How do you spot the future ‘rock stars’ in your office?
Hint: It’s not about how smart they are or how hard they work.
By Rick Telberg
How do you spot the hidden rock stars on your staff?
And what do up-and-coming tax, accounting and finance professionals need to know to get ahead in today’s profession?
These aren’t idle questions. Many firms and individuals are struggling with these issues right now. But don’t take it from me. Recently, decision-makers from a dozen firms and I met in Milwaukee. The mission: Learn how to deal with a looming new staff shortage. Some took away solid action plans. “Our firm,” said one, “is trying to develop our rock stars and this showed me we need to be doing more.”
Interestingly, the Milwaukee group’s conclusions and recommendations closely parallel our related research findings. So we can be fairly certain that we’ve obtained some of the profession’s favorite strategies.
You could probably adapt one of our methods for your firm. In Milwaukee, we divided the group into two teams, the Green Team and the Blue Team. After some preliminary coaching, each team hammered out a list of the top five talent indicators – the clues in an employee’s behaviors and attitudes that demonstrate the highest likelihood of the best ROI for a firm’s time, energy, and money in training, coaching and mentoring. Then the group filled several flip chart pages with their lists and hashed them out with each other. After identifying the key indicators, we moved on to identifying the best strategies for recruiting, grooming and retaining top talent.
By far, the top predictive indicator across all firms is the trait, “They are always trying to improve.” It comes in a few flavors or variations. For instance, the Green Team at the Milwaukee strategy meeting favored a passion for “continuous learning.” The Blue Team preferred, “They do ‘extra credit’ – things that the partners wouldn’t normally expect from someone at their level.” But they add up to the same thing.
In a CPA Trendlines online survey, Darrell Hillis at Hillis & Clark CPAs in Nashville might be thinking along the same lines when he tells us that, in his opinion, the single best predictive indicator is “Someone who enjoys their work and always looking for ways to learn.” Likewise, Anthony Aleta at WD Tax Services in Thousand Oaks, Calif., tells us he would look for “someone who regularly improves themselves, others around them and the firm as a whole.” Survey participants are eligible to receive free top-line findings. Click here to join the survey; get the results.
Based on the CPA Trendlines survey, it now seems clear that the five top talent predictive indicators are:
- “They are always trying to improve.”
- “They understand the importance of bringing in new business.”
- “People listen to them.”
- “Clients say good things about them.”
- “They increasingly handle the relationship with the client.”
These are good clues for hiring managers and job-seekers alike.
Among our panel of experts, Sandra Wiley of Boomer Consulting and one of the profession’s leading performance management advisors, tells us to look for employees who “are constantly asking the question, ‘How can I get better, and can I try… (fill in the blank)?’” In addition, she says, they take “personal responsibility for their own career advancement.” Peyton Burch, an Arthur Andersen alum now at Intacct software, looks for one critical item: “Passion.”
Surprisingly, good grades and long hours may be essential to getting started in this business. But grades and hours fall to the bottom of the list for winning new opportunities and winning advancement.
“A high level of technical competency and a strong work ethic are givens and not differentiators,” says Joe Eckelkamp at The E&A CFO Group in St. Louis, and another one of our go-to people for expert advice. “You cannot succeed without them,” he says, adding, “But the ability to understand the importance of business relationships and to see opportunities where others see obstacles is what sets a person apart.”
Rick Telberg is president and CEO of CPA Trendlines. CPA Trendlines survey participants are eligible to receive free top-line findings. Join the survey; get the results.
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