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5 ways to empower the next generation of accountants

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nextgen leaders accounting

Ask any partner in an accounting firm what’s keeping them up at night. Many of them will answer it’s retaining their staff, especially the superstar employees they hope will lead the firm into the next decade and beyond.

Too often, when young professionals are asked whether they want to become a partner, the answer is no. The problem is not a lack of motivation or ambition. It’s that they can’t picture their future in a firm that isn’t transforming to remain successful. When you create a vision of a firm that is evolving and relevant, you’ll find NextGen leaders have a strong desire to be a part of its long-term success.

I regularly meet with future leaders in our profession and ask them what changes would make them excited about their future in this profession. Here are five recommendations based on those conversations.

1. Welcome new and innovative ideas

We hear a lot of talk about fear in the face of automation, but the automation of compliance work doesn’t scare NextGen leaders. They see it as an opportunity to focus on higher-value services and becoming a strategic advisor to their clients. They have the desire to discover and implement new ideas and initiatives to support that transformation.

But does your culture support such innovation? Ask NextGen leaders to research and propose changes they’d like to make and be open to making their recommendations work.

2. Have tough conversations

NextGen leaders want to know what is expected of them and are not afraid of being held accountable. Be very clear about expectations. If you’re not clear about your expectations, your team will get discouraged and have a difficult time succeeding.

Try the Start, Stop, Continue exercise with your NextGen leaders:

Start – What is one thing you should START doing? This highlights where talents aren’t being used to their fullest potential.
Stop – What is one thing you should STOP doing? This highlights behaviors or activities that may be getting in the way of success.
Continue – What is one thing you should CONTINUE doing? This highlights where talents are being utilized and can be expanded.

But remember, accountability needs to happen at all levels. You must also hold yourself accountable for pushing appropriate work down, spending more time as a mentor and passing on knowledge and wisdom.

Have stay interviews with your team to get a reality check on where you are or engage an outside facilitator in finding out what your team values in the firm and what concerns them about its future. Armed with that information, determine what need to change to engage the NextGen leader.

3. Get them involved

NextGen leaders in our profession won’t be the ones who are most technically adept or log the highest billable hours. They’re the ones with core skills such as the ability to:

• Share their vision
• Think big
• Build a team of the best people
• Read and grow consistently
• Make tough decisions
• Focus on the big picture
• Take risks
• Delegate effectively
• Give and receive trust
• Motivate others
• Develop business
• Hold self and others accountable

These skills don’t always come naturally, so current leaders need to help foster them in the next generation of leaders by getting them involved in committees, client relationships and a forward-thinking group of next-generation peers. The valuable knowledge they’ll gain while engaging with peers, clients and the community will be worth every minute away from the office, and they’ll become equipped with the skills to continue to push your firm forward.

4. Trust them

Once they’ve received the knowledge and skills they need to be successful, get out of the way and let them do it. It’s up to current leaders to make the first move when it comes to extending trust. Assume a little risk and extend trust to the next generation. Doing so sends a powerful message to these emerging leaders and creates a safer environment for them to reciprocate and extend trust to you.

5. Create transparency

NextGen leaders believe firms should have a culture of honesty and transparency. Transparency ultimately means clarity and conversations that lead to the exchange of information, better decisions, more education and a better understanding across all levels of the firm.

To be the firm of choice for emerging leaders, share details about the firm’s growth, finances, hiring structure, priorities and plans. Have clear systems in place that allow people to ask questions in open and honest ways. That transparency nurtures a mutual understanding and encourages more people to share and collaborate with each other.

There has never been more demand for bright, talented NextGen leaders. To be the firm that ignites earns their engagement and loyalty, create a firm that inspires and excites them – one they can see themselves owning someday. Your efforts will be rewarded with increased retention and motivation within your superstar employees.

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