How to Manage Employees for Retention and Productivity

Practice Management millennials in a tax and accounting firm

If effective management had to be boiled down to just one factor, it would be to have good employees. However, one small caveat: An employer and management team cannot get in the way of good employees doing good things, a simple but all too elusive endeavor.

If a tax firm or any kind of business wants to hire and retain good employees, the first thing it must do is to define what a good employee is within the scope of the business. What constitutes a good employee can be organized into two groups. The first group is comprised of desirable employee characteristics that are not business specific. The second group is comprised of employee characteristics necessary for the particular business. Since the second group can vary from firm to firm with regard to niche, services offered and other factors, I’ll leave it to you to identify this based on your own needs. I’ll focus on the first group in this article.

What to Look for in an Employee

Here is a list of employee characteristics desirable for any business. A good employee has the following:

  • Initiative: They should be self-starters and willing to seize initiative when appropriate.
  • Organization/prioritization: They need the skills to prioritize and organize to effectively and efficiently perform their tasks.
  • Social skills: They must appropriately and positively engage in interpersonal interactions, including the ability to effectively communicate with others and accept constructive criticism.
  • Pride: They take pride in themselves and their work product. They also must have a desire to achieve their best because it is a reflection on them, not because it is mandated by their employer.
  • Honesty/integrity: They must be honest with their employer and themselves, with a developed moral and ethical compass as the foundation of their decision-making process.

Where to Find the Talent

How to find your next great employee? There are many ways to cast the net to assemble candidates, including through online classifieds, recruiting services and word-of-mouth, just to name a few. However, one thing true with any method of assembly is that you must succinctly describe the job and any qualifications. If the description is too broad, you will capture too many unqualified prospects; if too narrow, you will miss the diamond among the rubble.

If you are looking for an employee where minimum experience is required, be careful not to overuse jargon in your job description. Just because a candidate is not familiar with the jargon does not mean they would not be a good employee. In addition, indicating that certain skills are desirable when they are not required can quash good potential candidates from applying. If the skill is not required, don’t include it in the initial job description.

At the end of the day, the objective is to meet candidates for prospective employment, and it is only through direct communication that you can reasonably assess their character. Realize that overdependence on resumes and third-party vetting will never get to the heart of what is important: the candidate’s character. If possible, candidates should be initially culled based only on actual job requirements, instead of assumptions of their character gleaned from resumes, questionnaires and surveys. Assessing character is subjective, not objective, and is the most important quality that must be vetted. It is better to hire an inexperienced good employee and train them than it is to hire someone experienced who lacks good character.

Onboarding Your Employee

Training a good employee should be as easy as soaking up water with a sponge, and care must be taken not to frustrate the learning process. Remember that they want to learn, please you and achieve because that is who they are.

As I said earlier, the employer and management team should not get in the way of a good employee. Here are three things to remember when you train:

  1. Appropriateness: The level of training must be consistent with the knowledge of the employee. It must also be scaled to the employee’s ability to comprehend and retain.
  2. Clarity: The relationship between the training and the job requirements must be clear. The employer must communicate what is expected, including the policies and procedures the employee is expected to follow.
  3. Consistency: Training must be consistent with the way the business actually works. Don’t teach employees a way of doing something that is incongruent to the way the business operates.

We’re Only Human

In order to retain good employees for the long term, you must realize that people make mistakes. They aren’t perfect. If an employee makes a mistake, the first question should be, “Was the employee asked to perform a task beyond their ability?” If so, then you are responsible for the mistake. Next, ask, “Was the employee put in a position to exercise judgment outside the scope of their articulated position or ability?” Again, if the answer is yes, this was your mistake, and if the mistake was properly assigned to your employee, the response should not be punitive. Instead, it should focus on the corrective steps to assure the mistake will not be replicated.

Remember that a mistake is not necessarily a reflection of the quality of the employee. Usually, the employee only needs further training or a reduction in the scope of their job. It is your responsibility to maintain a work environment that will promote the positive employee characteristics you desire. In a caustic work environment, a good employee will quit or become non-productive. An eagle needs the proper environment to soar. You found the eagle; now protect its environment.

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