JOA: Rethinking Retention

Is your company attracting to quality candidates? Are you hiring for cultural fit? “Employees are always changing, and you can’t assume tomorrow’s will want what today’s do, if you build that nimbleness around how you attract, develop, recruit, promote, and retain, you’re constantly in tune to what your current workforce wants, and then you don’t have to guess.” Retensa’s Chason Hecht said. Below is an article form Journal of Accountancy by Courtney L. Vien:

Rethinking retention

One-size-fits-all initiatives won’t solve your retention problems. The key to retention, according to Retensa’s Chason Hecht, is culture.

Employee retention is — for CPA firms. In fact, according to the 2015 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues survey, retaining staff is the No. 1 concern of firms that employ 11 or more people. In fiscal year 2015, turnover rates reached 13.4% at firms with revenues of over $10 million, the AICPA and’s 2016 National Management of an Accounting Practice survey found, up slightly from 2014.

The strong economy is a key reason firms struggle with retention, said Shelly Guzzetta, CPA, manager—Firm Services at the AICPA. “Since the economy has gotten better, people have gotten bolder,” she said. “They feel more comfortable and are willing to take the calculated risk of leaving.” Social media is also a factor, she said, as it’s made it easier for CPAs to find new job opportunities and to get candid opinions on what it’s like to work at different firms.

Given the heavy costs of turnover, it’s no wonder that employers of CPAs are so concerned about retention. When employees leave, their employers must incur the cost of recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and training a new employee, and they’ll likely see a drop in productivity as the new hire gets up to speed. Estimates of the cost of turnover vary widely, but one reliable source, the Society for Human Resource Management, calculates that it can cost anywhere from 50% to 60% of an employee’s salary to replace him or

The challenge firms face is that -informed employees in high demand—such as CPAs—know that they have choices about where they work. And they’re looking for more than just a paycheck and good benefits from an employer. According to retention expert Chason Hecht, employees want to work at jobs they find personally fulfilling and where they connect to the culture. To appeal to the best employees, he said, employers need to rethink the way they approach retention.


Conventional wisdom says that Millennials won’t stay loyal to one employer for long. Hecht, president and founder of human resource consulting firm Retensa, sees things differently.

“There’s very little evidence that Millennials lack loyalty,” he said. “What they lack is a tolerance for boredom. They lack a tolerance for discontentment, disengagement, for feeling disconnected from their peers, community, and society.”

What’s more, he said, it’s no longer just Millennials who feel this way. He believes that we’re all undergoing a fundamental shift in the way we view work—and it’s making employees from all generations more likely to leave work they find unsatisfying.

“If you’re not getting fulfilled, if you’re not challenged and engaged, if you’re not doing things that are meaningful and interesting,” Hecht said, “then it’s at this point that you’ll, like most people in modern society, reflect and consider, ‘How long am I going to do this?’ ”

Consequently, employees who are in demand and enjoy a high degree of mobility—such as CPAs—are more likely to leave jobs where they don’t feel engaged and fulfilled.

Yet, too few organizations think about retention in terms of culture and engagement, Hecht said. Instead, he said, what often happens is that organizations look for — solutions to their retention problems. A company will learn about the latest trend in retention—be it unlimited vacation or nap pods in the break room—and implement it without considering whether it’s what staff really wants. Though employees do value such perks, Hecht said, they’ll be a stopgap solution at best if an organization’s staff and its culture are -matched.


Hecht advised that, instead, organizations should define their values and culture, then attract and retain staff whose passions align with their

Your first step, Hecht said, should be to determine what aspects of your culture set you apart as an organization—”what you provide, where you excel in supporting, engaging, and delivering to your workforce,” he said. For one firm, that might mean a culture that promotes transparency; for another, it might be a sense of being innovative and cutting-. (To read more about how a firm’s culture can inspire retention, see the sidebar “Brown Smith Wallace: Investing in the Whole Employee.”)

To pin down how employees view your culture, and when and how they want to work, Hecht said, continually solicit feedback from them through a variety of means: surveys, performance management data, -ended suggestions, town halls, and the like. The important thing is to do so continually—an annual survey is not enough, he said. (For a different approach to information gathering, see the sidebar “The Stay Interview.”)

“Employees are always changing, and you can’t assume tomorrow’s will want what today’s do,” he said. “If you build that nimbleness around how you attract, develop, recruit, promote, and retain, you’re constantly in tune to what your current workforce wants, and then you don’t have to guess.”

The next step, Hecht said, is to use the data you continually gather to plan ways to give employees what they value at different points during their tenure. “At each stage of the employee life cycle your workforce is either being engaged and appreciated, developing trust in you—or they’re not,” he observed.

