This blog is the first in a four part series on how we can lead in public accounting to take advantage of some hard trends.
As I prepared my outline for this blog on life in public accounting, I am reminded of the Bob Dylan song “The Times They Are A-Changin'.” Today, in the world of public accounting, we are in the middle of a robust, free-agency market for talent like we’ve never seen before. This free agency market is “A-Changin'” because millennials are exercising their choices for a career and they routinely find public accounting not meeting expectations. We are not actually changing how we work, despite the proliferation of adopted new policies promoting millennial values. And we haven’t given any thought yet to generation Z desires as they start entering the workforce in the fall of 2016. Simply, in the trenches, we are losing the culture war. As a profession, we are bumping up against the hard trends of baby boomer retirements and millennials choosing careers based on flexibility, purpose, connection and challenging opportunities. No surprise that the recent AICPA survey showed the top issues for firms as finding and retaining qualified staff. These top issues will not change anytime soon if we do not make drastic changes in how we work and in how we manage our firms and our people.
Whether we believe these hard trends or not, those of us in public accounting are staring some really big challenges right in the face and that’s undeniable. It’s going to be hard. We know the things we need to do and, through initiatives in our firms, we have every intention of addressing these challenges. But, many of us are finding the how to be a struggle. Changing the way we work is a painful and apparently slow process, but not nearly as painful as being irrelevant. Competition outside of our profession is successfully attracting the best talent and the best people away from our organizations. We will only be relevant in the future if we keep more than our share of the best people; the ones who possess diverse perspectives, unrivaled expertise and are ready to step into leadership roles. We will not be relevant with less than half of the best, most talented people.
Some of things that need to be “A-Changin'” to win the culture war include purpose, flexibility, connection, career tracks and training of various types. Communicating purpose so that it becomes a why that everyone understands. Implementing flexibility that empowers everyone to integrate career and life based on their needs and values. Intentionally promoting team culture and caring leadership that connects team members rather than isolates them. New skills are needed, old skills need a fresh upgrade, and learning methods must be dynamic and delivered in real-time regardless of where I am located. Leadership training that provides frequent feedback and challenging new work. Learning how to promote continuous coaching conversations around strengths with a “growth mindset” rather than a timed career track or annual review. A recent national poll indicated that only 20% of workers have even a chance at using their strengths at work. Why is that? We must find better ways to accelerate growth in our people. We need new routines and new patterns that visibly help our people reach their full potential.
As Dylan sings “The Times They Are A-Changin'” so stay in “tune” for more thoughts on what is coming our way. I know I can’t sing in tune so I have to listen intently to how we can win the war on culture and keep the brightest and best talent on our teams.