As an accounting firm, the “product” you sell is your employees’ expertise and time. Your employees are experts who provide the value clients recognize in your organization. As the old saying goes, “your greatest assets walk out the door every night.”
Your firm’s growth, success, and profitability depend on you being able to attract and retain top accounting talent. This enables you to put highly-qualified individuals on any given project, build your brand, and win new business. In fact, our research has shown that attracting and retaining talent are two of the top five business challenges facing professional services firms (see Figure 1).
The process of making your firm attractive to potential employees is called employer branding. Its importance is clear, given that professional services talent evaluators we surveyed have ranked it as number 5 of their top 10 marketing priorities (see Figure 2).
Your employer brand is your reputation and visibility among potential employees and talent referral sources. Its purpose is to attract, retain, and motivate the desired talent to support firm growth. At the heart of any employer brand initiative is an employer branding strategy.
Here are five best practices you’ll want to consider as you develop your own strategy for attracting and retaining top accounting talent:
Your brand strategy must be reality-based.
Sure, an employer brand, like a mission statement, can be somewhat aspirational. But as with your overall firm brand, it should be rooted in reality and built around an existing positive work environment, genuine employee support, and what’s unique about your firm that makes it attractive to employees. It cannot be founded on wishful thinking and what you’d like your firm to be. To ensure a realistic brand strategy, it’s important to survey current employees, referral sources, and prospective employees. Understanding what is important to them, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of your current reputation will be instrumental in developing a winning employer brand strategy.
Your strategy must attract the right talent to support your business model.
Different business models require different workforce profiles and skill sets. Lowest-price business models must acquire talent at the lowest possible cost. Other models built around specialized expertise must hire talent of the highest caliber. Of course, these two scenarios demand very different employer branding strategies. Failure to take the business model into account can have steep consequences. When the strategies are misaligned, it can profoundly affect productivity and profitability, making it difficult to get the management support needed to build a meaningful, positive employer brand.
It must be straightforward and easily understood.
If your employer brand strategy is not clear and easily understood it is unlikely to be effective. All of your important audiences, both internal and external, should be able to articulate your brand’s key features. A strategy that’s too complex or fuzzy will be difficult for your team to implement. Without a clear strategy, each manager and employee will implement whatever “brand” they prefer or feel most comfortable with.
If a prospective employee cannot understand your employer brand, he or she will end up working somewhere else. The lack of transparency can raise other concerns among candidates, such as why the firm doesn’t want to talk about its culture and strategy. Candidates with options will simply look elsewhere. The same is true of referral sources. If your company is unable to provide clear reasons why your firm is a great place to work, they’ll be less likely to refer people who would be the best fit for your organization.
It must mirror how you treat clients.
A firm’s true principles, code of ethics, and general standards resonate throughout the organization, affecting both employees and clients. In other words, how you treat your clients generally reflects how you treat your employees. Does your employer brand support this? If you try to paint a false picture of what it’s like to work at your firm, the lie will quickly be discovered and discredit your organization, reducing your chances of attracting top talent.
Actively manage your employer brand to optimize results.
An employer brand strategy is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” initiative. It requires active, regular performance monitoring and adjustment to enjoy the full benefits of this investment. By tracking its performance, you will be able to determine how well your employer brand is working at any given time and make adjustments to your strategy and its implementation.
Accounting firms that can attract and retain the right talent have a major strategic advantage. Utilizing these five best-practices will help you develop a clear, compelling employer brand strategy which is vital to attracting and retaining talent necessary for the growth and profitability of your firm.