Once you understand what it is about your culture that employees value, Hecht said, you can then create opportunities for people to engage with one another that allow for connectedness and -expression. You can create events, social opportunities, and policies that you know will appeal to them, because they’re not being implemented from the top down, he said. That way, you won’t spend a lot of money to send your staff to a pro football game when they don’t really care for sports, for example.


Hecht stressed the fact that organizations that want to retain employees need to start by hiring the right ones.

Hire for cultural fit, he said. “Authenticity starts with who you hire and who’s recruited, who’s interviewed, and the filter you create for people who join your organization,” he noted, adding that, naturally, firms in need of help will need to balance cultural fit against their other hiring needs.

Retention is about providing the best client service, but, ultimately, it’s also about finding a balance between maximizing productivity and shaping an organization where your employees want to work. As Hecht pointed out, we spend about a third of our lives at work—so whether we’re happy there matters.

“We win when organizations have the people that want to work there,” he mused. “Can you imagine a country where everybody loves their job and how different that would be?”


HBR: How to Get the Most Out of Reference Checks

Are you checking references on job candidates? What questions are you asking? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Priscilla Claman

How to Get the Most Out of Reference Checks

You think you’ve found the perfect candidate for your team, but there’s one more step you need to take before officially offering her the job: reference checks. Instead of seeing reference checks as one final hurdle, take them as an opportunity to really get to know the candidate.

When you think about it, there are really two kinds of references: the usual kind of reference in which you check in with the people your candidate has recommended, and the “around-the-back-door” reference in which you check in with people you know who also know the candidate. Here’s how get the most out of both scenarios.

Let’s take the usual kind of reference first, when you’re blindly calling someone the candidate provided. During the conversation:

Always ask how the reference knows the candidate. He might have managed your candidate for five years or be the candidate’s brother-in-law; you don’t know until you ask. Some candidates pick people as a reference who are well known in their field but whom they haven’t worked closely with. A fame-based reference isn’t helpful to you as a manager.

Compliment the candidate, and describe the job. Remember the reference was chosen by the candidate and will want you to like the candidate, too. Describing the job helps orient the reference. Follow up with, “What aspect of this job will play to Chris’s strengths?” and “What will be new to Chris in this job?”

Never show any skepticism or negativity toward the candidate or the reference will clam up out of sheer loyalty. It won’t help your reputation either if the reference gets back to the candidate about you.

Collect input from all the people who interviewed the candidate and focus on one or two concerns to check out. For example, suppose that you and the interview team think that Jodi may be overstating his accomplishments. Try open-ended questions like these, “What were Jodi’s responsibilities in the merger?” or “Tell me a little about the product development team Jodi worked on.” Then match what the reference says to what Jodi said. Did Jodi overstate her role?

Stay grounded in the facts. Cut through any gushing about how wonderful the candidate is by asking what he or she actually did. “It’s great her presentation was so successful, but tell me a little more about the content of the presentation and what made it so persuasive.”

Don’t interrupt; let the reference talk on and on. Sometimes a reference will drift from the script and give you important information if you just wait a little.

“Around-the-back-door” references can shine a different light on a candidate. The challenge is finding the right connection. If someone doesn’t immediately come to mind, look at professional associations and past employees to see if there’s any overlap. LinkedIn is always a good place to check as well.

Talking to someone you know allows you to ask questions that a candidate’s own references might not answer as objectively: “What is Lee’s reputation as a manager?” “What do colleagues and clients think of Lee?” “Would you say he’s good at mentoring and developing his staff?” Again, be sure to ask how your reference knows the candidate, and follow through with specifics, such as, “Can you give me an example?”

Your objective with both approaches is the same. You want to develop a complete picture of the person you are considering by matching what you and your interviewing team learned to what the references say. Your references should confirm or deepen your understanding of the candidate.

In the unusual event that there is a discrepancy between your own understanding and what you hear from one or more references, take the time to go back and ask the candidate to explain. You may find that it is nothing to be concerned about.

After using these tips for checking references, if you make your candidate the offer, you can feel confident that you and your hiring team have made a good choice—and you will have the star employee you are looking for.


The Employee-Motivation Checklist

Below is a blog post from FastCompany and an excerpted from Start at the End: How Companies Can Grow Bigger and Faster by Reversing Their Business Plan written by Dave Lavinsky. This is a great tool to manage your employees.

The Employee-Motivation Checklistmotivational

Of course you want employees who are happy, motivated, and productive–who doesn’t? Following each of these simple steps will get you where you want to be.

