According to the 2018 IPA National Benchmarking Report, CPA firms lost an average of 13% of their precious talent resources last year. Breaking that statistic down further, IPA found that 75% of firm turnover was voluntary, comprised of people who chose to leave for another CPA firm or even leave the profession entirely. There are various reasons why they are exiting – hours expectations, hectic pace, uncertainty about career path, family issues, desire to relocate – and as individual leaders, we have little influence over many of these. However, there is an action we can take immediately that binds our people to us and in turn, to the firm. It doesn’t require a ton of time or effort or even skill. We can build rapport with them, solidifying our relationships and binding them to our team.
From the Cambridge Dictionary, rapport is defined as “agreement or sympathy between people” and “a good understanding of someone and an ability to communicate well with them.”
How well do you know your team, starting with the people you mentor and directly manage and moving outward to the people who work on your engagements? I believe we could go deeper and know them better, and in doing so, have a big impact on our firm’s ability to retain team members.
Here are four small changes to make in your approach that can have an enormous impact on the rapport you have with your people.
Make (quality) time for them. Schedules are crazy this time of year, even year-round for some of us. Stephen Covey said, “The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.” Are you scheduling time with your assignees? At this time of year, consider scheduling quick 15-minute huddles to check in. During quieter periods, lunches and longer meetings would be appropriate.
Consider the interactions you have with your team and how you are coming across. Are you grouchy, short and frustrated? Overwhelmed and “busy” with tasks? It’s hard to communicate meaningfully with others when we’re in a stressful frame of mind. Set aside your irritations and worry for a few minutes and concentrate on truly listening.
Learn and remember things about their lives. You don’t have to be a private investigator to figure out the things team members enjoy doing because the clues are right in front of you. Asking a simple question like “How was your weekend?” uncovers a treasure trove of information that you can use to deepen rapport in future conversations. If you asked me about my weekend, I’d mention my Saturday morning TRX workout, and shopping with my teenagers on Sunday. The next time we bump into each other, you could say “Are you making progress on your TRX atomic pushups?” or “What’s up with the teenagers this week?” and we’re off to the races.
Connection is another key to rapport. If you don’t care about workouts or teenagers, look for something else that we have in common to discuss in future interactions. Rarely do I meet someone with whom I can’t find a common interest that fuels our conversation and subsequently, our relationship.
Approach them with positive interpretations. Each of us has a choice when we encounter disappointment. We can operate from our natural human response, which is to think the worst about the event and the people involved, leaving us feeling frustrated and victimized. Or we can choose another way, to interpret the event positively in our own minds. Interpretations are invented, both negative and positive; however, by choosing a positive set of interpretations in the face of disappointment, we can maintain our calm and be more willing to collaborate with the other party towards a solution.
For example, when a deliverable is late and the client is breathing down your neck, consider that your team member might be overwhelmed, untrained, stressed out from an issue in their personal life, or something else entirely. Use the positive possibilities to cool you down and then go find out what’s really happening.
For more on interpretations, check out Tamera Loerzel’s blog called Another Possible View.
Selflessly consider them. YES, we have to get the work done. YES, our people must produce results. And YES, we (that’s YOU and ME, too!) need to do a better job of setting expectations and holding people accountable for their outcomes. (Be 100% responsible!)
Inside of that, are there ways you could consider the needs, hopes and desires of the people around you? I promise there are. To get there, we’ve got to stop being so caught up in our stories of what we had to do to be successful and really listen for what our people care about so we can help them achieve those things.
If you know one of your team members highly values time with the family, offer to finish a Friday afternoon project so he can cut out to make an important event. If a team member shares that she’s interested in learning networking and business development skills, stop to identify two events over the next month where she can shadow you.
Once you finish busy season, ask your team members to rank their motivators, the nine things that engage each of us at work. Ask them questions like “What would you like to do more of” and “What would you like to do less of” and “What skills would you like to develop?” Use what you learn to shape their learning plans and work assignments, demonstrating your commitment to their growth and development.
The more connected you are with your team members, the more likely they are to stay, as well as grow and develop into the people you truly need around you to be successful. Which of these four actions can YOU take tomorrow, next week, and next month, even during your busy season, to Velcro your people to your firm? I hope you’ll pick at least one of these ideas and start today!