What To Do If Your Talent is Leaving


If you are a CEO of a growing midsized accounting firm, and find that people are leaving your workforce in droves, you have one option:

 Stop. What. You. Are. Doing.

It's time to take a hard look at what is going on. Don't send a middle manager to butter up your remaining employees with sports tickets and extra jeans days. Don't have a senior level partner give your shrinking team a "talking to" about the level of work there is now to do. Stop your meetings, get out from behind your desk, and get to the root of the problem. 

This is why - you already know your people talk. People at all levels talk about everyone. If you don't think this is happening you are naive. Often times I would be shocked at what I would hear come out of firm leaders' mouths. No one is immune to company gossip, yet no one tends to acknowledge how toxic it all adds up to be. If you are someone at the helm of your organization, where people report to you, can you really trust they are telling you the truth? Communication is a funny thing - as someone in Hollywood once said "you can only taste with your own tongue."

The same is true with the temperature of your workforce. As CEO or managing partner, you need to be talking to your employees if you want to keep them. True, some employees aren't going anywhere, especially if they barely hit the bar of mediocrity and they know it. But the others - the others that keep the wheels greased, those who move through boulders, and detangle the red tape, those who you genuinely like to see around, those are the people you need to be sitting down with and making sure they aren't thinking about hitting the road. Because hate to break it to you, they are.

The exit interview is too late. Wondering why you're getting all this good, gritty, honest truth during the exit interview? It's because the HR person is asking the questions. It's proper process, right? To me, it's lazy. It's after the fact. Have these conversations with your people on an ongoing basis. Of course on the flip side your employees have got to want to tell you the truth - and while it should be just an easy conversation about how things are going, most employees will hold back telling the real truth because of fear of looking like a whiner. Or worse, the repercussions of being vulnerable.

And no one wants to look like a whiner. And certainly no one can stand to be vulnerable in the corporate world (detect sarcasm here).

My suggestion - start talking now and take an interest in not just the careers of all your employees, but their well-being - on the long term and day to day. Not just your professional staff, but the admins as well. I mean, really, what would an accounting firm do without their administration staff?

Aside from monetary benefits and perks, If you're a CEO or managing partner, here are three ways to help make your employees feel appreciated:

  • Respect. It seems obvious, but for many it is not. This translates to looking at your team (subordinates, though I hate that word) when they speak at meetings, not interrupting when they are talking or asking questions, getting back to them in a reasonable amount of time when they need your sign off on something, and just being nice. I know accounting firms thrive on the hierarchical and supervisory but it's not that hard, people, to inject some kindness into your interactions.
  • Accessibility. You know what is irritating to a lot of employees? When a partner or firm leader is integral to a project or initiative or PR opportunity, express excitement about it and then are no where to be found. It's like "you whooooo ... I can't do anything about this until you chime in, so I guess the project is on hold?" I mean, yeah, your employee can do everything in their power to work around that person - but wait, isn't this a collaborative environment you boast on your website? Be accessible. Answer your emails. Be human.
  • Empower. At the risk of sounding like Oprah Magazine, I'm going to say this - you can have the most talented, the most technically proficient, the most charming on board but if they don't feel empowered to be their best selves they will give you only a percentage of what they are capable of. And here's the tricky thing - we're in 2015 - that means your talent - each and every one of them - have different needs and desires around their work and productivity. If you're not encouraging people to share desks while traveling to different offices and telecommute from home, you're not with the program. People work differently - and most everyone will talk to you about their preferences. Just ask. Chances are, you'll find your clock watcher is suddenly much more engaged and producing more that you thought when you let them off the leash a little.

The idea is this - talk to your people. Don't wait until you have a steady stream of talent heading for the competition. It will be a culture change, it will be work, it will be making a commitment to the ongoing well being of your employees. But first you have to take a breath. 

So stop what you're doing. Look around. Ask your employees how you can be doing it better. Be hands on and resist the urge to delegate. Just make it meaningful.