Great leaders make all the difference.

In business, we see the impact of great leaders such as Tony Hsieh, who took the helm of online shoe retailer from founder Nick Swinmurn. Under Hsieh’s leadership, the company grew from $1.6 million in sales in 2000 to more than $1 billion in sales in 2009.

Through many years of research, trial and error, and working with companies of all sizes in numerous industries, I have identified 16 critical ways to motivate your employees. Learn these techniques and adapt as many as possible in your business.

1. Make employees feel they are doing something meaningful.

A recent survey by BNET (which is now part of CBS MoneyWatch) asked the question, “What motivates you at work?

The results showed that doing something meaningful is more important than money or recognition to your employees. Twenty nine percent of respondents said that doing something meaningful was the most motivating thing about work. Money motivated 25 percent, and recognition 17 percent.

Therefore, the number one way to motivate your employees is to make them feel that they are doing something meaningful. Now, if your vision is to alleviate poverty, as Kiva’s is, getting your employees to feel like they are doing something meaningful is pretty easy. This might not seem quite as simple for the typical for-profit company. But this, too, is relatively straightforward. Establishing your company’s vision and goals–particularly involving your employees in creating them–will motivate them to achieve these objectives and help them feel that they are doing something meaningful.

2. Effectively communicate and share information.

You also must consistently share new information to ensure that your employees make good decisions.

You must always let employees know how the organization is progressing toward achieving goals. Setting KPIs and posting the associated KPI results monthly will allow you to achieve this.

3. Give employees clear job descriptions and accountability.

It is critical that you give each of your employees clear job descriptions and accountability. It’s not enough to just state each role’s responsibilities; rather, you must specify the expected results and tasks. For example, the customer service manager’s described role might be to handle all inbound customer service calls. Their expected results, however, might be to answer all calls within 15 seconds or less, resulting in 90 percent customer satisfaction in telephone follow-up service. Only by specifying roles and expected results and accountability can you get what you want from each employee.

4. Give and receive ongoing performance feedback.

When things do go wrong, don’t blame. You want to replace who questions with how questions. For example, rather than saying, “Who screwed this up?” say, “How could we improve this process or avoid this in the future?

5. Have–and show–faith and trust in your team.

Most humans have relatively fragile self-esteem. If you don’t believe your employees can do something, they won’t believe they can either, and they won’t do it. You must have faith in them. You can’t just say you have faith: you need to show you do to enhance their confidence in their ability.

To achieve this, give your employees some autonomy to make decisions. Let them take ownership of challenging projects and decide how to complete them. Although it can be a challenge for almost any manager, you must let them fail sometimes and not get angry about it.

6. Listen to, focus on, and respect your employees’ needs.

You’ve likely heard this before, but it’s worth repeating that in leadership, listening is more important than speaking. I love this quote: “Questions unite. Answers divide.” Asking questions of your team will get them to participate; dictating the answers will cause them to tune out.

7. Provide recognition to worthy employees.

Recognition is an amazing motivator. Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton authored a book called The Carrot Principle in which they discuss a study of more than 200,000 employees that they conducted over a 10-year period. The study showed that the most successful managers provided their employees with frequent and effective recognition. In fact, they found that managers realized significantly better business results when they offered employees recognition in the form of constructive praise rather than monetary rewards.

8. Provide fair compensation and pay for the performance you seek.

First, you must pay a wage that employees believe is fair compensation. Second, you must pay for performance whenever possible. This does not mean 100 percent contingent compensation. It means that you set expectations for base pay while also providing bonuses and clearly defining success. This will compel employees to strive to achieve the goals you have outlined.

9. Foster innovation.

Managers must realize that the vast majority of innovations come from frontline employees. They come from the people who are manufacturing your products or designing your services, who are interfacing with customers, and who are solving problems on a daily basis. As such, innovation must be encouraged.

10. Establish fair company policies that support the company’s goals.

Developing fair company policies that adequately support the company’s goals will motivate your employees even more. For example, you cannot treat attending a seminar as a personal day if you want to encourage continuous learning. Rather, ensure your policies and practices encourage employee feedback, collaboration, decision-making, and so on.

11. Get ongoing input from employees.

You want to invite your employees to help set goals so that they really buy into them. Seek employee input on key decisions and plans on an ongoing basis.

Understand that as the leader, you will make the ultimate decisions and plans. Even if you don’t follow your employees’ advice or take their suggestions verbatim, however, the very act of soliciting their feedback will give you more information and ideas and will make them feel involved.

12. Manage, but don’t micromanage.

Employees do not like to be micromanaged. It’s disempowering. It’s therefore important to distinguish the difference between checking in and checking up on your employees.

