It was great to be back in person at AICPA’s Engage Conference last week in Las Vegas! As a provider to the CPA profession, I was excited to see the conference grow in attendance and programming. I was equally excited to have an opportunity to be face to face with clients, prospects, colleagues, and friends.
As a technologist, I’m always interested in what problems my fellow providers have recently tackled as well as the experience that firms have with their solutions. And while I did a good bit of investigative work on new tech, the main themes I walked away with were around team building as it pertains to talent challenges, change management (the people side of change), and continued trends in managing an ever-evolving remote workforce.
The tone of the conference was set by Coach Mike Krzyzewski in his keynote in which he offered this observation: “the change induced by the pandemic is neither good, nor bad – it’s just change. It is up to all of us to determine that qualifier.” As we manage change around processes, remote work challenges, accelerated mergers and acquisitions, new solution implementation and staffing challenges, carefully listening for feedback from our clients and our staff and quickly acting on that feedback is key to creating great teams and managing change through our firms in a positive way.
A key piece of advice that was a slam dunk (sorry, I had to) for me was to focus on two questions with my teams – 1. What do you think? 2. How do you feel? Those two questions asked frequently enough, will provide the insight you need to guide your team to success and help create a culture of trust. That culture of trust is what will allow you to pivot quickly in adopting change of any kind. Knowing that you can count on your leadership and your teammates removes a lot of friction and can propel your firm forward. Here are a few other things I learned about teams in an array of sessions this year:
- Building great teams is THE way to attract, retain and inspire talent and a way to drive profitability.
- In today’s market, finding great talent is much harder than finding great clients and requires the same level of focus and strategy.
- Service organizations are built on relationships, which is true of clients and client teams.
Onboarding was a hot topic as well. Once we get the right staff over the line to our side of the court (again, had to do it), creating a welcoming experience from multiple vectors is critical. Many speakers devoted time to DEI with a focus on inclusion and belonging. How do we ensure people from diverse backgrounds feel welcome in our firms? Another piece of wisdom from Coach K: “cultures built on values is what attracts and retains the best talent”. Asking those two key questions around how you feel and what you think go a long way to helping people feel valued and included. It would be interesting to consider how we can build those questions into the fabric of our firms to create a more inclusive culture.
Creating a digital experience that is welcoming works hand in glove with the work your talent acquisition teams are doing. There was quite a bit of discussion and debate around the best ways to do that and the best technologies to leverage, but there was no debate that the goal is a highly automated, employee centric digital onboarding experience with a coordinated digital learning and development program.
Trends around hiring outside of our geographic area was another popular topic at the conference. Challenges discussed included the need for follow the sun processes and support for outsourced talent and the unique cybersecurity challenges presented by leveraging outsourced organizations. Firms are tackling these issues both for outsourced firms and a more geographically dispersed workforce as regional firms are hiring nationally. Quick pivots from IT departments are necessary as we continue to grow the remote workforce.
Other important topics included firm leadership alignment and its impact on culture and client culling based on retention criteria beyond and including profit. The impact on our staff and culture that results from a difficult client is an important criterion to evaluate as we seek to continually improve that culture. With talent so difficult to get and retain, this has risen to the top of a lot of leadership discussions for culture and profitability.
With that I will say again that it was great to be at the conference in person and I look forward to working with firms this year who are including IT outsourcing in their strategic plans, freeing up internal IT to lean into automation projects, new solution implementations and remote work needs.
As any good problem solver will tell you, where there are challenges, there are opportunities. I remain optimistic about the changes we face today and want to play my part in making these changes positive.