How to develop and implement a powerful employer brand

By Jessica Hubbard

CPA firms and accounting leaders face a big recruiting and retention challenge thanks to the radical shift to remote and hybrid work and to what has been termed the Great Resignation. How can they attract and retain top accounting talent when the compact between employer and employee has fundamentally shifted?

Top accounting professionals are now demanding choices, including where and how to work, how to be compensated, and how to be supported in their professional growth. These factors are forcing firms of all sizes to reassess and ultimately bolster their reputation as an employer and what they offer employees.

At PwC, for instance, the firm is investing $2.4 billion into its My+ strategy, which Tim Ryan, CPA, US chair and senior partner at PwC has called the "biggest and boldest reimagination of our people experience." This employer brand strategy places the emphasis on flexibility, choice, and leadership development.

4 steps to establish a powerful employer brand

Developing and implementing a powerful employer brand requires more than just money. Here are some of the key steps for leaders to consider:

Ensure (and emphasize) differentiation. The first step is clarifying what differentiates you from your competitors, said James Ellis, author of Talent Chooses You and employer brand guide at Employer Brand Labs.

This clarification requires taking a closer look at your organization's core values, mission, and purpose and assessing what your most powerful differentiator is among your competitors.

"You can then highlight this difference and frame it in a certain way to appeal to a specific type of candidate," Ellis said. For example, are you a more entrepreneurial and less structured firm that is seeking to attract employees with an entrepreneurial, innovation-centered approach and background?

Once a firm has clarified its unique brand values and offering, the brand messaging and communication should be incorporated into every possible touchpoint — from the slide decks used in client presentations to advertising, email signatures, social media, and even how people answer phones.

"It is about taking the firm's differentiation and planting it everywhere the organization can, while aligning all activities around that single point," Ellis added.

Evaluate the firm's culture and offering proactively. Jen Wyne, executive director of human resources at Moss Adams LLP, said that at the core of today's workplace is an employer brand and strategy that "emphasizes choice."

To provide the choices that today's professionals are looking for, she said it's critical for firms to consistently evaluate their own culture and ask questions such as: What is it that they really offer for current and prospective employees?

By failing to proactively evaluate your offering, you're missing out on a tremendous opportunity — not just for recruitment and retention but also for the future growth of the firm. At Moss Adams LLP, the firm regularly uses tools such as pulse surveys and business resource groups to ascertain the employee experience and mood. A business resource group is a voluntary, employee-led group that is typically organized around a particular shared background, interest, or issue.

"A powerful and effective brand in today's workforce is a brand that's actively managed and evaluated, not allowing for complacency when it comes to the things that matter most to people," Wyne said. "Critical to success is to listen, then act on those findings. Success lies in seizing the opportunity to pivot and cultivate a strong, engaged workforce."

Gain the trust of your people. According to Kathryn Kaminsky, CPA, vice chair and trust solutions co-leader at PwC US, the most important component of a successful employer brand today is trust.

"Gaining and maintaining trust across stakeholder groups is critical for the success of all organizations, and this is especially true when it comes to talent attraction and retention," Kaminsky said. In her view, prospective and current employees want to work for organizations they trust, which means "to take care of their people, to do the right thing, and to follow through on their commitments."

In today's environment, these commitments should extend beyond providing compensation and benefits.

"People want to work with leaders who have earned their trust by caring about their personal and professional well-being," Kaminsky added. This requires leaders to prioritize the small but powerful acts of checking in on a colleague and remembering a major milestone in their personal lives.

"These are the everyday moments that matter and which ultimately go far in building trust between an employer and employees," she said.

Embrace a one-brand mentality. According to Ellis, the ultimate goal when crafting and implementing your employer brand is to embed what he called "a one-brand mentality." This means having a single and powerful brand for the firm that resonates across all divisions, whether it is communications, leadership, marketing, accounting, recruitment, etc.

"This one brand must consistently and seamlessly speak to all parts of the business," Ellis said. "This requires developing a culture in which the employer brand is the responsibility of every individual in the organization."

At Moss Adams LLP, a culture of brand ownership is cultivated from the outset by amplifying the firm's offering and culture during recruitment and onboarding.

"We emphasize all of our employer brand offerings and values throughout the recruiting and onboarding processes," Wyne explained. "Our career advisers help to keep them top of mind during twice-yearly review cycles, and we regularly use storytelling to show our employer value proposition in action."

As both employers and employees navigate a volatile and constantly shifting workplace, the most successful CPA firms will undoubtedly be those that provide a flexible, supportive, and inclusive employee experience. To provide this experience, clarifying and constantly reviewing the employer brand will be imperative.

Jessica Hubbard is a freelance writer based in South Africa. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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