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How to Hire, Train, and Retain the Best Employees

Training leaders means developing a partnership between the employer and employees. This commitment takes time and involves both bottom line and business metrics, as well as behavioral and team building skills. The issues related to soft skills, such as behavioral and team building skills are explored in depth in Mike Gregory’s book, The Servant Manager, 203 tips from the best places to work in America. This article introduces some of the concepts from this book and a corresponding video series.

Last year, I presented four webinars associated with how to hire, train, and retain the best employees for the North Carolina Society of CPAs.  These seminars were run live and then repeated throughout the year.  Many of the highlights presented here are from these presentations; the points are summarized.  Consider this article an introduction to this topic.

 

Hiring, training, and retaining the best employees is a responsibility of the employer.  Smart employers also incorporate employees into the decision-making process to better their odds of success.  I offer insight into this process in The Servant Manager: 203 tips from the best places to work in America[i].

 

In my opinion, and that of Human Resource professionals, it all begins with the hiring process.  Recruitment in our diverse world is complex.  The ideal process will look outside of traditional recruitment venues and explore reaching out in new venues to expand the diversity of quality applicants.  Explore more diverse sources rather than simply relying on existing networks and processes, if you truly want to diversify your workforce.  After considering your recruitment process, explore your interview process.

 

The type of interview (traditional or behavioral), the types of questions, and the diversity of interviewers present the face of the firm.  Setting expectations for the interview with a plan and detailed process are key components in this stage.  To ensure a well-rounded applicant that adds depth to the team or company, consider incorporating both a listening skills and communication skills test in the interview process.  For example, a series of statements may be read to the interviewee and the interviewee may be asked whether these statements are true or false.  Alternatively, for a communication test, ask the interviewee to take 20 minutes to write about anything they want using Word at a company work station.  The write up can be reviewed for structure, punctuation, verb tenses, etc.  This is an increasingly important test in the world of texts since good writings skills reveal much about the candidates skills and thought processes.

 

As part of the interview process, it may be a very good idea to allow the interviewee a chance to interact with peers informally.  After the formal interview process and testing, give the interviewee a chance to meet with their potential peers in the group setting to see if there is a fit both from the standpoint of the interviewee as well as from the peers’ perspective.  The peers can be asked to provide feedback to the interview panel on what they saw as strengths and weaknesses of the candidate and whether the interviewee may or may not be a good fit with the team.  These types of efforts go a long way towards determining how successful the candidate may work within your corporate culture.  This process enables decision makers and candidates to assess the cultural fit now, rather than a few months down the line.

 

Assuming a successful interview and selection, the new employee needs to be set up for success.  The three keys to continual improvement are:

 

  • Regular, specific, timely, quality positive feedback. For millennials, weekly specific feedback is perhaps best.  For baby boomers, this is not necessarily needed as often, but clearly communicating expectations with positive feedback ensures understanding regardless of generation.  Recognizing generational differences should be considered.  Here is a good source on addressing generational differences. http://www.wmfc.org/uploads/GenerationalDifferencesChart.pdf.

 

  • Providing the resources employees need is critical. This is from their perspective.  This means listening.  This does not mean micromanaging.

 

  • Giving employees a chance to shine among peers and within the organization build goodwill, allows team members and the team to bond, and results in an aligning team that is prepared to perform at a higher level.

 

I am a member of workrevolution.org.  We, as a group, promote human and meaningful work for everyone by promoting life-giving places to work.  I am one of 65 listed on the home page.  They have taken my suggestions listed above to heart.  You can click on my photo and see my commentary or any of the others presented there.  I can tell you, promoting this type of work environment and employees’ strengths clearly improves productivity and wellness.  There is no question about that and the numbers prove it.

