list might look like this (along with my comments):

  • The partners need to make more money (to accomplish this the firm need to grow).
  • We need to attract the best and brightest people (to accomplish this the firm needs to grow).
  • We need to be a strong contender on our local college campuses (to accomplish the firm needs to grow).
  • We need to move up market so we attract larger clients (to accomplish this the firm needs to grow).
  • We need to really beef-up a special niche (to accomplish this the firm needs to grow).
  • We have candidates who really want to be a partner (to accomplish this the firm needs to grow).

See where I’m going with this? For your firm to become a leader in your marketplace, to attract quality clients, to attract larger clients, to develop a strong niche, to be a major magnet for talent – both from campus and with experienced hires – your needs to grow.

So now, here we are, well into June and we need to grow. One way to add revenue is to reflect upon your “Busy Season Opportunity List.” This is a list of additional services that you and your team have compiled as you worked and talked with clients during the first 4 months of the year. Often firm leaders tell me that they equip their team with forms/checklists to accumulate possible additional services to existing clients, the team members submit them to firm leaders and then nothing happens!

Dig out those lists now and get busy. If you want more information on how to structure and carry-out this accumulation process, let me know.

If you did not accumulate the information, it’s not too late. Here are some steps:

  • Gather your accounting team for a debriefing session.
  • Create a non-threatening atmosphere for the meeting – make it fun.
  • Ask your partners and team members to reflect back on their busy season engagements and identify possible additional services for the clients they served.
  • Create a list from the session and schedule meetings with the appropriate clients.

Why involve the entire team? It’s how they learn to help grow the firm. It’s how they learn to actually contemplate possible additional services for existing clients. It is a stepping stone for them in being able to sell to successful companies who are not current clients.

Want to assess your firm’s marketing aptitude? Check out this assessment.


  • Don't wish it were easier, wish you were better.
  • Jim Rohn

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

CPA Profession Bail-Out Season – Don’t Lose Your Top Talent

The April due date has arrived and passed. Are your team members completely burnt-out? Will they almost immediately be thinking, it’s time to move on?

Already in 2012, I have heard about firms losing people. I continue to hear about and read about the brain-drain in public accounting when it comes to females. What are you, as a leader in your firm, going to do about it?

Maybe this year you should consider embracing a career lattice culture rather than a career ladder culture. Not everyone achieves success in the same way. Often there are may detours along the way.

Research has shown that public accounting loses a lot of good people (and many females) when they believe public accounting will not accommodate their personal and career choices. Women want to start a family so they think they must leave public accounting. Don’t let your young talent make this assumption. Most successful firms have already embraced flexibility as a formal part of their culture.

I urge you to paint a picture for your young professionals of a career lattice. Communicate to them: If there comes a times in your life whether you are male or female, when you need or want less (or more), a reduced schedule, more regular hours, less travel, more travel, less responsibility or really want to accelerate your advancement in the firm – talk to us!

Learn more about the career lattice approach from my blog post titled, What Is Your Team Members’ Definition Of Up? I posted it a couple of years ago but it definitely still applies this year.


  • A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.
  • Dr. Elton Trueblood