The 7 Experiences Millennials Want from Your Firm

Young businesswoman4 ways to motivate millennial staff ... plus how to impress millennial clients.

By Hitendra Patil
Accountaneur: The Entrepreneurial Accountant

“I never believed that millennials is an issue my firm needs to address.”

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When the owner of a fast-growing firm that is 100 percent on the cloud expressed this to me, I was surprised. No, astonished.

I was expecting a 100 percent cloud firm was a perfect match for the perceived preferences of millennials.

So, what about the millennials was troubling this firm? And is it a challenge for many other firms?

A bookkeeping firm owner recently told me that his staff’s productivity is only three days a week. The problem? Employee disengagement!

NY Times Best Seller author Chester Elton and his organization, The Culture Works, conducted a new 7,000-person research study. It unveiled three key findings to unlock employee engagement.

Accounting firms are not immune to this disengagement discomfort. Millennials now form the biggest portion of the workforce in America. And baby boomers are retiring. This combination is a burning issue for the accounting profession to overcome.

What Really Motivates Millennials?

Millennials often leave good jobs in search of fulfilling their need for more challenges.

Surprisingly, money is at the bottom of the motivation scale for millennials. Do not misunderstand. Millennials tend to negotiate hard up front to get the best possible pay package. But once done, money is no longer a motivator. It is simply a satisfier.

What, then, really motivates millennials?

The research revealed that:

  • One of the topmost motivators for millennials is impact, i.e., they want to know that the work they do makes a difference.
  • The next top motivator for millennials is learning, developing and growing in career.
  • Interestingly, millennials want their work to make their families and friends feel proud. Work-life balance is high on the agenda of millennials.

Do not be surprised if a millennial wants to leave your firm because he/she is not able to get the time to travel. They want quality time with the family and play a responsible role in growing the family.

What Will Help Accounting Firms Attract Millennials?

Accounting firms looking to engage millennials need to give fair pay but after that’s done, it is all about:

  • Impact
  • Learning, development and growth
  • Work-life balance and Family

Remember, for millennials, impact is a top motivator. They want to know they are making a difference.

As an accounting firm (or any other business), if you have that “higher call,” you will attract millennials. It’s not just what we do and how we do it but why.

For example: Yes, we are an accounting firm, but we donate our time and money for charities. We raise funding for drinking water in remote areas. We raise money for farmers and food ... and so on.

Millennials have grown up with technology and social media. It is their second nature to remain connected to their communities. “We are doing things to better the community” resonates well with millennials.

With their learning, development and growth focus, millennials need to know how they are going to develop themselves. Creating a career path as just a task, responsibility and designation roadmap is not enough anymore.  It is important to also explain how that growth path will develop which competencies in them. If you can clearly articulate to millennials that they will have more opportunities to go deeper and learn wider, they may change jobs but they might prefer to change jobs within your firm.

What Will Help Accounting Firms Retain Millennials?

“Millennials want to work for six months and be a CEO.”

That is a complete misnomer and an exaggerated perception.

Research indicates that over 65 percent of millennials are looking to change their jobs within two years. The life span of an employee in a company seems to be shortening drastically. And accounting is a deeper knowledge profession. Time is essential for anyone to come to terms with the demands of the accounting and tax profession.

So how can accounting firms win over this conundrum? How can accounting firms keep motivating millennials once they join the firm? Four ways:

Quick onboarding: The cost of hiring-training-replacing cycles is high. And that’s not going to change with the millennial generation coming into workplaces. We just need to find ways to better manage the expense of this hiring cycle. Earlier, it would take a year for a new employee to learn on the job. Now, we simply don’t have a year; maybe we have 30-60 days. And that tells us we need to onboard the employees quickly and train them fast to make them productive as quickly as possible.

Quick mentoring: So the idea is that you want to supply the knowledge quickly and assign mentors to lead their learning journey as quickly as possible. It requires a definite change in the “learn-on-the-job-by-yourself” attitude. It is an investment by firm owners and partners to shape the futures of their firms. It might sound like unbillable hours. But if you do not invest this time, it will cost your firm significantly in any case – by having to keep rehiring at a faster frequency.

Quick acceptance: A faster attrition rate is a reality with the millennial generation. Do not feel they betrayed your trust by leaving your firm more quickly than what you expected. We just need internalized acceptance of this fact. Do not excommunicate them and ostracize them. As a firm owner, even when you have to say goodbye, do it in a dignified way.  For example, “Hey, this is great! Tell me about the new opportunity. We wish you well. If you ever decide to come back, please make sure we are the first to know.” (If you want them back.)

The idea of "We have to keep millennials employed with us for 10 years" may be misplaced. We need to say, “Now that we've got them, let's engage them. Let's have fun. Let's be productive. If they leave, they leave. And let's make sure we've got a good pipeline coming in.”

Quick flexibility: Work-life balance and family are also top motivators for millennials. The shift from hourly billing to value pricing may be slow and gradual, but the shift from “working hours defined by employer” to “working hours defined by me (the millennial employee)” is much faster. With the millennial age group being 19-36, the occurrences of family-related events will be more frequent. This will demand more flexibility of working hours – not necessarily of productivity, output and outcomes. Fortunately, rapid growth of cloud technologies gives accounting firms the ability to break free from locational boundaries. This just needs a flexible mind, and preparing for internal processes that can measure work outcomes irrespective of location.

