Creating best places to work
“Our people are re-evaluating how they work, why they work, where they want to work and who they want to work for.”
Phil Verity, CEO of Mazars UK and Praxity Chairman
Finding new ways to attract and develop great people
Praxity is helping member firms meet one of the biggest challenges in the post-pandemic era – finding and nurturing the best people to drive your business forward.
Support is being provided on multiple fronts to help member firms adjust to remote and hybrid working, changing roles and changing employee mindsets.
The need for greater support and knowledge sharing follows dramatic changes to the way we work including the switch to remote and hybrid working, and changing expectations of jobseekers and existing staff.
Commenting on the challenges facing firms today, Marketing Director, Tanya Doescher, writing for the Association of Accounting Marketing says: “There is an overwhelming trend of people leaving their current jobs and either going to other firms, into an industry role or simply retiring. The number of accounting graduates continues to trend down or remain flat, and the industry is still feeling the decreased number of graduates sitting for the CPA exam due to the pandemic. These statistics alone are a recruiter’s nightmare.”
To help firms address the changing job market and workspaces, the Praxity Executive Office has produced a series of exclusive videos on its digital channel 'Channel Praxity', featuring discussions with Praxity CEO Samantha Louis, Chairman Phil Verity and Vice-Chairman Matt Snow.
In the first of these videos, entitled Smart Business in a New Era, Samantha Louis states: “The way in which the new generation is viewing the world of work, the way in which they want to engage with employers and the way in which they want to engage with work is completely different. As employers and as firms, we need to engage differently with them in order to survive and thrive into the future.”
This shift in employee mindset is impacting the recruitment and retention of staff across the profession. Phil Verity, CEO of Mazars UK, adds: “Our people are re-evaluating how they work, why they work, where they want to work and who they want to work for.”
What you need to consider
Many member firms are still figuring out how best to respond to changing work patterns and employee preferences but there are clear trends emerging.
Commenting on the modern workplace, Phil outlines four principles taking shape within the Alliance:
- The need to create more enjoyable workspaces, both in the home and the traditional office
- The need to encourage greater collaboration and learning
- Using workspaces more flexibly
- Adopting a less formal approach, blurring the lines between client and non-client areas
Commenting on The Modern Workplace, Samantha says member firms need to think about what’s going to work best for their staff and what’s a little bit different to attract and retain the best people, such as meeting-free Fridays, mindfulness breaks and “avoiding death by Zoom”.
Looking after employees’ mental health is particularly important, especially given the long hours many accounting professionals work, often in different locations. Samantha stresses the importance of finding ways to keep an eye on employee mental wellbeing to “make sure people are not overstressed, not heading to burn out and that we really create the right mental environment in the firms as well”.
This includes helping employees make the right choices about where and how to work. FORVIS Chairman Matt Snow says employees are being faced with new decisions every day such as whether to go to the office, visit a client or stay at home, adding:
“As firms [we are] trying to lead our people through making those decisions” by considering the employee, the team and the client wants and needs.”
“create the right mental environment”
Samantha Louis, CEO of Praxity
“helping people be the best versions of themselves”
Chris Capstick, Talent Manager at PM+M
Praxity member firms are being more creative in the way they approach talent acquisition and retention. Partners and HR professionals are keen to exchange ideas and share best practice via the Praxity platform and at conferences and events.
Helping people develop skills, learn and grow
Chris Capstick, newly recruited Talent Manager at UK-based member firm PM+M, is among those driving change. He is developing a business-wide talent strategy at PM+M including all people and functions. He is also evolving learning and development programmes to support the achievement of organisational objectives and drive engagement. This includes interviewing partners and directors, and surveying managers, assistant managers and supervisors to identify how best to support colleagues and create a fantastic work environment.
“It’s about helping people be the best versions of themselves, and sharing their stories internally and externally,” Chris says. “It’s not just about what you do but how you approach situations and learn from them. We are looking at all the learning experiences, internally and externally, and evolving these to address current and future needs.” These needs include soft skills, employee wellbeing, technical skills and enhancing the client experience.
Chris is working with external learning providers to elevate the firm’s Continual Professional Development (CPD) programme to help colleagues develop their skillsets, learn and grow. One such provider is ‘The Professional Alternative’, an online learning tool whereby employees can self-access a vast resource of learning materials as and when they want. Content covers soft skills and ranges from one minute up to an hour, and is delivered in a variety of formats.
Like many Praxity member firms, PM+M has been quick to embrace flexible working to meet the changing needs of jobseekers and colleagues. Chris himself works four days a week and he stresses: “It’s about what works for employees and the business.” The firm has also introduced three-week bootcamps to help apprentices develop the fundamentals and build relationships across the business. Feedback has been “incredibly positive”.
Improving branding and messaging
Another member firm looking at new ways to attract and retain talented people is Shorts. Andy Irvine, Managing Partner at the UK firm, explains that having worked hard on their talent management and employee development, they realised they needed to do more to attract good people in the first place.
