Keep the best and brightest

BY YASMINE EL-RAMLY, CPA/CITP

The AICPA’s Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) recently completed a national survey about the attitudes and aspirations of the most promising young accounting professionals. The 2011 PCPS Top Talent Study (available at tinyurl.com/6tygubv) suggests how firms of all sizes can hang on to top talent.

  Foster a culture of trust and open access to management. The survey reported decreased trust in firm leadership among 40% of high-potential CPAs. This might indicate that firm leaders did not communicate well during the recession and failed to adequately explain key decisions. To foster better communication, firm leaders should maintain a true opendoor policy for employees. That’s easier at small firms, where the hierarchy is more informal, allowing for continual interaction between staff and firm leaders. At firms with more than 10 employees, management should hold face-to-face meetings with high potentials at least once a year.

  Make work/life balance a firm priority. The brightest young CPAs are much more focused on successfully integrating their professional and personal lives than their predecessors were. High-potential CPAs rank flexible work schedules (77.5%) and telecommuting (63.1%) as the top priorities in maintaining work/life balance. Firms also should monitor work hours and travel time to make sure future leaders aren’t burning out. Regardless of size, firms should encourage staff to take vacations and address family matters when needed.

  Provide a competitive compensation package. Salary is the top factor in retaining high-potential CPAs and the second most important factor in attracting them, the survey found. That’s to the advantage of large firms (those with at least 21 employees), which usually can pay higher wages than smaller firms. Young talent also highly values retirement plans.

  Transform each engagement into a training opportunity. Involve top young talent from start to finish, ensuring they grasp the breadth and complexity of each engagement. Smaller firms can assign only limited resources to each engagement, allowing high potentials greater access to key individuals. However, larger firms can offer unique training opportunities by exposing most promising young talent to a broader portfolio of clients in multiple industries. This is important because career development ranks as the top attraction factor and No. 2 retention factor for high potentials.

  Implement diversity initiatives for women and minorities. Such programs can have a substantial effect on attracting and retaining women and minorities by enhancing their sense of belonging and recognition. The survey found that nonwhite respondents are particularly interested in tuition reimbursement, sabbatical leave, firmwide diversity initiatives, equity incentives and a mentoring program, formal or informal. Nonwhites are 97% more likely than whites to stay at an employer with a firmwide diversity program and are 102% more likely to stay with a firm that offers tuition reimbursement.

  Identify emerging partners as early as possible. With career growth high on the high potentials’ priority list, it is important to establish a career road map with top talent. This can help them enhance leadership and business development skills. Emerging partners should be exposed to client retention and client development meetings. They also should participate in networking activities, speaking engagements and business proposals involving the acquisition of new clients. This can be best achieved by pairing an emerging partner with an experienced partner.

—By Yasmine El-Ramly, CPA/CITP, ( yelramly@aicpa.org ), a project manager with the AICPA’s Private Companies Practice Section in Durham, N.C.

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