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Retention

HUMAN RESOURCES 

The Retention Riddle: What Does It Take to Keep Your People?

BY NATALIE ROONEY

How can the accounting profession encourage its best and brightest talent to stay when so many other options exist today?

ince April 2021, more than 19 million U.S. workers have quit their jobs – a record pace. According to a September 2021 global study by McKinsey & Company, 53 percent of employers

say they’re experiencing greater voluntary turnover than in previous years, and 64 percent expect the problem to continue or worsen over the next six months. In fact, 40 percent of employees say they’re at least somewhat likely to quit in the next three to six months.

Why should you care about employee retention instead of just letting them go? First and foremost, it’s expensive. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), it costs an average of six to nine months’ salary to replace a worker.

COCPA Chair Angela Roberts, CPA, managing director of Aclivity, sees firsthand how much money employee departures cost employ- ers. First, there’s the time it takes for a new hire to get up to speed and produce at the same level as current employees. Additionally, employers also likely are overworking their other people during a job search. Clients may not have anyone to contact. “That burden costs reputation, time, and money,” she says. “There is an additional risk when the other people start to think about leaving.”

WHAT DO THEY REALLY WANT?

It’s not always about the money. “Money is enticing, but when you ask young professionals why they’re leaving, it’s about their time,” Roberts says. “This newest generation is plugged in all day, and they don’t want to work overtime or around the clock because they don’t see the benefit or value in it. They have hobbies. They have side hustles. They don’t believe their career is the only way to make money. They are smart and can do different things.”

So, beyond money, what do today’s young professionals want? A remote work option. “No one wants to work 10 to 15 hour days; they don’t even want to come into the office two days a week,” Roberts says. “They want the flexibility to live in different cities or even countries. People want to enjoy their jobs and their hobbies.”

According to Upwork’s Future Workforce Report 2021, nearly 28 percent of respondents are expected to be fully remote in the next five years. That increased from 22.9 percent in November 2020.

Roberts says she still hears that people want to believe in a company’s mission. “They want to know what you are doing, how you are doing it, and that yours is a company they can stand behind,” she emphasizes.

HOW ORGANIZATIONS ARE FLEXING

To address employees’ interest in working in a flexible workstyle, BDO introduced BDO Flex more than a decade ago. Partner Erin Breit, CPA, says the program has formally evolved through discussions from the national level down through the local offices. “The workstyle and strategy encompass everything,” she explains.

BDO Flex addresses not only part-time employees who have different hours but also where employees want to work. “We trust our employees to get all our work finished. We prioritize outcomes rather than where or when they’re working,” Breit says. “We train

our teams to communicate to let everybody do what they need to do to have a good work + life fit.”

Local offices can make changes as needed, as can individual teams like audit and tax. “They just have to communicate their needs, when and where they’ll be working, and put a plan together,” Breit says. “We encourage robust, open communication. It allows team members to prioritize their work outcomes over the hours they’re putting in and where they’re working. It leads to a less stressful work environment. Being able to do everything in your life that you enjoy outside of work while still having a career is important.”

CREATING A SUSTAINABLE EXPERIENCE

Doug Slaybaugh, CPA, CGMA, PCC, CPCC, founder of The CPA Coach, says evening out what he calls the pendulum of public accounting is key to attracting and retaining good people. “Firms swing hard in the direction of the moment,” he explains. “You have an opportunity to create sustainability in the middle. What can you proactively do for the good of your people to create a place that lands the pendulum in a viable and intentional state?”

Last September, Slaybaugh wrote a LinkedIn blog post: A public accounting experience to stay for. It was actually written for a mentor and public accounting firm partner to offer ideas to help create a better experience for firms and their people.

One idea came from the automotive industry: Toyota is famously known for asking “why” five times to uncover the cause and effect of a concern. Slaybaugh recommends asking your team five “what” questions to better understand their circumstances and the roots of their concerns. He provided some examples: What is on your mind? What would be better? What more can you tell me? What else?