Research by an external employee branding specialist revealed Shorts’ branding focused almost entirely on differentiating itself to clients rather than employees. To redress the balance, Andy worked with messaging specialists to create better online content including videos and interviews with team members “to capture the essence of our proposition”. The objective was to showcase employability differentiators such as allowing more time for client work and personal development, and not asking employees to work overtime. Essentially, to demonstrate employees can devote more time to ‘living life’.
Andy says the new messaging has been very well received, adding: “It works really well and we have had a lot of good feedback.” The firm is now working with external agencies to get this new messaging out on TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and other ‘meta’ platforms, to appeal to people entering the job marketplace or looking for their next move.
Compared to the cost of recruitment fees, which can typically be £10,000 to £15,000, investing in employability branding is money well spent, Andy says. And it’s not just helping with recruitment. The new messaging is reminding existing employees of the benefits of working for a progressive firm.
Building strong employee connections
Praxity member firms are adapting their strategies to create stronger bonds with their people and be more responsive to individual lifestyle changes throughout an employee’s career.
Explaining this approach, Colleen Christensen, People Experience Director at Moss Adams in the U.S., says: “We put a strong focus on a sense of community within the firm and personalized career paths, two best practices for all firms to consider in attracting and retaining talent. Connecting with our people is built into our career advising process, to be aware of both major life changes and circumstances as well as career goals, allowing us to offer a personalized career path that flexes with each season of life.”
She continues: “Everyone has different needs at different stages, and we aim to provide support that allows our people to succeed in a way that’s sustainable for each individual. This has been especially important during the pandemic years. Our stats support this with a sizable population of long-tenured employees and a strong rehire rate. Our people stay for the long haul. When those who venture out to try new companies return to the firm, we welcome them back with open arms.”
“we put a strong focus on a sense of community”
Colleen Christensen, People Experience Director at Moss Adams
Creating better experiences
Enhancing the employee experience is a major factor in boosting retention. This is certainly the case at FORVIS in the U.S., where many employees are keen to experience what it’s like to do business in different jurisdictions. Praxity provides a platform “to give people the chance to work with other firms” in different countries and to have that experience, Matt Snow says.
Helping member firms develop great employee experiences was a key segment of the Global Conference in New Orleans. Jim Proppe, Managing Partner at Plante Moran, a firm listed in the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For, shared insights at the conference on how to maintain a continually engaged workforce.
Praxity Executive Office is continually looking at ways to provide extra support for member firms, from facilitating greater knowledge exchange on its online platform to providing extra support for member firm employees at conferences and events.
Changes are being made to the conference programme to provide greater opportunities for new recruits to learn, share in the Praxity experience and meet their counterparts in other firms and countries.
An example is the recent bootcamp held at the North American International Tax Conference 2022 in New Orleans to help new international tax accountants and consultants learn the ropes and get to know Praxity colleagues around the world.
Employee training is also being improved, with new opportunities for member firms to develop and incentivise staff.
Praxity is working in partnership with the AICPA & CIMA and the ICAEW to provide exciting new ways for employees across the Alliance to enhance their skillsets.
Member firms benefit from a 15% discount on AICPA & CIMA training, podcasts and other content, and 20% discount on CPA conferences. The wide range of benefits are designed to help employees:
- Stay up to date with changing regulations
- Build competencies
- Earn valuable CPE credits
- Gain advantage with new insights
In addition, Praxity has bought the licences for the ICAEW’s ‘False Assurance’ and ‘Without Question’ case study videos. These have been developed to help audit professionals develop their expertise using real life scenarios. The videos are accompanied by workbooks so that firms can deliver facilitated training to work through the issues presented in the case studies.
The award-winning False Assurance film is already a key feature of audit training at many member firms, including Mazars and MNP. Praxity’s partnership with the ICAEW means firms can access the films for free, without having to buy individual licenses.
“an attractive and inspiring place to be”
Phil Verity, CEO of Mazars UK and Praxity Chairman
Skills and mentoring
While high quality training can make a big difference, it’s equally important to attract the right people to your firm in the first place – people with the attributes required to excel in the new era.
Matt Snow says new recruits need a broad set of skills and need to be able to pivot from one to another. Employees need to be coachable as well as being able to coach others. They must also have good communication skills, an ability to show empathy with team members and clients, and have an inclusive mindset, he explains.
Peer to peer coaching is a key element of PM+M’s talent strategy. The firm has created an effective internal mentoring programme and the future aim is to create a coaching programme for the business. This involves developing coaching capability at all levels and training internally accredited coaches to provide further support to all colleagues, releasing potential and driving performance.
Phil Verity says member firms have already succeeded in overcoming complexity during the Covid era but to continue to thrive, they need to focus on their people and their clients. Commenting in Praxity’s Future Predictions podcast, he says: “It’s about how you attract, retain and develop the very best people, how you create that workspace that really enables everyone to bring their best and be themselves, how you create that employer brand to attract, and how you create that firm purpose and vision that [provides] an attractive place to be and an inspiring place to be.”
These are challenging but exciting times for talent managers. With support from Praxity Executive Office and by learning from each other, member firms can continue to evolve their talent strategies not only to create inspiring workplaces but to better serve their clients.