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5 Ways to Up Staff Retention in Your Accounting Firm

Posted on 17th August 2017 in Advisory

Written by Freya Hughes

Looking down the rapids of industry change can be intimidating. It’s quite enough pressure to be worrying about losing clients to competitors without having to fret about your staff jumping ship too. When you’re looking to move into the advisory space, you need to be sure your team are 100% on board. So, with this in mind we’ve put together our top five ways to up your staff retention, so you can sail into the advisory space with your crew in tow.

1. Keep your staff engaged

Employee satisfaction is essential to maintain. We’ve discovered already that satisfaction is not the same as engagement, though both are vitally important if you want your best staff to stay loyal.

Satisfaction comes when a boss is understanding and allows their employees to have a bit of flexibility at work. Say an employee has an hour commute and the local train service is all but unusable. They’ll be in commuter hell twice a day, every day, so would definitely appreciate you offering they work remotely a couple of times per week. Even staggering work start times would help as the trains and roads become so much clearer after rush hour.

Engagement is what happens when your employees really care about your firm and want to do the best they can to help it develop. They’ll likely have an emotional commitment and loyalty to seeing the business do well. Your staff will work hard because they believe in what they’re doing, and the best way to captivate their interest is to allow them to offer better and more strategy-based services. Many accounting professionals in our community have shouted about how excited their team are to get working now they’ve adopted advisory, so don’t get left behind!

When we spoke to Emma Fox, Xero’s Bookkeeper of the Year (2016) and Owner of Fresh Financials, she told us that even if you are getting some resistance from staff, the advisory space is the only place to be running your practice. Noticing a change in client focus, she told us:

Emma Fox, Xero Bookkeeper of the Year 2016

“I’d say business owners are now making the decision that they want their accounts to work in this particular way. Then they find someone who will do management accounting, as opposed to ‘I need a bookkeeper, what does a bookkeeper do?!’ They’re definitely looking for it.”

If your clients’ need and desire isn’t enough, consider how much more fun your team will have if they can service accounts in a way that will really make an impact. Emma told us that work had become fun again since adopting this way of working, and that’s a crucial part of retaining staff.

Read the full case study with Emma here

If you’ve not had any (or many) complaints of late, don’t assume everything is fine and dandy. Regularly checking in with the team, as a group and individually, shows you care and gives staff the opportunity to speak up about grievances or worries. You’ll find this practice will open up the dialogue between staff and management, leaving you with a lot of constructive feedback. If this doesn’t happen, however, it might be a good idea to conduct an anonymous feedback survey. If you do this, expect some brutal honesty but it will only help your firm move forward, so be brave.

A very unpleasant journey to work

An accurate depiction of commuting. Imagine battling through this every morning!

2. Nurture your team

Traditional compliance services are repetitive and rather uninspiring, and your team may be feeling bored or in a rut. Consequently, the quality of their work is likely to suffer. Your team may be a little apprehensive about making the change to advisory, especially if they’ve risen up the ranks in the traditional way. Advisory is the way forward and will really impact your bottom line for the better, so don’t be put off by resistance.

If you’re trying to work out the best way to train your staff up, have a look into continuing professional development (CPD) courses or schemes. They essentially record the individual’s experience, what they learn and how they apply it in work. There are endless benefits for both parties: employees will become more competent and efficient, and adaptable to change, and for your firm, you’ll be confident your staff can handle themselves. It’ll eventually lead to the entire firm’s services becoming more dynamic, which will increase your client retention as your firm becomes one of the best around. It’s so much more fulfilling to sell advisory because you’re literally guiding your clients to success, helping them strategise for greatness along the way.

Learn why your firm should invest in CPD

We believe in this so much that we’ve released our very own CPD advisory certification course. An in-depth look at the basics, all the way to implementing what’s been learnt, you can rely on certification to be the all-in-one training tool for your entire firm.

3. Respect must go both ways

When all’s said and done, your team are people and people deserve respect, especially if they’re your employees. If any one person on your team dreads coming into work because they’re being talked down to, they will either talk and get the rest of the team wondering if you’re actually a good boss, or worse they’ll walk.

A calm boat journey on smooth waters

Sometimes a calm is just before a storm. Make sure you are consistently fair with your team, and you’ll find your day is smooth sailing!

Nobody has motivation to work if they’re not being treated with respect. Some employees come into work simply to get their paycheck, and while that might not be exactly how you want them to be, you can’t stop it. Unless, that is, you build a respectful rapport with your staff. The industry can be a stressful one to work in, as there’s such a lot of competition so ensure you are fair and help your staff when they need it. So, next time you’re fired up and stressed out, remember that treating an employee badly will probably end in you having to find their replacement.

It’s estimated the cost of replacing employees is 150% to 250% of annual compensation figures. If your firm can handle that, fine, but we’re guessing that would damage even the biggest of firms if you were to lose more than one employee at once. This estimation shows how valuable your team really are to you – financially and otherwise. Learn more about retention stats here – we chatted to John Ryder of Hive.HR who supplied us with some fascinating information. See their website for more.

Sometimes when one employee leaves, it makes the others consider their own happiness and often see what else is available. Treating your team with respect will probably pay off in the long run. Imagine if you treated one employee terribly, and they became a future client. They’d laugh you out of the room when you try and win over their business, so it’s imperative that you are fair and accommodating to all.

4. Reward the good

Everyone enjoys doing well at work – especially if they’re rewarded for their hard work. Recognition in front of the rest of your staff shows you’re ready to point out when someone’s done well. Here at FUTRLI, we use Slack office instant messenger and always cheer on our sales team when they’ve made a deal. It’s a simple message usually saying ‘nice one!’, but it shows we operate as a unit, even though half the team are in Australia.

If you provide advisory services at your firm, your team are doing far more in-depth work than they were with compliance. This in itself should garner your praise, as it’s no mean feat to retrain and succeed with a new way of working. So think of a way to really show your appreciation to those who are excelling. Laying out a reward structure shows you care and are supportive. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive, though will show you’re paying attention. Even something as simple as handwritten notes could make a difference to your employees’ days. The main point here is to work on a positive environment for your team. This is so very likely to be picked up on by clients, so it’s very important you get it right.

Treacherous rapids streaming through jagged rocks

Such upheaval needs teamwork. You wouldn’t try and conquer these rapids alone, so approach your transition to advisory as a unit and keep your firm protected

Giving your team the opportunity to progress up your firm’s hierarchy, rather than hiring externally, is another way to show you’re invested in your employees. Holding regular team meetings to share this kind of news unites the staff and gives a great feeling of trust and openness.

5. Be flexible

Life is always throwing us curve balls. Whether it’s the birth of children, family weddings and events or even just vacations, each and every one of us needs time off. Provide sufficient time for your staff to do the things that make a difference to their lives and you’ll notice it’s absolutely beneficial for your firm, as you’re solidifying your relationships. Some managers and bosses seem to enjoy throwing their weight around, even denying personal days for staff who have lost loved ones. Do not be this person!! Imagine how you’d feel if it was the other way around.

Working remotely for the day of parts of the day will really help some employees juggle their work and home lives. Young children need taking care of, as to some other family members and the ability to work from home for the afternoon, for example, will help out massively.

Burnout in the accounting industry is rife. Giving your team some time to rest and replenish their mental health is not only a very human thing to do, it’ll raise efficiency within your firm. No longer will employees sit at their desks struggling in silence, rather they’ll be able to take on their tasks with enthusiasm.


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