And millennials are tech-savvy. If they don’t know something, they will crowdsource it from their friends. It is definitely important for accounting firms to make their internal systems, knowledge and people “social-enabled,” without the traditional (metaphorical) walls separating people. Be accessible. Having a mentor up front and having a very clear career and development path is critical.

What Will Help Accounting Firms Attract and Retain Millennial Clients?

The concern is not just millennial staff. Accounting firms’ clients are also going to be millennials. So how do accounting firms get and keep millennial clients?

If you can get like talking to like, your chances of success are greater. Baby boomers selling to millennials can be a real disconnect. Millennials selling to millennials – you are better off. But the millennial generation is actually a wide spectrum of age range so some millennials already act like baby boomers.

There are personality assessments that help us figure out who you are, what you are good at and what you are passionate about. These tools help you match people with clients. And they can help you know who can form a better team within your accounting firm.

“Impact” and “flexibility” mean a lot to not only staff but also to millennial clients. Associating with communities with which millennial clients associate can cut short expensive sales cycles. The flexibility to access not only their accounting reports and tax information but also their accountants at the time and place of their choosing can be huge factors in their decision to work with you (or with your competitor).

The Accounting Firm’s Quick Cheat Sheet to Win the Millennials Battle:

Here is what a millennial would think to him/herself when choosing and working at a firm:

  1. I have a community to work with and make a meaningful difference.
  2. I have a career path that develops me.
  3. I have a mentor who actively leads and guides me in my career progression.
  4. I have access to the knowledge base of the firm and its people.
  5. I am continually learning.
  6. I have the flexibility to deliver work on time without always being bound to the clock and location.
  7. I earn enough to take care of my needs and my family's needs.

Accounting firms that provide millennials these seven experiences may well succeed in attracting and keeping millennials longer than their competitors.

8 Responses to “The 7 Experiences Millennials Want from Your Firm”

  1. Garrett Wagner

    Hitendra, after reading your post, I think you may have a little millennial in you.

    As a millennial myself one of the things that amazing me is that firms and people still have a hard time understanding us. As your article lays out, we are rather clear in what we want out of life and our jobs. We want to make a difference where we work, where we live, and the world.

    The reason we want those things is that we this every day in the world from amazing entrepreneurs who are changing the world both inside their company and the community they interact with. More than anything else we want to be successful entrepreneurs, they are our role models and who we want to be. I think all cpa firms would benefit from having more entrepreneurs on the team vs. technicians.

    Sadly most firms when trying to “understand” millennials simply try to offer more money and more happy hours, neither of which fulfills our needs and goals in life. We live in a world of wide open and free knowledge with technology integrated into most aspects of our lives and then we go to work at a cpa firm which is still clinging to the past.

    As people often say, this industry has always been this way, is all the more sign that now is the time for a major change in this profession. Firms of all sizes are seeing a massive talent shortage as they are unwilling to change, it is time they embraced the millennial mindset and took a step into the future.

    • Hitendra R. Patil | Author: Accountaneur: The Entrepreneurial Accountant

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, Garrett! You rightly identified that there is a bit of a millennial in me, actually more than just a bit :)

      You hit upon the not so obvious point – it is not the birthdate that defines a millennial, but the fact that with the internet and social media, there is much more awareness out there now (compared to earlier years) about how entrepreneurs are changing the world and that does inspire generations. That is why I wrote the book “Accontaneur: The Entrepreneurial Accountant”!

  2. Paul Partridge HaydenRock Partner

    Thanks, Hitendra, for weighing in on this important topic. We talk to dozens of CPAs every week, and we’re seeing many of the issues you document. One thing for CPA firms to keep in mind when choosing to deal with or ignore these issues: because of demographic patterns, it’s a buyer’s market out there. For those who choose the ostrich approach, know that millennials have many options and alternative choices available to them today. Whether you agree with their preferences or not, they have all the leverage.

    • Hitendra R. Patil

      Thanks, Paul for sharing your thoughts. From the discussions we have with accounting firm owners every day, we do get a clear message that millennials do have more leverage than prior generations and it is all the more a reason for accounting firms to provide better experiences to attract talent. It is not that firms will lose talent to other firms only but they will lose millennials to altogether different industries.

  3. Carl Heintz

    You want to know what’s wrong with CPA firms? Here’s my list:
    (1) The cocksure arrogance and self-importance of (many) firm partners
    (2) The archaic class system ( intern, staff, incharge, senior, manager, partner)
    (3) The inane focus on timekeeping and the “budgeted time”
    (4) The utter cheapness of firm management in providing work environments conducive to productivity
    (5) The failure to provide real training and mentoring
    (6) The lack of creativity in helping clients

  4. R Scott Preacher CPA

    Isn’t this what people have always wanted? Accounting firms have always: to hire incoming employees promised them they would could be partner is short order. Worked them like hell for a few years and when they realized the illusion quit or were let go. The CPA firm hired another trainee and the process started all over. The accounting profession is like a blue collar job in a white collar environment. You either learn to love it or you leave it.

    • Hitendra R. Patil

      Thanks, Scott for sharing your thoughts. You are right. People have always wanted the experiences mentioned in the article. The key difference according to the research cited is that now, people are more willing than before to be more careful in selecting the jobs that they believe will provide them those experiences (as against preference of having a job even if it did not offer all those experiences). Firms all over the country are reporting “talent shortage” problems, even the smaller firms.

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