Practice Management Small Business

CPA Practice Owners: Motivate Employees to Go That Extra Mile

Written by Salim Omar

One of the many things I’ve learned in building a successful accounting practice is the importance of retaining “championship” employees.CPA Practice Owners

Keep in mind, I said “championship” employees above. I continue to talk to practitioners who take pride in the long tenure of their staff. However, when I inquire further, some of their long-term employees are also their “deadbeats.”  They stick around just to collect their paycheck with not much in contribution. Having team members like that who have been with the firm for a long time is nothing to be proud of.

This article does not show you how to turn “deadbeat” employees around to become champions. That is too big of an uphill road. Deadbeats should be let go. Instead, in this article I will share with you how to get your champion team members to stay and your average team members to perform at higher levels.

Anne M. Mulcahy, former CEO at Xerox, said, “Employees who believe that management is concerned about themas a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.”

Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, said, “Everyone wants to be appreciated, so if you appreciate someone, don’t keep it a secret.”

If you have a champion employee, I urge you to put the work in to retain that employee. Champion employees are pure gold, and critical to the long-term success of your practice. Don’t let them get away. They might even be persuaded to take their talents to your competition.

But what if you don’t have “champion” employees? What if you have employees who are merely “acceptable”? Recognize that with a little of the right effort, those so-so employees can be nurtured to become champions. Either way, recognition and appreciation are the way to go. They serve as accelerators of performance and engagement, which lead to delighted, enthusiastic clients which lead to extreme profitability.

So let’s talk about how you can give recognition to your employees.

Stay Alert to Opportunities

Unfortunately, we can get so wrapped up in running our practices that we fail to notice when an employee has done an exceptional job. Get in the habit of keeping your eyes and ears open for opportunities to genuinely praise an employee. Look for capabilities like:CPA Practice Owners

  • Handling a client situation extraordinarily well
  • Offering a brilliant idea for improvement
  • Completing a project with marked efficiency
  • Making a positive contribution toward the firm’s goals

One way to increase your chances of recognizing opportunities for praise is to have regular team meetings and one-on-ones with your team members. Be sure to communicate that these meetings are a positive event, not a punishment. Let them know that the purpose of the one-on-one meetings is to ensure that you are there to support them. Encourage employees to ask for help when needed and to contribute creative solutions.

It Really Isn’t About the Money

Many practitioners make the mistake of thinking they can’t afford to recognize their employees. These practitioners assume that recognition and appreciation must always come in the form of a monetary bonus or raise.

Actually, however, money isn’t as powerful a reward as people often think.

The great Dale Carnegie said, “People work for money, but go the extra mile for recognition, praise and rewards.”

Dr. Bob Nelson, the noted speaker and author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, tells us, “People may take a job for more money, but they often leave it for more recognition.”

While it’s true that pay and bonus must be competitive to attract and retain talented employees, smaller amounts of cash – anything short of $1,000 – never make the best rewards because they are easily forgotten.

In fact, one-third of the employees to whom you give a cash reward will use that money to pay bills. A few months down the line, one in five won’t remember how much they received or where they spent it.

Rewards that tap an employee’s emotional triggers make bigger, longer-lasting impressions. So how do you choose the right reward? By getting to know your employees and what they value, then choosing rewards that speak to those values. For example, if you have an employee who’s a real family man, consider giving him a reward that he can use to spend time with his family. If an employee is endlessly curious and ambitious, consider a reward that she can use to learn and advance herself. Rewards that give a nod to an employee’s personal interests feel special. Employees also appreciate rewards that are a treat or luxury – something they might not ordinarily get for themselves, but which address a current need.

Need some suggestions? You’ve got it!

Ideas for Employee Recognition That Aren’t Cash

Here are a few rewards I’ve used in the past with great success:

  • To reward a great team effort, hire a massage pro to come into the office for an afternoon.
  • To show appreciation to an employee who’s put in a lot of hours, treat them to maid service at home for a month.
  • Gift the employee with an online class in something he or she is interested in learning.
  • For an employee who is embarking on a new skill or sport, gift them with several hours of one-on-one practice with a coach or other pro.
  • Gifts that arrive month after month for a year will remind the employee consistently of your gratitude. This could be anything from a magazine subscription to a membership in the jerky-of-the-month club.
  • Recognize employees for their strengths with attractive framed certificates they can keep in their work areas. Create awards to address specific talents, such as “Outstanding Problem-Solving Skills with Clients.” The more specifically the accomplishment is named, the more impact it will have.

David Novak, Co-Founder and CEO of Yum! Brands, Inc. warns, “People leave when they don’t feel appreciated. That’s why we’ve made recognition a really high value. Our business is people-capability first; then you satisfy customers; then you make money.”

How can you inspire your employees to apply the best of themselves to the growth of your CPA firm? What are some creative ways to trumpet and celebrate their contributions? How can you make it a part of your Practice’s culture?

About the author

Salim Omar

Salim Omar has spent the last 20 years uncovering the keys to success of any CPA firm.

He’s used his financial expertise and his own struggles in the early years of starting and growing his CPA firm as a springboard for understanding the success principles that create accounting firms that are profitable, respected and fun for their employees.

Feeling unfulfilled and tired of corporate politics and a long commute, in 1996 Salim left a “cushy” corporate CFO position with a corner office to fulfill his mission of starting his own CPA firm.

He soon found out that this was no easy task, and he struggled with low-paying clients, poor cash flow, and a high employee turnover.

After going $100,000 into debt, Salim made it his mission to transform his struggling practice into a highly profitable, 12+ person firm that it is today. Best of all, he works only a few days a week while his practice continues to thrive.

Salim is considered by many as the #1 advisor and thought leader for accounting firms. His company, CPA Marketing Genius, helps practitioners avoid the same pitfalls he encountered, and to create their own lifestyle practice.

He has authored popular books such as, The Million Dollar CPA Firm, and The Ultimate CPA Practice in the New Economy. He has been featured in a range of prestigious publications such as The CPA Journal, Financial Advisor and Wealth Manager and on the cover of Accounting Today.

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