What to do when you can’t get staff: practical ways to address your “people problem”

What to do when you can’t get staff: practical ways to address your “people problem”
April 13, 2018 Scott Charlton

During many years of coaching accounting and financial planning firms, I’ve often heard working owners expressing concern that they can’t get staff. This particularly relates to recruiting accountants/paraplanners/advisers to get work done.

The implications of this situation can be quite serious –

  • Partners burning themselves out by putting in long hours, often on low level work
  • Tolerating poor performers, which in turn sends the wrong message to more effective team members
  • Big write-offs, often associated with the points above
  • Unsatisfactory work turnaround times, which adds to the sense of being “under the pump”, and not meeting client expectations
  • Younger professionals not aspiring to be owners, because they don’t want to work the hours they see partners putting in

So, what to do when you have lots of work on and seemingly insufficient capability to get the work done?

The first thing is to make a realistic assessment. An effective, long term solution to this issue is unlikely to come from a “silver bullet”. The charismatic, six foot tall, 25 year old recently qualified accountant with Big 4 experience, excellent people skills, red hot tax knowledge, incredible work ethic and modest salary expectations that you have in mind may not actually exist. Certainly, they may have missed your posting on a popular job website, because it was surrounded by dozens of virtually identical entries.

So let’s look beyond a quick fix for an immediate problem. Rather, it’s time to think more strategically. The aim of this article is to prompt you to implement and maintain a combination of initiatives over the long term, to reduce the number of people power crises you have in the future.

In the sections that follow are a number of suggestions from which you can tailor an approach to meeting your people requirements.

Working smarter and more efficiently

Being more efficient. We’ve yet to find the firm which is delivering its core services at optimal efficiency. In every case, there are tested concepts and processes utilised by other firms, which can lead to better outcomes. This is why one of the first modules in Slipstream Coaching’s program focuses on Delivery. The usual outcome is that firms find they get through more work, much faster. You therefore may not need as many people as you thought!

Using non-qualified team members. A great example of reducing your dependency upon professional staff is by using Client Service Administrators (CSA’s). In effect, support team members are engaged to gather information, set up files, do the invoicing and attend to other aspects of completing the engagement. Embracing the CSA role means that accountants do only accounting tasks and paraplanners are freed up to produce more SOA’s.

Being more selective regarding the work you take on. If getting the right people is difficult, you may be best to reduce the number of clients. Doing more assignments of higher value for fewer clients may prove to be a better, more profitable business model. It will certainly reduce your stress levels!

Get 10 per cent more out of your current team. This is a tip I jotted down from the Head of the Business School where I did my MBA….give everyone a laptop computer to take home.

Thinking outside the square

Grow your own. This strategy is great for good, long term stability. In my firm, we hired final year undergraduates each year and had a formal training program to bring them up to speed as quickly as possible. I know of other firms who recruit school leavers with a similar plan. Provided that you dedicate the resources to their training and development, basing your HR policy on junior professionals can pay big dividends. After a few years this strategy will create a very capable team with various levels of experience. This provides ready-made replacements where team members move on and creates an environment of career progression. Growing your own is great for ensuring that everyone follows the same systems and works to your high standards. It also means you are not fishing from a pool of other firms’ cast offs.

Use more imagination. Being open to alternative arrangements could yield good results. For example, you may attract (and retain) more professionals if you are prepared to work with part timers and/or workers located off site. These days there is excellent job management software, which facilitates such arrangements. Incidentally, there is less competition from other employers in the part time section of job websites.

Spread the net widely. If you are in a remote area, your candidates may currently be living elsewhere. Consider recruiting people in the CBD who may be looking for a sea/tree change. (Hint: prime candidates are people who are originally from your area who may be interested in returning.) Perhaps you could look at accountants currently working overseas who may be interested. Or it may be valuable to look at the recruiting practices of other industries such as mining companies who also operate in remote locations.

Thinking more broadly. This strategy is particularly relevant to rural firms. I’ve seen an accounting firm out in the country set up a CBD office, the primary purpose of which is to employ accountants living in the city to do the work arising from country clients. Another approach is to outsource work to third parties. A few years ago, this alternative was in the realm of bizarre and fanciful. These days, it is a solution used by many firms. There are now a number of experienced commercial providers in this space. Or perhaps you could follow the lead from the medical profession and investigate business migration.

Retaining your best people

Treat each team member as a volunteer. Here’s a great exercise to undertake – what could you do to retain staff who worked for free? This will likely trigger all sorts of ideas including career progression, training, client contact, work environment, flexible work hours, extended holidays and social activities. Worked all that out? Could you make that work? Good – what’s stopping you from implementing it anyway?

Be amazingly considerate, flexible and supportive with professional team members who are also mums. Do I need to explain this one?

Attracting good candidates

Referrals from team members. Who better to recruit for you than a happy team member? A current employee has a vested interest in having quality team members to share the work. Involve the team in recruiting– finding candidates, the interview process and selection. By the way, I’m not a fan of financial incentives to find recruits. For me it should be just “part of the deal” in working for your firm.

Seek professional assistance. There’s certainly a role for specialist recruiters. Pick one that you feel comfortable with and aim to build a solid, long term relationship. Ensure this recruiter is well informed about your firm and has a good understanding of your requirements. Oh yes, and pay their fees on time.

Utilise your website. Naturally, top notch professionals will do their homework before deciding to work at your firm. Ensure your website is compelling and has an area dedicated to attracting quality people.

Conclusion

Yes, it can be tough and even exasperating to employ professional team members but at the end of the day this is part of the business you are in. It’s therefore important to have good, long term strategies to ensure you have the people available to do the work.

 

 

Scott Charlton is a director of Slipstream Coaching, a company dedicated to assisting financial practitioners achieve their full potential. A long term business coach to both accountants and financial planners, Scott is also the author of three books regarding professionals in practice. Scott can be contacted by phone 0409 870 330 or via email scott@slipstreamcoaching.com.au

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