Today, there is a tremendous amount of focus on what tax and accounting firms have to do to recruit top talent. While that’s important, so is retaining the staff you have. Too many firms learn this lesson the hard way when valued, experienced professionals quit to work for a competitor, or leave the profession altogether.
If it seems as if the profession has been talking about this need for many years … well, it has – and the discussion picked up recently, as firms are implementing new policies to attract new hires. In addition to raising salaries, some firms eliminated mandatory Saturdays during busy season, others changed dress codes to allow staff to wear jeans nearly every day and even a few have implemented unlimited vacation time. These are all enticing benefits for sure, but there is one more thing you could do that will help make employees happy and grow your firm: communicate!
Open the Lines of Communication
During a conversation I had with a soon-to-be retiring partner at a firm, he shared the work he’s been doing over the course of a year to transition client relationships. He was working closely with other partners to ensure these clients would stay with the firm long past his departure. Yet, that’s not what the staff thought. Discussion around the figurative water cooler was that with one partner retiring this year and another next year, the firm was going to implode. It wasn’t that the firm was going to sell or be acquired, but that one day the staff would walk in to find an “out of business” sign on the door.
In the absence of communication, people make up their own stories. Most often, these stories are worse than any reality. In this instance, the story the staff was sharing couldn’t have been further from the truth, but it perfectly illustrates why you need to focus on internal communications as much as external communications.
Worse yet, these team members were probably not invested in the firm and what the firm was looking to accomplish. That would be hard when you believe you’re working for a failing company.
Communication Drives Growth
The need for solid internal communications is of increased focus to Ohio-based Rea & Associates. To bring out the best in team members and better engage them, the firm hired an internal communications specialist to facilitate two-way communication between the leadership and staff.
“Internal communication has a direct impact on employee engagement, which has a direct impact on your firm’s revenue, client satisfaction and the bottom line,” said Becca Davis, director of practice growth and a member of the Association for Accounting Marketing board of directors.
- Seven out of 10 people are disengaged at work.
- Companies lose between 20 and 25 percent of revenue each year to disengaged employees.
- Sixty-eight percent of employees experience difficulty communicating between team members.
- Communication inefficiency can waste 40 percent of the work week.
- Companies with an engaged workforce are 22 percent more profitable with more satisfied customers.
To a $40 million firm such as Rea & Associates that uses QuickBooks® Online Accountant, all these numbers translate into a potential loss of $8.5 million in revenue each year, due to lack of employee engagement.
“We found that the single driver of employee engagement is the strength of communication between employers and supervisors,” said Davis. “To see an impact, communication must go from the top down, bottom up and across different groups within the firm.”
By listening to internal conversations in the firm, you are able to see what’s important to staff, where there is inaccurate information and what your team would like to know more about. You can then shape the message you need to deliver and determine who the best person is to share it, when it should be delivered and the form that the communication should take.
Take Responsibility for Communications
An internal communications position is too much for many firms to take on, and perhaps more than most firms need, but that doesn’t change the fact that you need to focus on improving internal communications as a staff retention and growth strategy.
Your internal marketing team can talk to staff to learn what they’d like to hear more about and from whom. Then, develop a list of messages you need to deliver. Set a frequency to the communication and assign responsibility to someone so this doesn’t fall through the cracks. If you don’t have a marketing person, firm leadership can take on this exercise itself, or consider outsourcing the communication strategy development.
“The key is to start somewhere,” said Davis. “If you can open the line of communications in all directions, you’ll be helping to create more engaged employees, more satisfied clients and a more profitable firm.”
Informed and Engaged Employees Don’t Leave
Staff turnover is challenging. It leaves you with a huge hole to fill with few qualified people to fill it. According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, the cost to replace an experienced employee can be as much as 150 percent of the employee’s annual salary. The headache that results from an employee’s departure is real and severe.
If you communicate openly with employees, they will be more engaged, and when your employees are engaged in their work and are interested in what the organization is doing, they wouldn’t think of quitting their jobs.