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6th Annual Award for Biggest Problem in the CPA Profession: Treatment of Staff

By Marc Rosenberg, CPA

What's a staff person worth? At an average firm, a $50,000 staff person generates about $70,000 of profits (after payroll expenses but before overhead); for excellent firms, the profit figure is closer to $100,000. Most firms would consider a $70-$100,000 client a jewel. One would think that partners at CPA firms would treat their staff with the same passion, energy, respect and commitment to service that a $100,000 client would command. Sadly, the majority of CPA firms "just don't get it." At a time in the profession when the supply of people has never been slimmer and the ability to retain people in the face of lucrative career alternatives has never been more difficult, one would think CPA firms would redouble their efforts to make their firms great places to work. But I'm still finding many firms paying lip service to the notion of treating staff at least as important as their best clients. And that's why my award for the industry's biggest problem this year goes to Treatment of Staff (or lack thereof). It's no secret what it takes to retain staff. First and foremost, the key to staff retention is the way they are treated in the organization. The # 1 reason why employees leave any job is how they are treated by the boss. A large number of the firms I work with have at least one partner who is openly abusive to staff. This cannot be tolerated. On an interpersonal level, CPA partners need to treat employees with respect, trust and compassion. But that's not all. Partners must go out of their way to develop staff. Part of this is training. In virtually every firm I worked with this year, partners had serious complaints about technical competence in staff members, and yet these same partners readily admitted that they personally had done little to train and develop staff. It's a vicious cycle: Firms hire staff, do little to train them, and get frustrated over competency and performance issues; staff jump ship because they can never meet the partners' expectations. Training should be a top priority for CPA firms, and partners should be held accountable for staff development.

Other suggestions for improving staff retention:

  • Keep the staff busy; don't coddle them with ridiculously low billable hour expectations.

  • Give them flexibility; people today want control over their lives. Focus on what they produce, not when they work.

  • Communicate to the staff what's going on in the firm; partners are often needlessly secretive about too many things.

  • Make sure your firm has direction and a vision; firms that are treading water with no direction will see their good staff make a beeline for the door.

This article appeared in The Management Catalyst. Marc Rosenberg, CPA is a management and marketing consultant to CPA and law firms nationwide. He assist firms in retreat facilitating, profitability improvement, practice management reviews, strategic planning, partner compensation & retirement, partner conflict resolution, staff development, mergers and acquisitions, and marketing. His firm, The Rosenberg Associate is based in Northfield, Illinois. You can reach him at (847) 501-4888 (847) 501-4888 and at

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