There is no denying the frustration being felt by CPA firms and employers across the country when it comes to hiring accountants. In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated annual unemployment for people in business and financial operations occupations to be approximately 2.5%, making it all the more important that employers of accountants retain the ones they have. Yet employers sometimes neglect one very important key to retention: the onboarding of new hires.
An employee's first 90 days can be a precarious time. According to a study from BambooHR, one-third of approximately 1,000 respondents said they had quit a job within six months of starting it. Between 16% and 17% left between the first week and the third month of starting a new job.
It's important that employers recognize a common trait of nearly all new hires: They almost always experience a degree of uncertainty about their new position. It's also important to recognize the fact that your new hire most likely turned down another job (or possible counteroffer) to join your company. In this competitive market, your new hire is most likely still being recruited (and could be taking calls or even continuing to interview just to make sure he or she accepted the "right" position).
That's why, during the onboarding process, it's crucial that you successfully convey to new employees the strong investment you are making in them (and in turn the investment they are making in you). Here's how you can do that at each step of an employee's first 90 days:
0 days: Bridging between the offer and first day.
After the candidate has accepted your offer, do not let the next two weeks go by without making contact. The key to this time period is creating an impression of "people first": It's about relationship building, binding new hires to the team, and making them feel part of something.
I recommend the hiring manager reach out directly with a congratulatory message and a "welcome to the team" email. This is even more powerful when it includes an offer to have lunch or coffee in the time between the offer and the employee's start date. If time doesn't permit this, at least email information that can help new hires start learning about your organization and the tools they will be using.
30 days: Onboarding and establishing an emotional attachment.
Make sure the new hire's first days go smoothly. Starting a new job can be emotional, and employees need to see that what they were told in the interview was true.
In some cases, though, hiring managers may not be clear as to who will fulfill the onboarding role. They may mistakenly assume that all onboarding will be handled by human resources. This can lead to confusion and uncertainty on the part of the new employee. Don't let a breakdown in communication happen: Know your roles and who is responsible for what.
Have everything in order before the new hire walks through the door. A new employee's first day often includes a team lunch, paperwork, and getting acquainted with a new workspace. These are simple tasks that create a strong emotional attachment, which is why it is important to avoid oversights such as failing to have the computer set up or not having technical support on call.
Once you've set expectations for the position and the employee has developed a better understanding of the organization and its culture, make sure the employee is put on client engagements or given other assignments immediately. Even if the new hire is not fully up to speed, do not let him or her sit idle without work beyond the first week. Most employees want to be challenged and feel like a valued member of the team from the start. (In my experience, this is especially true of accountants.)
60 days: Continuing to learn and become independent.
You need to create a clear process for touching base with new employees and helping them set goals, even very early in their tenure. After all, this period is where you show your new employee that you are fully invested in his or her learning and development. Though this seems like common sense, it's something employers can often overlook given the multifaceted, fast-paced nature of their work. Smaller organizations that may not hire that often may also not have a formal onboarding process in place.
Here's one sequence I suggest: Over the first 30 days, managers should establish a cadence of weekly touch-base meetings with new hires. During the second and third months, these meetings can take place every other week as the employee starts to feel more settled in and has a better idea of what he or she is responsible for.
At the start of the employee's second month, the manager should schedule a formal 30-day review to provide feedback on expectations versus the actual work the employee has done, as well as identifying areas for development. The key takeaway from this meeting should be a strategy for the employee's success that includes goals, opportunities for continued growth and skill-building (including necessary training), and expectations pertaining to specific projects. This plan will act as a baseline the manager and employee can periodically review as a way of measuring success.
90 days: Being held accountable.
At the end of their third month, employees should be self-sustaining. While this is where the real accountability begins (because this is where the new hire starts making true impacts to the organization), it's often the easiest part of the onboarding process. Employees should continue focusing on growing relationships within their teams, broadening the projects they are working on, and focusing on bigger wins rather than shorter-term victories.
Employers can hold themselves and the new employee accountable by scheduling a formal 90-day review (the last official onboarding step) to ensure the employee is on track as measured against his or her goals, as well as to identify opportunities for continued growth and any additional resources that could help.
Though you may have assumed acquiring talent was the hardest part of the hiring process, the way you handle the onboarding process can separate your organization from others. Don't let the momentum you invested in the candidate experience slip away by failing to give onboarding the attention it deserves. The last thing you want to do is fail to keep the employee you just dedicated so much time and attention to hiring.
Troy Ashby, CPA, is founder and president of Benchmark Search, a Dallas-based firm specializing in direct hire recruiting, executive search, and temporary staffing for accounting and finance professionals. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.