Practical insights on talent attraction, development and retention.
The opportunity for small and medium sized practices to grow in today’s business environment is unprecedented. Digital transformation, in particular, is truly enabling smaller accountancy firms to reimagine the services they offer, but successful change is critically dependent on attracting, developing and retaining the right people.
ACCA and the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) have recently released a co-branded Careers in small medium-sized accountancy practices that provides a breadth of practical insights on talent attraction, development and retention within SMPs. The report is based on the findings of more than 60 interviews conducted with SMP experts from around the world.
Skills and attitudes fit for SMPs
In the interviews that we conducted, SMP leaders reconfirmed the importance of attitudes and skills set out in ACCA’s seven professional quotients.
The importance of adaptability and readiness to engage in continuous learning, openness to sharing and readiness to take responsibility during early career stages, and comfort with technology were recurrently underlined as key for a successful career in SMPs. Shared values are becoming increasingly important for both employers and employees working for small practices.
Building the recruitment brand
The recruitment brand is as important for SMPs as the client brand: key arguments for attracting talent to SMPs need to be clearly communicated. Branding fulfils a dual function: on the one hand, it is a way of attracting talent by promoting and differentiating the practice. On the other hand, it acts as a filter so that unsuitable candidates sift themselves out.
Alastair Barlow, a case study in the report and founder of London based SMP flinder, says:
‘Most firms work on marketing for the purpose of bringing in clients. But at the early stages, we realised the biggest challenge isn’t winning the clients – but bringing in the right people. Essentially, we said our key target is potential team members.
‘Recruitment was a challenge until the firm started marketing itself directly to candidates, exposing its working culture via social media channels, such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Youtube.’
SMPs have a compelling story to attract talent, and practice leaders are actively using social media both to convey their message to potential candidates and to engage them in a dialogue. We suggest 10 clearly formulated key areas for talent attraction that can be used by practice leaders building their recruitment brand.
The recruitment techniques used by SMPs are evolving. Some SMPs use psychometric testing or profiling, particularly when looking at the balance of skills they want to bring into their teams; others ask their candidates to submit videos about themselves instead of writing covering letters and CVs. Those innovative practices have proved their value during the Covid-19 pandemic, when face-to-face interviews were impossible.
Both entry-level and experienced talent is in demand by SMPs. There is no universal pattern among accountancy practices and a lot depends on the business model and strategy of a particular practice.
Talent development and retention
Staff retention can be a critical issue for smaller practices. Progression is often said to be key to retention, with the opportunity to learn and develop new skills. It is important to look at development and retention in conjunction. The majority of SMPs do not restrict their employees to in-house development programmes, but instead support their initiatives for self-curated training and provide financing for external training opportunities. The use of mentoring, inter-generational cooperation, working in pod systems, networking, and involvement of employees in community work are just some of the approaches used by SMPs to develop staff. Building a continuous learning culture that can engage and support the workforce to adapt and transform in line with business needs is of supreme importance for SMPs.
Lessons learnt from Covid-19
The Covid-19 crisis has shown that the majority of SMPs, particularly those with a strong digital core, are ready to adapt rapidly to the changing world and could drive the transformation of the sector as a whole, thanks to their agility. Their pre-existing remote working culture and adaptability have facilitated the transition of SMPs to the 100% virtual environment that has been essential for most during the lockdown. A number of SMPs have decided to keep working 100% remotely. This will require a review of their approach to talent management, including remote on-boarding and mentoring.
Top tips for SMP employers, employees and candidates
To assist the SMPs’ talent management activities, this report offers practical checklists for both SMP employees and employers for talent attraction, development and retention that are also available at the report page as stand alone documents.