“‘Why’ creates a position of defensiveness,” Slaybaugh explains. “Why did you do that? Why did you think that? So much more is possible with ‘what.’ It doesn’t imply judgment and allows your team to do the thinking. It leaves a wide berth to be curious. By asking those ‘what’ questions and really digging in, you can move from general and conversational to specific and impactful.”

JOB CRAFTING FOR RETENTION

Slaybaugh says people often leave jobs without ever asking for what they really want or knowing what they could have had from the current employer. Job crafting can help prevent that from happening. It involves three components:

Task Crafting: Changing up responsibilities. Changing the nature of certain responsibilities or dedicating different amounts of time to what you currently do.

Relationship Crafting: Changing up interactions. Changing up who we work with on different tasks, who we communicate and engage with regularly.

Cognitive Crafting: Changing up your mindset. By changing perspective on what we’re doing, we can find or create more meaning about what might otherwise be seen as ‘busy work.’ Sweeping floors at a hospital might sound like it isn’t fun and is just dirty work, but someone sweeping the floors might also love the job because it helps save lives by keeping a clean room and environment for patients to recover.

“You can job craft a better reason to be doing what you’re doing,” Slaybaugh says. “It’s a process to go through these retention steps, and it’s usually skipped. You find out in an exit interview when you hear things like: ‘If only you’d given me more challenging tasks, a different team, or a different manager, or if I understood the impact of my work.’ But by then, it’s too late.”

Slaybaugh recommends conducting stay interviews with your team. A stay interview is an exit interview designed to happen before some- one quits. “Ask the tough questions. Ask what would make the job better? What would make you leave? Have you thought about leaving? What can we do to improve? Find out what’s going on and then use job crafting to better align with the employee’s expectations.”

Roberts says stay interviews also can be helpful to determine if a potential move is simply about money. “If it is about money, pay it,” she asserts. “If you don’t, you’ll just end up paying a recruiter a

percentage of the new base salary to find someone else. If you think someone is at risk of looking for a new position, have the conversation and make the investment.”

THE THREE BIGGEST THINGS

Slaybaugh says firms are reacting to these circumstances in three major ways:

  • Cash remains Whether it’s end of season bonuses, bigger raises or spot bonuses, money usually talks.
  • More time This could be PTO, an extra day off, or just more time off in general.
  • Some form of hybrid flexible working arrangement in some or all

He believes what really can have an impact on the profession and its people is better conversations, especially around the public accounting experience and well-being. Slaybaugh says accounting leaders know how to be mentors, but the soft skills needed to get in touch with what’s important to their teams might not be in their playbook. He suggests training to build those skills. “Because of our problem-solving reflex as CPAs, we don’t go deep enough,” he observes. “What we really need to do is listen, create situations for people to be heard, and ask the right questions so we can gain a better under- standing of what’s going on.”

People often leave jobs without ever asking for what they really want or knowing what they could have had.

Ultimately, Slaybaugh suggests opening your mind to all possibilities for retention. “Don’t be so worried about finding the right answer,” he encourages. “Be creative! Seek options that are original, personal, or aren’t typically offered. Do something that grabs the attention of your people or that you hadn’t thought possible.”

THE EMPLOYEE WISH LIST

Every time Roberts works with a candidate, she asks what he or she would like from the next job or employer. These direct quotes from candidates are enlightening:

  • Work life balance is very important to me. I would love to work at a company that doesn’t just parrot that it promotes/encourages work life balance. I would like to work where people at all levels of the company live it. I understand that accounting/tax is dead- line driven, and there will be weeks throughout the year where I will be required to work more hours than usual. However, I don’t want to work somewhere if this is the case all year. I don’t want to feel I constantly have to put out fires.
  • I want an employer who invests resources in employees and wants to see them grow within the Ideally, I will be at the next company for years. I am not interested in job hopping. Good/healthy company culture where management/higher ups want to see employees grow with the company and help to facilitate that. I would like my employer to support my efforts to learn and improve by offering in depth training/training opportunities, goal setting, regular feedback, and skill building.
  • I see myself working in a mid-size to large company. I am not interested in working in public accounting. Any industry is fine if it is stable and has good long-term potential. I want to work at a company that has a sustainable business and can provide growth for its employees.
  • I am not picky about my job title as long as the company I work for, and the job, meet the other items on my list.
  • With the world being so volatile (which I don’t anticipate changing anytime soon), I would like to work for a company that is financially healthy/stable and in an industry that has long-term potential. I want to feel confident that the company I work for – and my role – is secure and that I have job security (assuming that I am a dedicated, hard worker and high performer in my role, which I am confident I will be no matter where I work).
  • I am open to working in office, hybrid, and/or I would prefer that if the job requires employees to be in office it will be within walking distance from where I live or conveniently accessible via public transit. I am open to job opportunities that are outside of Denver and Colorado if they are remote and/or if they only require in-office work (i.e., travel to their office/head- quarters for big meetings and/or projects) sporadically throughout the entire year.
  • A company that has systems, processes in place, and provides to its employees the resources to do the job. I don’t want to be put- ting out fires every day.

