Are We Stacking Our Wood Too High?

Last fall, at the first crisp cool wind that I felt (we treasure things like this in the Deep South), I called and ordered a cord of firewood for our fireplace. We have an outside carport area with a fireplace that we drive through which CeCe calls a Porte-cochère (yes, I had to Google it). Now a cord of firewood is a lot of wood so I had to be pretty creative with where I stacked it. First, I filled up the spot right beside the fireplace which has a brick wall on the back side and a brick wall on the side opposite the fireplace itself. It makes a nice area to stack firewood. I had so much wood that I stacked it about five feet high which was at the very top of the walls. Then, I went around on the back side of the fireplace and put another stack on the back wall all the way to the top. I still had firewood left over so I put a stack at the end of our driveway.

I can’t express how proud I was of finding a place to put all of this firewood so I would not have to order any more for the winter, plus it was cheaper by the cord. This was going to save me a lot of time and effort. The first question CeCe had when she came outside was—why did you order so much firewood? Followed by, “Do you think you should stack firewood so high in that holding area by the fireplace? Will that wall hold all of that firewood?” This provided me the opportunity to share how smart I was to order a cord of wood, saving money, time and effort for the rest of the winter. Believe me, I laid it on thick.

One week later, the small wall on the side collapsed. Not only did it collapse, but the brick wall also fell on three brand new flowering shrubs that CeCe had just planted in the flower bed beside the wall. There was not much left of these once beautiful thriving plants and CeCe had a few comments for me which I will not put in print. “I told you so” was quickly ringing in my ears. My dreams of saving money, time and effort had literally gone up in smoke with the first fire of the year. I now had to tote all of this wood to the back of our driveway where I had the small extra stack of firewood. Do you know how much wood is in a real cord of wood? It’s a lot of trips! Then, I had to pay for someone to put up a new brick wall, buy three new shrubs and purchase some Advil for my back. I would have been better off ordering firewood every two weeks.

As I reflect on this story, I realize I had a great plan, I simply stacked the firewood too high. I assumed the wall could handle it. I assumed because the wall had always held up, this time would be no different—it was just a little extra wood. Wow, was I wrong and CeCe was right again. All of my extra effort and expense motivated me to sit down immediately and share my lessons learned because I think some of them apply to what is going on in many of our firms and companies today.

The economy is vibrant, businesses are growing and we are finding lots of opportunities to add projects and work. At the same time, we are in a severe talent shortage with unemployment in our field at less than 2% and surveys showing that in good times, people will look at or for other opportunities 78% of the time. This talent demand, as well as our present workload, has led to higher turnover for many firms and companies, including ours. Our firm’s turnover is 3% higher than last year.

Historically, public accounting firms have focused on utilization which has often resulted in short-term decisions where we do not have enough capacity to adequately handle our growth. Combine growth with increased turnover and another legacy trend begins to affect our best talent (our wall). If we are not careful, we continue to assign more work to our best of the best. Why? They have always held up, they have always gotten it done and it's just a little more wood. I believe we are experiencing increased stress on our team members in many situations today because we are stacking the wood too tall.

What can we do to avoid losing our best talent, in other words, collapsing our wall? Maybe some of these thoughts could help us stack the wood smarter, strengthen the wall and avoid the enormous expense of turnover.

  • Consistently showing sincere appreciation to our team members and communicating their value back to them
  • Offering real-time coaching feedback so team members can feel the growth they crave in a timely fashion
  • Exchanging “You can do it” with “How can I help?”
  • Ensuring that the stars are compensated above market because they will get a higher offer.
  • Helping those same stars see a path for advancement
  • Prioritizing which wood (work) is most important and stacking more of it at the end of the driveway (setting better expectations with clients)
  • Intensely listening to team members for #beEvenBetter ideas
  • Sharing our WHY and intentionally creating a sense of belonging for all team members

I just finished moving all the wood from the end of our driveway back under the Porte-cochère. And I was careful not to stack the wood too high against our new wall! Today, it’s so easy to get our wood stacked too high! How high have you been stacking your wood?

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Topics: Leadership

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