 

Providing “feed forward” on what we can learn from what we have done and how we can improve in the future is better than feedback.  Feedback dwells on past performance.  Feed forward looks to the future and provides a vision on how things will be better in the future with these changes.  Identify employee strengths and work to enhance those strengths.  Being an effective coach for the new employee and providing mentors outside of the chain of command provides a safe environment to gain insights into cultural norms of the firm.  Volunteering as a mentor should be encouraged.  Mentors should receive training on expectations and have a true desire to help and educate mentees.

 

To retain the best employees, ethical behavior is key.  “Walking the walk” with ethical principles, by not allowing gossip or speaking unkindly about others when not present says a lot about the company’s culture.  Apologizing properly by admitting mistakes, indicating that it won’t happen again and doing what is necessary to make the situation right goes a long way towards reconciliation.  Demonstrating work/life balance and making it a priority by incorporating employee’s ideas are key to retaining the best employees.  Today, the best places to work create a transparent work environment and not only have policies, but ensure policies are carried out to address work/life balance.  For example, I viewed the recruiting web page for a tax accounting firm.  The employees at this firm put in long hours during the tax season, the website disclosed the following:

 

  • Averages 40 to 45 hours a week for the entire year;
  • Works with teams at the firm during tax season to solicit team ideas to reduce stress;
  • Encourages the team concept to address disparities in work load for the success of the team;
  • Re-evaluates the tax season process to keep doing what is working, stop what is not, and incorporating best practices for the next tax filing season.

 

Does that sound like a better place to work than a firm that expects 80 hours a week for 10 weeks each filing season, February through April 15th?

 

Leadership is an art.  The best leaders recognize this fact.  Continually asking others for their ideas for improvement and taking appropriate actions goes a long way towards building a better organization.  Helping new hires with time management, demonstrating and expecting service over self-interest, bringing everyone on board, volunteering and giving back as a team, and demonstrate a caring compassionate work environment where everyone is appreciated.

 

By knowing your niche—as a firm, within the industry—the qualities needed regarding staff management metrics, project management skills, work culture, and how to reinvestment in employees as a matter of policy, the firm can use and share these points in the evaluation process and develop processes for new employees.  Employees understanding the employer’s interests and employers understanding employees’ interests are key to retaining the best employees.  Further, employee turnover is expensive and a distraction.  By listening to employees, trust is developed and nurtured.  When we seek to understand more than we seek to be understood, we demonstrate good listening skills.  When promises are kept and we are loyal to those not present, we further demonstrate core values and cultural integrity.

 

Today, millennials are very well wired with each other and share information securely with one another.  If you are the employer that embraces these ideas, it is likely you will keep the best employees.  If you don’t, in the end, succession planning will become an issue and your firm may go the way of the dinosaur.  Recently, I learned of a firm that lost 10% of their employees in one year, and many of these were newer hires and some of their most competent employees.  How could that happen?!  An evaluation of the process found that the firm in question did not embrace change well and had many of the gaps presented here.  That firm recognized it needed to be (rightly) concerned with succession planning.  It took action.  As a result of changes implemented—that include many of the ideas and best practices presented in The Servant Manager, 203 tips from the best places to work in America—it is repositioning itself for the long haul.

 

I invite you to explore this subject and see some videos from my website.  These videos contain practical commentary to help you hire, train, and retain the best employees.  Whether this is new to you, or you are an old hand at this, you are sure to learn some new ideas to help your accounting or business valuation firm with this process.  If you are interested in exploring this subject matter in more depth, or learn about leadership issues, I invite readers to visit www.mikegreg.com to explore both books and videos.

 


[i] Michael Gregory worked for the IRS for 28 years as a specialist through executive level. Twice he was nominated by his employees and received the honor of IRS civil servant of the year in his career; both as a front line manager and a territory manager. In 2011, he founded Michael Gregory Consulting, LLC. His web page is www.mikegreg.com offering his videos and books. He can also be reached at (651) 633-5311.

The National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts (NACVA) supports the users of business and intangible asset valuation services and financial forensic services, including damages determinations of all kinds and fraud detection and prevention, by training and certifying financial professionals in these disciplines.

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