How to keep top talent

To retain top talent, business managers need to take the time to understand the needs of their employees.

According to Statistics Canada, total unemployment sits at about 6.8%. When you drill down to finance professionals specifically, it sits at just 3.4%. “At that level, it’s essentially full employment,” says Dianne Hunnam-Jones, Canadian district president of specialized staffing firm Accountemps. “Hiring and retaining talent is the No. 1 issue for organizations across Canada. Finding great candidates is tougher than I’ve ever seen it. Once companies do, these recruits have many options.”

Consider the numbers: an April survey of 540 CFOs across Canada, done for global staffing firm Robert Half, revealed that 50% of respondents were having difficulty finding skilled candidates — this at a time when the majority of their companies (93%) were planning for growth.

CPAs are in high demand and this isn’t going to change any time soon, barring major upheavals, says Hunnam-Jones. “You have a core group of [employees] you do not want to lose, particularly in this job market. Re-recruit them. Sit down with them. Understand what they're looking for in their career, what’s important to them and what you can do as an organization to help them progress.”

Here she offers a few key tactics to help keep quality talent.

Make sure supervisors have strong people skills. One of the big reasons people leave an employer is because of an inconsistent relationship with their manager. So often technical stars are promoted to supervisory roles but they aren’t good with people. Provide the training and tools that will help them communicate and manage effectively. People want to feel respected and they want to be recognized for their efforts. In many ways, these are the basics, but too often they are missing and organizations pay the price when quality staff leave.

Create a career development plan. Ongoing professional development is a key aspect of the profession. As a result, CPAs tend to be aggressive about their careers. When you hire someone, talk about how he or she wants to grow in his or her career and areas of interest. Build a career plan with the individual, outlining the steps you’ll take to help him or her develop. Check in annually and adjust as necessary.

Institute performance reviews. In many larger accounting firms, performance reviews are standard, but smaller firms and those in industry may not be as consistent. Finance professionals want feedback. After all, how can they grow in their careers unless you regularly schedule meetings to discuss performance and where they are currently? This is also a good time to discuss career goals and how to realize them.

Acknowledge long hours and offer time off or flex time. The desire to achieve work-life balance is often cited as a reason to leave. Year-end, quarter-end and budget time are when many professionals are most vulnerable to be recruited out of their current company. During these times, appreciation and recognition are critical. Acknowledge when an employee puts in extra hours and offer the ability to take time off later. When you reach peak workloads, bring in temporary workers to do some of the easier, repetitive tasks to free top talent to work on more vital areas and help avoid burnout. If possible, implement summer hours and flexible work options.

“Taking the time to understand the needs of your employees, what they like and don’t like about working in your organization, tells them you are invested in their success,” says Hunnam-Jones. “This goes beyond money. Statistics show that about 70% of people who quit and receive a counteroffer to stay leave within six months anyway because the same issues arise. Keeping top talent is an important issue and one that managers have to get right.”