Working with leaders of firms in completely different geographies and of a variety of sizes, I continue to have discussions with them about slightly different yet completely related topics:  a lack of traction in a mentoring program, an inability to get engagement reviews completed by both staff and managers and concerns that a partner group didn’t have enough empathy and compassion to engage and develop people.

In all three cases, there are steps the partner or HR leader can take to make improvements to these people programs.  But what concerns me is that the real root cause of these issues – the crux of the people challenge in public accounting – is that firms pay lip service to their commitment to people but do not reward those who develop people above those who do not.

I have the privilege of sitting in the “small room” with firm leaders as they identify their future partners. I have rarely heard a leadership group choose a candidate on the basis of their people development abilities.  Instead, the things that drive increased pay and promotion continue to be client service ability, chargeability, book of business and the ability to develop new business.

No matter what a firm says, or has written related to the things they value,  the truth is that they do not place the premium value – pay and promotion – on people development skills. I’ll go even further on this:  firms make it difficult for their best people developers to dedicate the time to invest in people programs and activities because they people-development-artmust first focus on the “holy grail” items of client service, chargeability, book and BD and there simply isn’t enough time left for mentoring, training, performance managing and career planning.

In 2013, we had a corporate theme “It’s All About People – Again!” I am reminded today of the continued tidal wave of pent up turnover coming, coupled with the continuing exodus of our “top end” Baby Boomers out of the profession and into retirement.  These two factors are creating a perfect storm – where young people rule and firms scramble to improve their engagement and recruiting programs.

As your firm refocuses on your people programs, please take the time to discuss this blog with your senior leaders.  Ask yourselves what you’ll need to change to place a genuine – not lip service — premium on people development.

Give real credit to those who do this work best.  Clear their schedules so they can get on it immediately.  Reward them when they show results that can be measured through retention rates, promotion of their direct reports and ultimately increased profitability for your firm.  Do it now — before it’s too late.  I truly believe your firm’s future depends on it!




This popular blog from February 2013 was updated and published today because of its relevance to our many readers.