Identifying and Retaining Top Performers

Jason’s note: The barriers to entry to establishing your own accounting practice have never been so low. A tech stack of XPM + PI + Asana will set you back less than $200 per month. Sign up and away you go – off into Startup land. 

With the barriers to entry so low, one of the greatest challenges that established firms face is retaining quality staff. So how do you do that? Tony @Grow Advisors shares with us his experience on how firms can both identify and retain top talent.

Firms are increasingly trying to manage client expectations, staff expectations and technological advances. In five years of recruiting for accounting firms, we currently have the highest number of vacancies for Managers, Senior Managers, Directors and even roles for Seniors stepping into management roles.

The overwhelming reason these firms are looking? Tech has made it easy to set up your own firm and subsequently, these people are entering their own ventures. They want to have their say and create their own path.

Firstly, what is the paradigm of a top performer? We know that these are the people who have the innate ability to make everyone feel as though they’re part of the team, they can appease a client’s concern over upcoming issues, they can manage anything thrown at them, and they just get on with it. So, what do these people look like? Take a look at the rock stars in your team and see how many of these resonate.

IQ vs EQ
First of all, they have the relevant knowledge in Business advisory and taxation. If not, they know where to find said info. In practice, the key to success lies between identifying a client’s technical woes and their personal ones. Most businesses that you deal with have their cars, houses, and lives tied into their business. Cash flow getting tight? Then the car may be repossessed. If the car goes, how do the kids get to school? If the kids don’t get to school, where will they learn? So on so forth. The best accountants that we see don’t push Div 7a issues, cash flow or get overly involved with technical matters per se, they connect on an emotional level. They understand what the client is going through and they connect. They empathise. They understand. They build trust. They are the trusted advisor and if they walk, so does the client.

Trust and Relationships
As mentioned, trust is crucial in working with clients. This tends to be something built over time. This leads to some accountants out there who are able to get on the phone to a client and efficiently convey what the issues are and pre-empt any concerns. This is exactly what you want on the client side. What about the team? The top performing managers that we’ve seen are empathetic with staff as well. They understand that an accountant with 2 years’ experience isn’t necessarily going to have the knowledge that they do and they take the time to work through problems. These junior staff members know that if something comes up, the Manager has their back. This is trust.

Seeking Consistent Improvement
You’ll find that your top performers are the ones who constantly seek development. They know that if they continue doing what they did yesterday, they will be out of business tomorrow. They see what they do as an investment in there’s and their family’s future. They seek our learning and development for themselves. They attend breakfasts, seminars, knowledge sharing sessions and even probably read this blog to keep advancing themselves. They don’t want to go stale. They probably have 30+ years until they can touch their super and want to ensure they are growing continuously through to then.

Now that we have identified who a top performer is, how do you keep them? What will keep them engaged and wanting to stay with you?

Embrace Innovation
Innovation is shaking up the accounting industry. What are you doing differently to keep ahead of the curve? How are you changing to keep up with the times? What are the technological advances that you are utilising? Did you know that using Slack for instant messaging will add a fun vibe and keep internal emails down? Did you know that Office 365 allows from collaboration on documents subsequently reducing review time on proposals? Did you know that Pushbullet allows you to view notifications from your phone on your computer screen thus reducing the time you spend looking at every unnecessary notification? Did you know that Facebook is one of the strongest tools to bring top performers to your team?

Your best people are keeping in touch with a lot of what’s happening. Your competitors are looking at methods by which they can introduce these advances into the machination of their firm. Your top performers aren’t expecting change today – they want to know that it’s on the plan for tomorrow.

Embrace your Culture
Culture is paramount. Between Caboolture and Beenleigh, there are over 2000 accounting firms. This includes 1 Partner firms working from their study through to the Big 4. They will have differing cultures spearheaded by those at the helm. What is the culture that you’re trying to grow? What is that makes you different? What’s your EVP that attracts your best people? The staff stay is because they can identify and relate to the culture. They can see that it matches their ideologies and they believe to the extent that they want to grow it further.

Your top performers exude the culture with every breath and have no issues conveying this to clients. If this doesn’t match them to some extent, they won’t be happy for very long. Through belief and years of tenure, they will want to stick it out hoping for better – but what if better doesn’t come? Emulate the culture that keeps your top performers and you’ll find people at all levels who want to be part of it – because it resonates with them.

Embrace their Growth
Top performers want to grow. Whether it’s ascending from Manager to Partner, or from Senior to Manager, these people want to know that you’re helping them grow. Formulate a structured plan that will identify areas for growth and KPIs as well as what activities will help them get there. To say that they need $1M worth of fees is a start, but how are they going to win these clients? What industries? Which referral partners? Internal or external sources? What size of client? To simply say that if they win $1M, they can have a seat at the table isn’t enough.

Your top performers will know that they can get there. They’ve been doing well for so long. What they want is love. They want to know that you’re there to support them and guide them through. They want to know that you can grab a beer and provide them with the good bad and ugly on what’s working/ not working. Be there for them and they’ll be there with you.

Good staff are hard to find. It’s why we do what we do. Top performers are being nurtured in other firms. There are some firms paying juniors up to 10% of any new fees they bring in. Others have MVP awards. Now that you know what your top performers look like, embrace their value to the firm and retain them. If you want to grow, this is paramount.

Love our articles? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and get updates directly to your inbox.

You may also like

Is Your Business Ready for Financial Reinforcements?

Feeling the strain as your business grows, especially with managing…

In-House vs. Outsourced Accounting

Are you wrestling with the decision to hire an in-house…

how to scale your service business

Growth isn’t always easy. Here are the key factors that…


This article was updated on 17 May 2024.  It’s not…