What you probably didn’t learn at any accounting conference this year
Conferences can offer you a little bit of everything. From socializing with fellow industry...
With accounting advisory growing in popularity, many firm owners are running into unforeseen challenges within their team. Each of these challenges is taking away from providing the best possible services for their clients.
The first roadblock to a CAS dream team is the owner or partner being overly involved in deliverable work. When this happens, it deters them from the work they should be doing, like focusing on the growth of the company and dedicating their time to improving operations. In an ideal world, an owner or partner wouldn’t have their hand in the nitty-gritty of completing deliverable tasks. Instead, they’d be largely focused on the business itself and what can be done to reach its goals.
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it." —Alan Kay
Unengaged accountants are another huge issue getting in the way of building a successful team. On an individual level, it causes a decrease in productivity and takes away from the benefits of working as a team. A firm is at peak performance when each individual is fully engaged and working as a team. It creates a sense of fulfillment, helps everyone stay focused, and leaves room for ownership within projects and tasks.
Another common problem in accounting firms (especially firms offering CAS) is providing services that don’t drive value to clients or create high margins of revenue. CAS can open the door to your firm going outside of its means to serve your clients because you believe it’s the best way to make them happy.
However, structure and focus are key. A successful firm will identify which services are the most beneficial for your clients and create the most revenue. Once this becomes the focus, the structure will fall into place, and instead of having an overworked and off-task team, your firm will be well-organized and exceptional at producing lucrative services. With proper planning, you can avoid each of the challenges that make running a successful CAS practice difficult. It starts with improving team engagement, developing ideal candidate personas, finding, attracting, and testing candidates, and fulfilling your promises.
Improving team engagement starts with the hiring process. But we all know hiring isn’t as simple as posting a job on Indeed.com and letting the perfect match rise to the top.
Hiring new talent is just about as demanding on the person in charge of hiring as it is on the applicant. After all, it’s that person’s responsibility to not only make sure the candidate is qualified for the role and responsibilities, but also that they’ll mesh well with the rest of the team, they’re independent thinkers, they have positive attitudes, and they’re committed to the firm’s mission (among other things).
As prepared and eager as a candidate is about getting an accounting role at a firm, the hiring manager must be prepared to gauge a candidate and assess their fit with the rest of the team. This forward-thinking will help create a fully engaged team to combat the growing disengagement within both the accounting industry and the entire U.S. workforce.
According to an Accounting Today study, only 17% of employees in the U.S. report being engaged in their workplace. What’s the fix? Being on a team: the same study reported workers on a team are 2.3x more likely to be engaged in their workplace.
Additionally, making the right hire for the team—as opposed to just the position—builds trust within the team. It proves you’re putting the team (or the firm as a whole) at the forefront of your concerns. Again, the AT study reported employees being 12x more likely to be engaged if they trust their leader.
A lack of trust doesn’t just stem from making bad hires; it can be a combination of many things. Here are a few things that create an untrustworthy environment:
With trust coming from both sides of the team (leaders and members), you’ll see an obvious improvement in engagement. However, if you still feel like your engagement is low, try implementing more team-building exercises.
Going back to the hiring process, CAS adds a whole new level to what’s required of an accountant. Not only do you need someone who’s good with numbers, but they also need to have a strong business sense, a good attitude, and a powerful drive to help fulfill the firm’s mission. When they’re placed into a team setting, you want them to contribute in ways that will add value to your advisory services.
That said, many firms are seeing the value of hiring non-traditional professionals to join their ranks—that is, non-accountants. In fact, 82% of accountants surveyed in Sage’s 2019 Practice of Now report said they’d be open to hiring people from more non-traditional backgrounds. Moreover, 43% of those surveyed said that they’re looking for candidates with experience outside the accounting industry. Doing so brings an entirely new angle to advisory services and helps diversify a firm’s offering.
In addition to hiring non-traditional accounting professionals, it’s important to ensure you’re hiring the right kind of candidate with the experience you truly need. It’s tempting to look at a candidate’s résumé and make a snap judgment about whether or not they’re a good fit based on their experience. It makes sense that someone with five years of experience might be a better fit than a fresh grad—but it depends on your goals and your vision for the role.
The candidate with five years likely has a better understanding of how systems work and can bring an additional level of expertise to the table. But these days, how many accountants with your preferred amount of experience are available? Accounting as an industry already has a very narrow talent pool. The fresh grad candidate may offer a new set of skills and viewpoints that add tremendous value to your team. Plus, you have the opportunity to nurture them into the type of accountant your firm truly needs, which is ideal for long-term and succession planning.
Outside of hiring, another great way to grow your team is by promoting internally. While in some cases a hire may be necessary, your dream candidate might already be a part of your team!
