Sound-Off: Does your firm require working on Saturdays?
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By Jennifer Wilson
I always challenge firm leaders to evaluate their “old school” practices and shift toward more engaging, motivating and even “cool” ways of operating to retain top talent.
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One of the ideas we’re hearing cool firms employ is the elimination of mandatory Saturdays during busy season. When I’ve shared this in group settings at CPA conferences, I literally hear a gasp of surprise because it challenges one of the most fundamental elements of public accounting – tracking, measuring and valuing time.
Today I want to explore the possibility of eliminating mandatory Saturdays – which does NOT mean eliminating overtime in most cases – and discuss ways that might help make this “new school” idea work and make public accounting an even cooler profession for up-and-comers.
To get us started, I want to address a few mental shifts I believe your leadership team will have to make to get to the place where you give up mandatory Saturdays:
- Most firms feel that they need a certain number of total charge hours per person (varying by level and role) to meet their top-line revenue goals. I want to challenge this and suggest that what firms really need is a certain amount of revenue charged, realized and collected per person or per client, to meet revenue goals.
- When you make that leap, your firm will also have to empower your team members to work anytime they can and anywhere they want to meet their revenue and client service objectives. I realize that this "anytime, anywhere" philosophy doesn’t work for all team members – especially those in their first year or two, certain administrative staff and those who simply cannot keep focused without the structure of their office workspace. That said, many professionals are capable of working from home, while traveling or from other locations and can produce high-quality work and perhaps be even more productive working remotely. Your firm must provide a mechanism for these self-directed people to do just that – or they will go to work for a firm that will.
- A related philosophy must also be banished: the attachment to “face time.” For many Baby Boomers, there is a direct correlation between seeing someone’s face at work and believing they are committed to their job, clients and the firm. Many partners speak of people they value as “putting in the time” and others they question as “never coming in early,” “not staying late” or “not being here as much as others.” When I ask whether these people work from home in the evenings, whether they are meeting their goals, etc., there is often an acknowledgment that their performance is not suffering. Be careful not to measure office or face time over the more important measurement of deliverables and results generated.
- So, if you can begin measuring contributions and results, supporting anytime, anywhere work styles and giving up some of your face-time expectations, then your firm may be ready to make the leap that some new school firms are making – eliminating mandatory Saturdays during busy season periods. Instead of mandating specific work days and hours, firms are instead:
- Establishing specific revenue and realization goals for each staff member – broken down into a weekly number. Some firms will use charge-hour targets.
- Establishing goals for client deliverables like turnaround time goals, filing objectives and workflow targets.
- Teaching all team members the basic economics of the firm so they understand the drivers of firm growth and profitability and their part in contributing to the financial well-being of the firm. Most team members do not understand this concept!
- Investing in technology to enable access to client workpapers, files and production systems anytime, anywhere with performance that rivals performance within the confines of the office.
- Investing in tech support of personnel working remotely.
- Measuring and reporting on firm performance against goals on a weekly basis, addressing situations where deliverables are not being completed.