“This generation is telling us, ‘I’m here, and I’m smart enough,’ so let’s figure out ways to do things better,” Roberts says. “Telling them we’ve always done something a certain way won’t fly. They have ideas for new ways of doing things and can contribute. We gave this generation a seat at the table when they were being reared, so they’ve always had a voice. Now, they expect it when they go to work. If you don’t listen, they feel disrespected and walk away.”

WHAT’S AT RISK?

What’s at risk if organizations don’t change how they think about retention?

“The profession as a whole is at risk,” Slaybaugh cautions. He points to an English study that revealed people consider accounting the second most boring profession. The most recent AICPA Trends report shows accounting firms continue to hire more non-accounting graduates as work continues to be realigned, outsourced, or replaced by technology. “That’s all fine unless we’re not creating other opportunities for accountants,” he says. “Think of it like a movie. How do we get people in seats? We put out something people want to see. If we’re not going to do that, we’ll lose them. The experience itself is where it’s at – creating the best experience for accountants.”

TRUST YOUR PEOPLE

Above all, Breit says trust your employees to do their work. “Most organizations can have some version of a flex work environment where the priority is completing quality work by the deadline,” she says. “If you’re in management, it boils down to trust. Without it, the flex work arrangements won’t go well because you’ll always question what people are doing.”

Breit says she cannot emphasize enough the importance of communication between team members and establishing clear guidelines and expectations. To that end, several years ago, BDO’s Denver office hired an outside consultant to provide communication training. “That served as our foundation,” Breit says. “Trusting your employees helps with motivation and achieving the outcomes you want. Management, trust your people!”

News Account  |  Summer 2022

 

Chair Column

CHAIR COLUMN

The Importance of Leadership

BY ANGELA ROBERTS, CPA

In May, I attended my first AICPA Spring Council as COCPA Chair. Net- working and exchanging ideas with our profession’s leaders from all over the country reminded me how important leadership is not only

to make sure we’re growing our profession’s future leaders but also for us as current leaders to continue to evolve on our own leadership path.

Last year, I had the opportunity to connect with COCPA’s future leaders through a virtual four-course series. We focused on four key areas:

Leadership and environment: We discussed and defined what leadership means to each of us, evaluated where we are on our journeys, and determined our personal paths to becoming the most successful and effective leaders we can be.

Power of choice and collaboration: We learned the process of defining success, building a collective roadmap, and achieving the desired outcome whether you are working one-on-one or with a team.

Trust and credibility: We discussed the details of building and maintaining trust – day in and day out.

Effective resolution: Having a difficult conversation can maintain or foster a better relationship – and even build trust. We learned detailed guidelines and a process to help prepare for these types of conversations.

CONTINUING TO EVOLVE AS LEADERS

Becoming a leader is a life-long process. I see this every day in the candidates I interview and in my own personal and professional life. It takes time to learn and navigate the path to being effective. We can continue to build our own leadership qualities and skills, but we need to take definitive action to make it happen. Some ideas:

Identify your motivation. Before you can grow as a leader, you must know the “why” behind your drive.

Identify your flaws. Everyone has flaws, but when you understand your own you can embrace all of who you are. Maybe you need to listen more, show more empathy, or even share your flaws with others and lead by example.