There are many benefits to hiring internally:
Client knowledge: Current employees will know the ins and outs of the majority of your current clients, which will be beneficial when it comes to providing advisory services.
Firm knowledge: Because of their experience within the firm, they’re aware of expectations and know the required quality of work.
They’re proof that longevity and growth is an option: Hiring within sets an example that hard work pays off and shows that there’s room to grow within the firm.
Lower turnover rates: With the possibility of growth being an option, employees will be less likely to search for opportunities outside of the company.
Cheaper than hiring from outside: You’ll likely be able to simply increase the salary of your current employee as opposed to completely adding a new employee to the payroll, benefits, etc. This also saves time with onboarding.
When you know exactly what you’re looking to add to your CAS practice dream team, you can make knowledgeable hires or promotions that will improve your firm and encourage more employee engagement.
LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster, and ZipRecruiter are all great options for finding potential candidates. However, none of these is always the best place to find the employee you’re really looking for. To find the best fit for your team, try:
Asking current employees to tap into their networks: This will (most likely) provide you with a pool of qualified candidates you can trust. And if you want to go a step farther, setting up an employee referral program can lead to around $3,000 savings—per hire!
Reach out to your contacts: This will eliminate the initial get-to-know-you questions and provide you with at least some background information about the candidate.
Share the position on your website and on social media: Doing this reaches people who are interested in your company because they’re either (a) visiting your website looking for an opening, or (b) following your success on social media and are impressed with what they see.
Keep in touch with candidates you liked in previous interviews: Just because you didn’t select a candidate for a previous position doesn’t mean they won’t be a good fit for the position you’re hiring for now.
Each of these routes takes a more unconventional approach to the hiring process and filters out candidates who may just be applying because there’s an opening, not because they are actually interested in working for your firm. These will also give you more reputable options, as the majority of candidates you find through these methods will be more experienced and are known by you or one of your team members. A reference goes a very long way!
It’s also important you have criteria in place for testing potential advisors, not number-crunchers. Because advisory is your focus, you should be testing candidates on their advisory skills. And while your employees may know quality accountants, their suggestions also need to provide the skills required to provide top-notch advisory services.
Another way to ensure you’re interviewing promising candidates is by incentivizing and differentiating yourself from other firms. When you’re offering things other firms aren’t, you will look more appealing to potential candidates and attract stronger talent. One of the ways you can do this is by leveraging automation/tech as a perk.
Makes advisory easier
Highlights your firm as future-focused
Opens opportunities for professional development, making the employee more well-rounded and engaged in the industry
Offering a tech solution isn’t the only way you can promote the tools, resources, and benefits that come with the role you’re hiring for. But in an industry that’s losing talent because of boredom and menial tasks that should be automated, a focus on technology for efficiency’s sake is worth a lot to job seekers.
Declaring that you’re adding advisory to your menu of services isn’t enough. You must have a plan in place to back your new business approach. In the early stages, you’ll want to make sure you have all your bookkeeping and reporting covered so that everyone on the team knows what tasks they’re responsible for and nothing slips through the cracks.
Another tip many firms find helpful: as you begin the process of moving current clients to CAS, save all of the advisory work for your dream team, including creating and committing to a sales strategy. Your team will be far more successful if you incorporate their ideas into the planning and preparation process, and the odds are good that you chose them because of their ability to complete tasks exactly like this.
This also ties back into the mission to keep your team engaged. Nothing motivates and engages an employee more than seeing their hard work or a plan they created become a driving force in the success of the firm.
There’s a caveat, however: don’t promise the moon and deliver a little wheel of cheese. And by that we mean keep your promises realistic and attainable. A worst-case scenario in this situation is promising your accountants fulfilling work by helping businesses grow and then delegating them to QuickBooks for tax and audit work because your processes prevent them from the higher-value tasks they excel at and enjoy. This is a great way to disengage your employees, lose their trust, and prompt their search for a new job.
Improving team engagement is key to building a dream CAS practice, and it starts by making the right hires, building trusting relationships, and teambuilding. You can hire the right team members by creating an ideal candidate persona and finding, attracting, and testing candidates on their knowledge and skill sets.
Then, once your team is created and you’re confident they can carry out the tasks required to provide excellent advisory services, it’s your job to fulfill your promises and support the team so they can succeed. This starts with creating a plan and ensuring there are people to cover your firm’s other services like bookkeeping and reporting.
Getting started with creating your CAS dream team might be an overwhelming task to think about, but it’s just like anything else—break the challenge down into smaller tasks. Follow the steps in this guide and invest in the right resources to set your firm up for success, and that’s exactly what you’ll get.