Morrill, S. (2007, Feb) Current Accounts, published by the Georgia Society of CPAs



What Motivates Me Today May Not Tomorrow

Once upon a time employees worked for a paycheck, some health insurance and the promise of a nest egg for the golden retirement years.  But their kids heard stories about pension plans “gone bad,” and parents died months after leaving their jobs.

Motivation for deferred payment became less attractive.

Once upon a time employees worked for the American Dream – a loving marriage with two kids, a dog, and a house with a two-car garage in the suburbs.  The Dream turned into a race – “keeping up with the Joneses” that resulted in two-income families, daycare, and the world’s highest divorce rate.

Motivation to provide a better family relationship is again becoming important to more people.

Employers believe they only need to consider compensation as the reward for hard work. Employees have earned enough money to know that it does not always buy happiness.

Understand so you can apply the appropriate award

“You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” – it is the underlying principle to a barter economy, and it is the most common motivational factor for employees and volunteers.  I’ll work for you in return for a paycheck or perhaps for one of these reasons: recognition, self-improvement, power, approval, security, achievement, prestige, new experiences.

The common denominator is that regardless of what it is called, there is often an underlying direct benefit to the person doing the work.  While many of these motivations are easy to influence, they often reach a point of fulfillment thereby making the motivation moot.  If a worker loses motivation, his or her performance will suffer. Conversely, you can improve the performance of workers by restoring motivation.

How does this apply to the difficulty of recruiting and retaining professional staff into the accounting profession?  If some people are having success then they must be doing something right.  If you are not successful, is it because you are doing something wrong?

Recognize the challenge

Before you can find a solution you have to recognize the problem and understand its causes.  While it may seem obvious advice, research suggests that people who repeatedly do things badly are usually confident that they’re doing things well.  Be careful lest you think the problem really is not yours.

A recent interview with John Cameron, managing partner of Brigante, Cameron, Watters & Strong, LLP in Torrance, California, looked at a creative approach he has undertaken to solve challenges with recruiting and retaining employees.  His insight was immediately apparent.

“The biggest challenge we have is staffing – which includes both recruiting and retaining,” Cameron said. “Right now we have four generations in accounting.  To accommodate all their interests and objectives requires an understanding by all parties concerned, particularly the upper management, as to what the generations are looking for (their objectives and criteria) and meeting those in a business-like environment.”

“The younger generation may not work like the older generation,” he continued. “They’re seeing massive layoffs of their parents and the lack of loyalty in large companies.  They aren’t interested in long years of working before any success comes.”

“We have to work with them, or we don’t have anybody to work with.  It’s a matter of adapting within certain constraints.”

Find the right bait

There is no shortage of ideas about the type of bait needed to attract and retain employees.  If you need ideas, read or network with peers and ask for their thoughts. Another important resource is to ask employees.  Employee satisfaction surveys are used in all the best places to work.  Surveys are beneficial because productivity can be directly linked to employee satisfaction.

Employee exit surveys are also important.  After all, who is more likely to tell you about potential problems than an ex-employee?

While money is an important part of the formula, it is not the only bait in the repertoire of some of the best firms.  For Kennedy and Coe, LLC, a Top 100 firm in Salina, Kansas, a culture that values personal relationships is more important than increased compensation.

“The key to low turnover in our IT group is that we’re a pretty tight-knit team,” said Greg Davis, Principal and IT Director at Kennedy and Coe.  “We try to do a lot of team activities – group lunches or maybe take an afternoon off and play golf together or barbeque.  I think that people in our group could go to a bigger city and make more money.  But it is the people you work with that make a difference and keep you where you are at.”

Scott Heintzelman, a partner with McKonly & Asbury, LLP in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, agrees.

“We take culture seriously in our firm,” Heintzelman said. “Culture follows the example of the leadership at the top.  We have a great managing partner.  He is a man of great integrity, honestly, and caring, and he brings that to the table.”

“We have an awesome culture and we’ve been voted one of the best places to work in Pennsylvania for the last four years.  It’s unique for CPA firms this day and age, and it’s helped us with recruiting.”

Repeat the process

The final lesson to learn is that the process must be repeated on a yearly basis.  The process that rewards employees requires yearly maintenance.

“One of the key things is not doing it like it was done yesterday,” Cameron said. “The world is changing, and if you just take that one step, there are many steps to go.”

Recognize, bait and repeat

Many firms are finding solutions and you can too if you recognize the challenge, experiment to find the right bait, and make a commitment to the process.