Learn from your failures. Growing as a leader means developing the ability and willingness to have your failures shape you. Failure is instructive; it allows you as a leader to learn.

Appreciate feedback. View all feedback as a gift and an opportunity to develop. The best leaders realize feedback helps them improve so they can do better.

Listen to those with more experience. Even leaders can find someone with more experience. When you connect with more senior leaders, they can teach you to listen when you want to speak, to stop and think when you want to react, to keep trying when you want to quit.

Invest in yourself. Create an environment in which you can invest in yourself so you can be at your best. Make time to read; surround yourself with smart people and experts.

A BRIGHT FUTURE

As I interact with our profession’s up and coming leaders, I’m excited. These younger professionals are smart, enthusiastic, and ready to learn. Let’s continue to share our journeys with them and welcome what they’re bringing to the table. We all can grow together and lead this profession into the future.

Email Angela Roberts at angela@aclivity.com.

A New Chair

Meet Your New COCPA Chair

Angela Roberts, CPA

BY NATALIE ROONEY

We officially welcome Angela Roberts, CPA, Managing Director of Aclivity, to her new role as COCPA Chair.

After building her career in public accounting and the private sector as a CFO, Angela founded Aclivity, a Denver-based executive recruiting, staffing, and consulting firm designed to help build great teams and support individuals in their career goals with a particular focus on account- ing and finance professionals. Here, she shares her journey thus far, what she loves about the accounting profession, and what she is looking forward to as COCPA chair. Welcome, Angela!

HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE A CAREER IN ACCOUNTING AND TO BECOME A CPA?

I grew up on the south side of Denver and attended Littleton Public Schools. My father did not support my college aspirations, yet I had dreams for a future that would make a difference and a desire to learn. I found work as a full-time receptionist, enrolled in community college night classes, and obtained a paralegal certificate to pursue a career in law. My first position was with Blinder Robinson’s underwriting attorney team, collaborating closely with the firm’s accountants. I soon realized I fit in better with the CPAs than the JDs of the world, so I decided to go back to school to pursue a degree in accounting.

Along the way I got married and followed my Marine husband to North Carolina, continuing my education during his Desert Storm deployment. Life took an unexpected detour, and I found myself a single parent of my 18-month-old daughter. I returned to Colorado to be close to family for support and enrolled in the University of Colorado Denver’s accounting program as a non-traditional student. I continued to work fulltime making progress on my goals and moving closer to my dreams.

My amazing mother was my saving grace and in my corner the entire time. I am eternally grateful for her love and support. May every individual have that one person in her or his life who is the believer in your dreams and supports you along the journey.

After graduating from CU Denver, I started my CPA career with Deloitte in audit, later progressing to a controller position. But I missed the fast pace of public accounting. I joined the consulting division at Arthur Andersen, and later became CFO for The Magness Company. Those nine years were packed with incredible growth opportunities, in a demanding, and at times,

exhausting environment. In February 2002, I decided to shift my priorities and stay home with my new son and young daughter for some much needed family focus.

I want to share with our members and speaking from firsthand experience, you can take time off to focus on family, and it will not harm your career. I guarantee the reporting standards will still be there, and the market does respect your decision.

WHAT CHANGED IN YOUR CAREER TRAJECTORY THAT EVENTUALLY LED YOU TO FOUND ACLIVITY?

I was presented with an opportunity to join a Deloitte spin-off called Resources Global Professionals, RGP, as a Client Services Director providing high end staffing services. I remember reaching out to Mary Medley and asking her thoughts on the potential significant change to my career path. Mary said, “Angela, CPAs need someone like you to represent them, and I believe you are perfect for that position.” Hearing her words of confidence in me,

I took the position. I will be honest; I chased my tail a bit as I learned the field of business development. This critical skill for CPAs is often expected, but we are not trained for it. I was determined and was not going to let my colleagues or myself down. As I progressed in my career, I was at the right place at the right time, and SOX was the big play. My network grew, my skills grew, and my career took a new trajectory.

I have been representing the CPA profession ever since. I love working with various subject matter experts, finding them projects, building teams, and connecting people. I have overseen all levels of employment from temporary staffing and contract-to-hire to permanent placement. I build great teams to meet the unique needs of each company and project, ensuring success for the clients and the individual goals.

