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  • Writer's pictureIan Lavis

Great people, great workplaces

Updated: Jan 19, 2023

Exploring new ways to attract and develop talent

The shift to remote and hybrid working, and changing expectations of jobseekers and staff, have lead organisations to rethink their approach to talent.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the accounting profession, where recruitment and retention was challenging long before Covid-19.

In this article, I explore the changes taking place in the accounting jobmarket and how industry leaders and talent managers are responding.

Recruitment and retention challenges are complex and wide-ranging. Samantha Louis, CEO of Praxity, the world's largest alliance of independent accounting firms, says it's partly a generational thing. “The way in which the new generation is viewing the world of work, the way in which they want to engage with employers and the way in which they want to engage with work is completely different. As employers and as firms, we need to engage differently with them in order to survive and thrive into the future.”

New trends

Praxity Chairman Phil Verity, who is also CEO of Mazars UK, states: "Our people are re-evaluating how they work, why they work, where they want to work and who they want to work for.” He says accounting firms are still figuring out how best to respond to changing work patterns and employee preferences but four clear trends are emerging:

  1. The need to create more enjoyable workspaces, both in the home and the traditional office

  2. The need to encourage greater collaboration and learning

  3. Using workspaces more flexibly

  4. Adopting a less formal approach, blurring the lines between client and non-client areas

In terms of attracting and retaining great people, Samantha urges firms to think about what’s going to work best for their staff and what’s a little bit different, such as meeting-free Fridays, mindfulness breaks and “avoiding death by Zoom”. She stresses the importance of finding ways to keep an eye on employee mental wellbeing to “make sure people are not overstressed and not heading to burn out" as well as creating "the right mental environment in the firms”.

Helping employees be the best versions of themselves

Firms across the globe are responding to these challenges in different ways. Chris Capstick, newly recruited Talent Manager at UK-based firm PM+M, is among those driving change. He is developing a business-wide talent strategy and evolving the firm's learning and development programmes. This includes interviewing partners and directors, and surveying managers, assistant managers and supervisors to identify how best to support colleagues and create a fantastic work environment.

“It’s about helping people be the best versions of themselves, and sharing their stories internally and externally,” Chris says. “It’s not just about what you do but how you approach situations and learn from them. We are looking at all the learning experiences, internally and externally, and evolving these to address current and future needs.” These needs include soft skills, employee wellbeing, technical skills and enhancing the client experience.

Chris is working with external learning providers to elevate the firm’s Continual Professional Development (CPD) programme to help colleagues develop their skillsets, learn and grow. One such provider is ‘The Professional Alternative’, an online learning tool whereby employees can self-access a vast resource of learning materials as and when they want. Content covers soft skills and ranges from one minute up to an hour, and is delivered in a variety of formats.

Like many Praxity member firms, PM+M has been quick to embrace flexible working to meet the changing needs of jobseekers and colleagues. Chris himself works four days a week and he stresses: “It’s about what works for employees and the business.” The firm has also introduced three-week bootcamps to help apprentices develop the fundamentals and build relationships across the business. Feedback has been “incredibly positive”.

Attracting the right people

Another area of focus is branding and messaging. This is the approach at UK firm Shorts. Managing Partner Andy Irvine explains that having worked hard on their talent management and employee development, the team realised they needed to do more to attract good people in the first place.

Research by an external employee branding specialist revealed Shorts’ branding focused almost entirely on differentiating itself to clients rather than employees. To redress the balance, Andy worked with messaging specialists to create better online content including videos and interviews with team members “to capture the essence of our proposition”. The objective was to showcase employability differentiators such as allowing more time for client work and personal development, and not asking employees to work overtime. Essentially, to demonstrate employees can devote more time to ‘living life’.

Andy says the new messaging has been very well received, adding: “It works really well and we have had a lot of good feedback.” The firm is now working with external agencies to get this new messaging out on TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and other ‘meta’ platforms, to appeal to people entering the job marketplace or looking for their next move.

Compared to the cost of recruitment fees, which can typically be £10,000 to £15,000, investing in employability branding is money well spent, Andy says. And it’s not just helping with recruitment. The new messaging is reminding existing employees of the benefits of working for a progressive firm.

A focus on community

Acconting firms are adapting their strategies to create stronger bonds with their people and be more responsive to individual lifestyle changes throughout an employee’s career.

Explaining this approach, Colleen Christensen, People Experience Director at Moss Adams in the U.S., says: “We put a strong focus on a sense of community within the firm and personalized career paths, two best practices for all firms to consider in attracting and retaining talent. Connecting with our people is built into our career advising process, to be aware of both major life changes and circumstances as well as career goals, allowing us to offer a personalized career path that flexes with each season of life.”

She continues: “Everyone has different needs at different stages, and we aim to provide support that allows our people to succeed in a way that’s sustainable for each individual. This has been especially important during the pandemic years. Our stats support this with a sizable population of long-tenured employees and a strong rehire rate. Our people stay for the long haul. When those who venture out to try new companies return to the firm, we welcome them back with open arms.”

Creating better experiences

Enhancing the employee experience is a major factor in boosting retention. One way to do this is through inter-firm collaboration, enabling staff in different locations to work together and share expertise. Matt Snow, Vice-Chairman of Praxity and Chairman of U.S. firm FORVIS, says many employees are keen to experience what it’s like to do business in different jurisdictions and Praxity provides a platform “to give people the chance to work with other firms” in different countries and to have that experience,

Praxity is also supporting accounting firms with their training and staff incentives. The Alliance is working in partnership with accounting organisations such as the AICPA & CIMA and the ICAEW to help employees:

· Stay up to date with changing regulations

· Build competencies

· Earn valuable CPE credits

· Gain advantage with new insights

Skills and mentoring

While high quality training can make a big difference, it’s equally important to attract people with the attributes required to excel, and to encourage peer to peer learning.

Matt Snow says new recruits need a broad set of skills and need to be able to pivot from one to another. Employees need to be coachable as well as being able to coach others. They must also have good communication skills, an ability to show empathy with team members and clients, and have an inclusive mindset, he explains.

Taking this one step further, PM+M is developing coaching capability of staff at all levels and training internally-accredited coaches to provide further support to colleagues, releasing potential and driving performance.

Phil Verity concludes: “It’s about how you attract, retain and develop the very best people, how you create that workspace that really enables everyone to bring their best and be themselves, how you create that employer brand to attract, and how you create that firm purpose and vision that [provides] an attractive place to be and an inspiring place to be.”

This is an updated version of an article I wrote for my client Praxity Global Alliance, the world’s largest alliance of independent accounting and consulting firms.

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