The Art of CPA Retention: Strategies to Hold on to Your Best Staff

BY: James Thomas

In the current turbulent economic climate, holding onto your best finance and accounting staff/CPAs has never been so important. The cost of replacing lost talent is far greater than the cost of retaining talent. Keeping your best staff satisfied requires a great deal of effort and tenacity on a continuing basis. Moreover, this cannot be done as a one-off action: it requires creating a positive culture that employees believe is unique to your firm. The following six “rules” form a basic guideline that can assist you in creating a culture and business that is not only exceptional, but one that will help you to retain your top CPA talent.

Rule #1: Career development

Often, talented CPAs cite lack of career development as a key motivator for starting to search for anew role. To combat this, regular monthly or quarterly performance reviews should beheld, and there must be constant communication between employer and employee. These meetings should focus on what that individual CPA is striving for and what the employer can provide to further develop the individual.

Providing reviews in this manner can be time consuming, but it is important for the employer and employee to work in partnership to set career goals. Many employees—and most star performers—need the feedback and want to have the next step clearly outlined so they can target and achieve them. Utilizing a review program with this type of constant dialogue, coupled with additional training and mentoring, can reduce the impact of outside temptations (job advertisements, headhunters, etc.), as well as increase productivity.

Rule # 2: Stretch and motivate

Line managers and senior management must become part of their staff ’s career from day one, as this develops a sense of genuine interest in their development, as well as fostering a sense of belonging to a team, to a department and ultimately to a business. This sense of interest is best achieved through a strong and effective management by the employer. The employer should ask themselves “what does this individual need to be better?” and “how can I stretch and motivate them?” This rule ties effectively back into Rule# 1, and requires simple, regular and clear communication.

Rule # 3: It’s not always about the money

Too many employers have kneejerk reactions to the fear of losing key employees. They simply increase bonuses or salaries. But intangible rewards often generate a much greater sense of belonging to a business and thus increase retention rates. Such rewards can come from such things as regular verbal praise, encouragement, team bonding sessions and regular communications with senior management. Each of these actions motivate staff and help create a positive and enjoyable work culture, which, in turn, massages the egos of the key performers and fosters a genuine sense of belonging. Seeing senior management taking a personal interest in an individual’s development and performance is very powerful.

Rule # 4: Hire quality

Retaining top talent can further be improved by hiring top talent. Set the benchmark high, and bring in quality that will surround your current performers with individuals who can push and stimulate each other to bigger and better things.

Rule # 5: Responsibility and challenge

Your main goal is to retain your best staff, who are usually the most difficult to retain (and replace). By challenging these employees by offering them greater levels of responsibility, you’ll increase their desire to remain with your firm. Rewarding them with additional responsibility serves three purposes: (1) you’ll be able to delegate some responsibility to others; (2) you’ll be able to assess their management ability; and (3) you’ll demonstrate that you see them as central and important to not only you, but to the entire firm.

Rule # 6: Get to know your staff, make a human connection

Not everything can, nor should, be purely work related. By getting to know and understanding the person “outside the office,” you will create a collaborative and supportive work culture. This is particularly important in the current climate with employees often having merited or unmerited concerns over their career, which in turn can lead to them exploring those external work opportunities. Talking to your employees on a daily basis, getting to know them on a personal level and understanding their career goals can help you make a long lasting connection.

Retaining your top CPA staff will improve the long term profitability and success of your firm. Following these helpful guidelines will allow you to create a culture where CPAs and other staff do not want to leave, increase employee retention and maximize efficiency. Your employees will stay longer and work harder, and new job seekers will seek out you firm so they can be part f its positive culture.

About the author:

James Thomas has been recruiting for Michael Page for five years. He started his career in London and has spent the last 18 months developing the corporate tax function for the business based out of New York. He specializes in recruiting in-house tax positions ranging from tax directors to tax accountants. You can find out more by visiting


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