Most professionals are not engaged.

You might disagree with this because your mind will go to the few great employees who are productive and willing to die for the firm, but these are the abnormal. The normal employee puts in minimal effort and leaves for the next pay increase. Evidence of this is the high industry turnover rate and the staffing shortage. Young professionals are leaving public accounting to go into private industry. Why? They are disengaged and not seeing a future.

Why does this happen?

They see their firm deeply ingrained in compliance and not moving toward the direction the CPA profession is headed. The future is not 1040s, tax returns and mandatory financial statement audits. Your staff knows their future is in consulting. They move firms because their other firm is flat. They are seeking something better and then eventually leave your firm for the next offer. They will stay and become involved if they see a firm doing advisory work or moving toward it.

Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, CPA firms have changed.

Your clients need compliance, but value advice. Why is audit the lowest realization in almost every firm? It’s needed, but not valued. Why are most 1040s not value priced? Because a return is not valued. A tax strategy though is valued. Why do business brokers charge high fees? Because they monetize a lifetime of a client’s hard work. Specialty taxes are value billed because they bring cash to the bottom line.

How do you engage staff?

Feed what they value. They see technology doing tax returns in the future. They want to be advisors. Yet, they need leadership to carve that path for them. Here’s part of the problem, most firm leadership is not consulting-oriented. They are compliance production focused. Understandably so, because today compliance dollars pay the salaries. So how does a leadership team who is not strong in consulting teach their staff how to become advisors?

It is hard to fix what may not appear to be broken, but look at most firms.

Most are broken already. Staff turnover is high because they are frustrated. Many do not see a future in public accounting because they do not see firms taking the advice given at conferences or asking clients what is keeping them up at night. They are fulfilling needs. Needs have a place but are subject to commodity pricing. This is why there is the low realization on audits. Advice though is priceless. If you want further proof if your firm is broken look at your succession plan. Do you feel you have a solid succession?

Here is the irony.

Firms have their clients age, income, debt, etc. They can see the client drivers, yet they focus on historical reporting. You have all their information. Mine it. Ask them the 3 to 5 items they think are most important to them. Then, ask them if they could only pick one item, which would it be. Now, ask them the obstacles that are blocking progress toward their 3 to 5 goals. If you do this, you will have everything they value, their most important item, and their pain points.

Now, turn your staff loose.

Get them to do what they do best, analyze the numbers of each client. Teach them how to see opportunities to sell consulting and how to talk to the clients to begin the conversation. If you do that, you engage them. Once they are engaged, staff retention will soar.