In 2006, with the COCPA’s support, I founded and continue to chair the COCPA CFO and Controllers Roundtable, building a network

of incredible individuals and serving as a place where finance and accounting professionals can connect, exchange ideas, support, and learn from each other. We have held more than 120 roundtables focused on current industry topics affecting the day-to-day requirements we all face.

In 2009, I started my entrepreneurial journey right when the Great Recession hit. I named the company Aclivity (typically spelled Acclivity, meaning “to ascend”). At the time, I felt we had nowhere to go but up. I stayed with that vision – keep moving the profession up! I stayed true to my network and continued to connect people when they had lost their jobs. Many were open to trying something new, taking on special projects, or consulting for my clients. Many found themselves staying on permanently with those companies.

I was grateful to be able to help my colleagues in the field during a challenging time. Those same people support my recruiting and employment business today – what a blessing!

Aclivity is registered as a CPA firm, yet we do not provide assurance services. I stay actively involved in the CPA community. I continue to work with CU Denver, serve on the Accounting Advisory Council, and mentor young professionals every chance I get. I may not be on the ground closing books or preparing the financial reporting packages any longer, but I stay current on the standards to better serve and represent my clients. Being involved and understanding the field through CPE helps me to provide guidance and meet the goals of those who come to me looking for a new opportunity. I am passionate about our profession, supporting individual growth, and building great teams.

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACING THE PROFESSION? HOW WILL YOUR UNIQUE CAREER ARC BENEFIT THE MEMBERSHIP?

Without a doubt, the number one challenge we face is the professional supply chain, and by that, I mean the nationwide decline, not just for new CPAs, but also universities’ accounting enrollment numbers. Historically, earning the CPA credential has been encouraged by the profession and considered a respected credential for demonstrating knowledge and competence. According to the AICPA Trends Report published in 2019, projected Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D. accounting enrollments were down 4 percent, 6 percent, and 23 percent in 2018, and the number of new CPA exam candidates

hit a 10-year low. The 2022 report saw continuing downward trends. Maintaining the relevance of our credential is an issue we need to address collectively.

When people hear “CPA,” they tend to think of audit and/or tax. After speaking to over 20 individuals seeking a new position every week for the past 20 years, I have a pulse on our profession in a different capacity. CPAs have unlimited career path options. More than 50 percent of the CPAs I meet are not in either audit or tax. The CPA credential can elevate anyone professionally, and I like to share those stories and encourage young people to understand the value it offers them. The future of the profession is in the value we place on it, and we need to help people understand that value. We talk about thinking outside the box, and now is the time to start. This is not for the future of the organizations we work for, but for the future of our CPA profession.

I am excited to represent all CPAs – audit, tax, entrepreneurs, and every subject matter expert on their journey. I want to represent this great profession and encourage young professionals to pursue this valuable certification. I will be an active listener supporting membership and their ideas for the profession and our state CPA Society of the future.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT BEING A CPA?

It is a blessing to work with so many smart and interesting people. My colleagues are amazing, and their support of one another always impresses me. Our profession is consistently evolving, and the ability to pivot and change provides insight into the foundation of every business.

HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR LEISURE TIME?

I am a third-generation Colorado native and a Lifetime Girl Scout. I serve on the Girl Scouts of Colorado Board and am the current

Treasurer. Mentoring young women as they pursue their Gold Award is another way I am involved in Girl Scouts. Being outdoors is in

my blood; I grew up camping in the Rockies most weekends with my family. My husband, Mark Pougnet, a CPA and CA, and I have a blended family of four – three sons and one daughter who can hold her own. At this time, it seems only one of the kids will be following us into the finance space. Mark and I have spent the past 13 years traveling to more than 27 countries and 42 states. We always look forward to meeting new people and making lasting friendships. I am an avid reader, love to learn, and recently my mom gave me a drone. I always look forward to mastering something new, and it might just be the drone. My other loves are family first, yoga, kayaking, and of course people – sharing wine and a great meal with them, connecting people in my network, or having a good laugh. Cheers to this awesome profession!

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