Likewise, when managing, don’t dictate every detail of how to complete a project. Remember, employees can’t grow and gain new skills if you’re telling them exactly what to do for every project they work on. They need a sense of autonomy to feel that they’re succeeding.

13. Encourage teamwork.

Most projects you complete will require input from several employees within your organization. Encourage these employees to work as a team rather than a collection of individuals to complete these projects. The easiest way to do this is to set up an initial meeting for the team, refer to them as a team, and give them enough autonomy so they act like a team.

14. Modify your management approach for different types of employees.

Great leaders let the employees they’re managing dictate the management approaches they use. Some employees may need or desire more handholding and coaching, whereas others will want or require less. It’s important to think about each key employee and determine the best way to lead him or her.

15. Give employees opportunities for personal growth.

Because people who get the chance to grow their skills and expertise take more pride in their jobs, you want to encourage employees in your organization to gain new skills. You can do this in many ways, such as providing on-the-job training and other opportunities to teach your employees new skills.

16. Fire people when needed.

The final technique for motivating your team is to fire people when needed. Underperformers can kill an organization; they can become cancers. When other employees see these individuals getting away with underperformance, then they start to underperform. Therefore, firing–as long as you explain to your team why people were fired–can actually motivate your employees.

The post The Employee-Motivation Checklist appeared first on FastCompany.

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Increasing Engagement of Front line Employees

This topic is very important to create loyal customers. Engaged employees go the extra mile to deliver and provide better experiences for the customers. They come up with creative processes, service improvements and remain with their employers for longer tenures, which reduces turnover and its related costs. Your employees can deliver an enormous payoff to the business, by creating passionate customers who buy more, stay longer and tell their friends, all of which generates sustainable growth.

Increasing Engagement of Front line Employees

By Kevin Eikenberry

Yesterday, while facilitating a leadership discussion with a group of managers and owners at a conference for the Lumbermens Merchandising Corporation, the topic of engaging the front line employees came up. In effect, the question was asked, ” How do I get a truck driver to engage with the business and think about their work differently?”

Of course, the question isn’t really about truck drivers, but it is a common question I get, and it is based on two mental mistakes.

  • People ask the question from their perspective, and don’t consider the perspective of the other person (or make wild assumptions about it).
  • People assume others don’t want the same things they do.

Both of these mistakes lead to the honest confusion that underlies the question.

So just how do I engage front line employees?

Everyone operates from the view of the world they see.  If you are, for example, a truck driver, there are certain things you see and think about everyday – your experiences and thoughts create your perspective. Do you and your front line folks share the same experiences and therefore thoughts? Of course not!  So in order for them to see things differently, you need to help them see different things.

Strategy:  Help people see a new perspective. Give them a chance to see the numbers. Give them a chance to sit in on different conversations. Help them see the bigger picture. Will they see it immediately? Not necessarily, but be patient, they will if you give them time, support, and encouragement. It’s like the opposite of the show Undercover Boss – when the CEO sees a new perspective, they have a new understanding.

If you think you are different because of your job, education, or station in life, get a grip. Yes, every human being is different with a unique set of wants and needs, yet at the heart, we are all human. We want many of the same things from our work, regardless of our job title.   Here is a good list for starters. (Read it if you aren’t sure what I mean).

Strategy:  If you want to engage people, especially if you aren’t sure how, ask them. Ask them some questions, then listen. Don’t get into problem solving, justification, or excuse mode. Shut up and listen. Find out what they need. Engage them from their current perspective. You’ll learn something, and you will move in the direction of a more engaged employee.

There is a lot more that could be said (and done), but this is a good start.

Now go and get started!

Twelve Questions to Measure Employee Engagement

Cover of "First, Break All the Rules: Wha...
Cover via Amazon

The other day I found this questionnaire I’ve used to capture my employees productivity, profitability, retention, and customer satisfaction. These are from First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham. You could download the PDF by clicking on the Title:

The Twelve Questions

Please answer the following questions.  1 is “no, I strongly disagree” and 5 is “yes, I strongly agree”.  These questions will help to improve your workplace. Please return by[Insert Date].  Please do not write your name on the survey.

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?          1  2  3  4 5
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?        1 2 3 4 5
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?       1 2 3 4 5

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?   1 2 3 4 5

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?   1  2 3 4 5

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?         1  2 3 4 5

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?                                                  1 2 3 4 5

8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?          1 2 3 4 5

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?                   1    2    3    4    5

10. Do I have a best friend at work?                                                    1    2    3    4    5

11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?   1 2 3 4 5

12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?                 1 2 3 4 5

The Proper Way to Write a Business Letter

Below is a blog post from WorkAwesome.

