We talk about businesses being teams, but it's rare that I meet an owner of a CPA business who really trusts every member of his or her "team" to do what they should do, all the time, whether the "boss" is in the office or not.
Sports teams can't work that way. When the members of any athletic team are focusing on their individual tasks, they have to trust that their teammates will do their jobs, too. If the pitcher is busy supervising the outfielders, he can't do his job. In order to be able to focus on your job as leadership, then, you need to have staff you trust.
You want staff that you feel confident interacting with your clients if you are going to create a successful CPA practice. So they have to be top notch, both technically and from a customer service standpoint. I will often receive comments from my clients about how wonderful my staff is and in this article, I will impart to you a few of my strategies that have worked well in my CPA practice when it comes to staff recruiting and retaining.
1) The first one is to design an ad that clearly articulates the type of team member that will best fit your organization. In this ad, describe the character and attitude of the person. The important thing to keep in mind is to hire for attitude and train for skills. When I meet with a candidate, I follow a list of questions I've created that gives me visibility into their personality and their way of thinking. I talk to a lot of CPAs and I find that they haven't prepared adequately to do the interview so they are flying by the seats of their pants during the interview. You want to be so prepared that you are not fumbling for questions; instead you are engaging the prospective candidate to understand their attitude.
2) Hire slow, fire fast. I have been guilty of breaking this rule more times than I am proud to admit but its good advice that I came across a number of years back. Most business owners fire slow.
They think it will get better. I read one study that said that the average firings take somewhere between 6 and 18 months after the business owner knew the employee was performing poorly, consistently non-compliant and negatively affecting others. A lot of harm is done in this period of time due to not firing the poor performing employee faster.
Along the lines of my advice to CPA practitioners to fire fast, I encourage them to hire slow. Have a second person interview the candidate. Don't rush the hiring process. Check references by asking probing questions and LISTEN. CPAs can be poor listeners.
3) The other one is; don't expect what you don't inspect. Have weekly meetings to go over work duties and assignments. I have systematized my office where I now work three days per week. On one of the days that I come in, I spend half a day for staff meetings and go over administrative matters. I meet with my CPA and my Senior Manager to make sure the work is being produced within the pre-established standards.
Also, and this is important, keep your eyes and ears open when are there. Listen to the way your staff members talk to clients. I also like "mystery shopping." What that means is you have someone call the office pretending to be a prospective client. Hear how this person is being handled. I can guarantee you that you will not be happy with the way they are handled. It's your job to identify what needs to improve and to provide the necessary training.
4) Celebrate small victories. Reward staff for being on your team and helping you to take your practice to the next level. When the staff goes the extra mile, I will publicly praise them....sometimes send them something to their home like a fruit basket. We celebrate birthdays, and we have two parties every year, one after tax season and one during the holiday time. You want to have fun and I see that running a successful CPA practice is a team effort to give the client the "ultimate" experience.
Follow the strategies I have identified in the article and you will see your CPA practice attaining new levels.