How to fight the war for talent

 Accounting Today editor-in-chief Daniel Hood recently published the well-stated opinion piece “Stop Fighting the War on Talent.”

He wrote on how the leaders of accounting firms must give their younger employees what they want – more feedback, more mentoring, more manager involvement, more flexibility and more empowerment. He said this will pay off dividends in better staff and a stronger firm.

I couldn’t agree more with all those points

Further, it’s true that most of the Baby Boomer leaders of today’s accounting firms didn’t get that type of training themselves. It just wasn’t “a thing” when they came up, so subsequently it “isn’t fair” that it’s wanted or expected by Millennials and Generation Z. But as Hood says, just because it isn’t fair doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do it.

It’s easy to see today’s world is not the same one many firm partners trained in. With globalization, automation and the overload of choices and information business owners face today, accounting is moving from a transactional profession to the more amorphous world of consulting and trusted business advising. This requires a different firm culture and a different skill set at a younger age. We’re talking more strategy, analysis and leadership, and less validation, data management and task-oriented processes.

Frankly, if you don’t get on board now — you will have no firm to worry about in the future.

But we recognize this is a mighty shift. If you are one of the leaders of these firms – where do you start?

Take advice from the sage Robert Matthew Van Winkle (aka Vanilla Ice): Stop, collaborate and listen. Then critique. Evaluate and forgive yourself along the way.


Make the effort to schedule a time on your calendar to meet with your staff.


Then this is hard part … really listen to what they have to say. Often, this young generation will tell you exactly what they need to succeed. You just need to ask! Don’t make assumptions based on only your experience. Be open to trying something a different way.


Think about how your staff is currently trained. Do they know what it takes to be partner someday? Do they know how to properly run a client meeting? Do they know what skills they need to advance? Has anyone ever written this down for them? Often, new employees don’t know what you want them to do when you say, “you need to improve your leadership skills.”

Instead of just telling, show them what you mean. Define the types of leadership skills you want to see by talking about the actions a good leader takes. This can apply to any type of hard-to-define soft skill like communicating, running a meeting or bringing in new clients. If you don’t know how to define these skills, look for a resource that can help you do it.

True collaboration takes a willingness to admit you don’t have all of the answers – a scary proposition for some leaders. Have you ever noticed that if you share a little more about yourself, the person you’re talking to is more willing to share something as well? That dynamic also works when trying to solve a problem. If you’re implementing a culture change at your firm, it will take everyone working together. Don’t be afraid to ask your staff how they think this change is going. Reach out to other CPA peers and ask them what changes they are making in their firms. And if you receive negative feedback, treat it as useful input or data and try not to take it personally. With practice, it’s possible!


When I say “critique,” I picture an art school roundtable in my head – where you take a piece of work and look at it objectively, offering feedback because you want this person to be successful. This is different from being critical and speaking negatively to someone because you want them to know they are wrong. The more successful your employees are, the more successful you are. Critiquing is primarily about showing a way to a new solution. Bonus — your younger employees asking for feedback are begging for this type of input. Want to create valuable employees who will stick around? Make them feel a part of something by truly contributing to their career development with your years of expertise.


This is going to be hard but valuable. It takes time. When you participate in a cycle of collaboration and critique, you’ll know what’s working and what isn’t. Change the things that aren’t working and keep the things that are. No one is saying you have to get it perfect the first time.


Change is one of the hardest thing we can do. And we don’t want you to go it alone. That’s why we’ve developed the CPA Excellence Quick Start Guide with practical charts, templates and examples to keep your talented staff. Download a sample of our CPA core competency (soft skill) descriptors, which lay out exactly what it means to be a good critical thinker at different stages in your career. Six other core competencies are included in the book.

Give them something to aspire to – excellence.

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