The Proper Way to Write a Business Letter.Typewriter...

Even in this world of Twitter, email, and Facebook updates, you’d be remiss to think that the standard rules for composing a business letter have gone the way of the carrier pigeon.

A properly formatted business letter not only shows off your level of professionalism, it also shows character, tact, and maturity. Sure, anyone can send anyone an email…but when you need a more formal way to communicate, like when you’re applying for a job, writing to a customer, or seeking funding for a project, a business letter is the way to go.

It’s been years (15 to be exact) since I took business typing at Orono High School. To this day I still think that what I learned in that class has helped me in college, grad school, and in my professional life. Not only do I type at lightening speeds (not to brag) but I know how to format any business letter or resume.

There are several formats for a business letter, but they generally fall into two categories: block and indented. The difference? The block format has no indentations and the indented format does. Simple, really.

The first thing on the page should be your return address. If you are writing this on company letterhead that already has the address on it somewhere, you can leave this off.

The next thing that should appear is the date. It’s important to include it because correspondence is frequently filed in date order. Plus, if you are sending a follow-up, it’s easy to mention “…in my letter dated February 1…”

The date is followed by the complete name, title, and address of the recipient. In many cases the person who opens the mail is not the same person you are addressing it to. Including the name and address on your letter ensures it’s being sent to the right person, even if it gets separated from the envelope.

If you don’t know if a female recipient is married or not, it’s perfectly acceptable to use “Ms.” If you don’t know the title or correct spelling of a persons name, find out. I can’t tell you how annoying it is to get a letter with my name spelled wrong. Especially when it is so easy to find out. Go online or better yet, call and ask the receptionist.

Next comes the salutation. You can either use a comma or a colon after their name.

Now it’s time to write your actual letter. If you are using the block format type every line flush with the left margin. If you are using the indented format, indent the first line of each paragraph. Don’t get all fancy-schmancy and use some hard-to-read font. Use Times New Roman or Georgia. The letter should be single spaced, too, and a single line should separate each paragraph.

The most common closing is “Sincerely”, and I suggest you keep it simple and use it followed by a comma and your name. You will leave space after your typed name so that there is room for you to sign it with a pen.

Are you enclosing a resume or other materials with your letter? Be sure to indicate it with “Enclosure” or “Enclosures” under your name. This way the recipient will be sure to acknowledge what you have included with your letter.

If you are emailing this letter, it’s wise to use it as the body of your email and including it as an attachment. Note that some computers can’t open certain documents (like .docx). It’s best to attach it as a .doc or .rtf – or even as a .pdf file.

Here’s a map to more clearly show you the formatting:

(top margin)
101 Main Street
Anywhereville, NY 12345    (hit return four times) 


February 1, 2011    (hit return twice)

Ms. Melanie Brooks, Editor
National Magazine
1001 State Street
Anywhereville, NY 12345    (hit return twice)

Dear Ms. Brooks:    (hit return twice)

I am writing to inquire about a job opportunity I saw posted on I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism, a master’s degree in marketing, and five years of experience as a staff writer at Regional Magazine.

My resume along with three published clips and a list of people to call for recommendations are enclosed with this letter.    (hit return twice)

Sincerely,    (hit return four times)

(sign your name in ink here)

Eloise Garfinkle    (hit return twice)


(Image courtesy of HeavenlyCabins under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license.)

The world’s worst boss

That would be you.

Even if you’re not self-employed, your boss is you. You manage your career, your day, your responses. You manage how you sell your services and your education and the way you talk to yourself.

Odds are, you’re doing it poorly.

If you had a manager that talked to you the way you talked to you, you’d quit. If you had a boss that wasted as much as your time as you do, they’d fire her. If an organization developed its employees as poorly as you are developing yourself, it would soon go under.

I’m amazed at how often people choose to fail when they go out on their own or when they end up in one of those rare jobs that encourages one to set an agenda and manage themselves. Faced with the freedom to excel, they falter and hesitate and stall and ultimately punt.

We are surprised when someone self-directed arrives on the scene. Someone who figures out a way to work from home and then turns that into a two-year journey, laptop in hand, as they explore the world while doing their job. We are shocked that someone uses evenings and weekends to get a second education or start a useful new side business. And we’re envious when we encounter someone who has managed to bootstrap themselves into happiness, as if that’s rare or even uncalled for.

There are few good books on being a good manager. Fewer still on managing yourself. It’s hard to think of a more essential thing to learn.