Talent show


You could lose valuable business if you don’t have high-calibre staff to cope with the work, writes John Monks.

Imagine you are a senior partner of an accountancy firm.  Business is going very well – there are plenty of new client gains and your current client portfolio is generating record fees in repeat and new instructions.  There’s only one problem.  You haven’t got enough staff to deliver the work.  In fact there are numerous opportunities out there, but each year there’s less talent to capitalise on them.  Your workforce is ageing and, unlike those heady days in 2008, graduate recruitment is now so competitive that all the professions fight each year over fewer candiates.  Business is great.  Too great in fact and increasingly your firm is turning more business away.

For some accountancy senior partners and HR managers, it is unrealistic. Their reality is that it is happening now.  And this realisation isn’t across the accountancy profession.  Over the next decade the UK professions are forecasting significant growth in employment opportunities.  Reports such as The Leitch Review suggest that by 2020 40% of jobs in the UK will require graduate qualifications.  There is deep concern that, taking into account current birth rates and education practices, young people’s skills will not be sufficient to match this requirement.

Long-term planning

So what can your firm do to develop talent and keep it in the long term?  First, you should give your staffing the same sophistication of planning that you give your fee-income.

Consider your firm’s demographics and ask yourself some tough questions.  How many people will you need to service current business levels in future years?  How many will you need to grow the business?  What type of talent will be needed to achieve this performance?  What skills, behaviours and capabilities will your people have to possess? What is currently available and what will need to be brought in?

Future employees will be more discerning and will have even more choice.  Those employers that demonstrate a great reputation, will be in a stronger position.  Just like your clients, future staff will select you because you can differentiate yourself from other accountancy firms jostling to call them one of their own.  Developing this reputation or ‘employer ‘brand’ is now high on the priority list of the best firms.

A great reputation will mean different things to different people.  The key is to find the people who are going to be great for your firm in getting it to where it wants to be.  Yes part of this will be the volume.  But more importantly it will be about defining what ‘great’ looks like.

Start by considering your current great people.  What do they like about working for you?  What makes them stay?  What would make them more loyal now and in the future?  If you can create a working experience that builds their loyalty, you can also start promoting it externally to attract similar great people to your firm.  This isn’t just a case of being in the Sunday Times ‘Top 100 Companies To Work For’.  It’s about considering your plans, realising what people you need (quantity and profiles), understanding what you as an employer need to be to attract those people and setting in place plans which demonstrate you practice what you preach.  And you will need to practice what you preach, if you want to attract these people in the long-run.

Some accountancy firms are already forging links with schools and universities to promote themselves to potential candidates.  In the future, this will become more sophisticated.  You may want to consider setting up a more formal affiliation with a particular academic institution who has previously provided some of your greatest people.  Some firms are already giving ‘guest lectures’ or sponsoring projects or business simulations.  This gives them access to talent before it hits the milk round.  Social networking and community based projects are also tools being used very effectively.

Just as you do with your clients, build a referral network and form alliances to bring a steady flow of the type of people you need – be they from the UK or overseas. Consider attracting people from other sectors looking to make a career change. Question your preconceptions about age and certain roles and be more innovative with your ‘recommend a friend’ promotions to your current employees.


Nurturing your talent

Attracting the talent is one thing.  Keeping it is another.  In the future, your people will be continually head-hunted.  To secure their loyalty you will need to adapt their working experience as they develop.  This will mean:

  • Keeping in regular contact with them as they develop – to track performance and development needs.
  • Identifying the specific support or training they require to be more effective.
  • Ascertaining whether their working environment, hours etc are still motivational to them.
  • Checking whether the right reward mechanism is still in place.
  • Fully engaging them in the business.

The war for talent is already a reality in the accountancy profession.  To avoid the shortfalls, firms need a systematic and proactive approach to the recruitment process.