Today’s Labor Market
Today’s labor environment is extremely fluid, and not in a good way. The U.S. has experienced record high resignations; in fact, resignations hit an all-time high in November 2021 with more than 4.5 million employees quitting their jobs – and most without a fallback plan. To exacerbate the situation, the U.S. is seeing more professionals choosing to leave the accounting profession or leave the workforce entirely, all while we are experiencing near record low unemployment rates. Take into consideration the reduction in the number of accounting graduates and fewer seeking certification, and some may say the future looks bleak.
The Great Resignation, as it has been termed, has created an unprecedented sense of panic. In the past, when firms struggled to find prospective employees, recruiters and marketers alike had tactics in place to combat the issue, and though they may have had to get creative, they managed to fill most positions…eventually. Today, even the most enticing of those tactics are not working; there just aren’t enough people to fill the vacancies. While the issue is bigger than anyone could have imagined, it is critical for firm leadership to not only understand the dynamics of today’s workforce, but to also understand the impact of culture.
The Changing Mindset
There is no doubt the workforce mindset is changing. Before, people sought out pensions, whereas now the focus is more about working for an organization with a purpose. The workforce used to hold a good boss in high esteem, while now the emphasis has shifted to having great colleagues. The needs and wants of the workforce have transcended the traditional work environment, location, and hours to flexibility, whenever and wherever. While many firms have adapted to this new mindset, the lack of talent has had ripple effects across the industry. We have seen team members transition from small firms to large firms, and vice versa for more challenging work, desired location, and fulfillment of purpose other than salary or benefits.
What makes talent or team members choose one firm over the other when everything else is seemingly the same? The answer is culture.
The Mysterious Force
Culture is that seemingly mysterious force within an organization that emanates from a firm’s values, goals, attitudes, personalities, leadership styles, vocabulary, written rules of behavior, and unwritten rules of ‘being’ within that organization. At the broadest level, it is the interpretation of how the individuals within an organization think they are to act, communicate, and behave.
Culture exists whether or not it is intentionally created. It can be molded, shaped, modified, rebuilt, and refined. Culture is like a seedling. To grow into a strong oak, it must be nurtured. To be impactful, culture must be integrated into every aspect of an organization – every communication, touchpoint, behavioral norm, tradition, experience, interaction, process, and procedure. Culture drives everything about an organization, including whether or not employees want to stay, as well as whether or not talent views the organization as an employer of choice.
The Solution Lies Within
The talent solution doesn’t lie in increasing salaries or stealing from marketing budgets for signing bonuses, but rather by understanding what has the greatest influence on an individual’s decision-making process. Professionals are interested in firm size, salary, location, growth opportunities, purpose, and more. The issue in today’s environment is that much of the focus is external with a heavy emphasis on recruiting new team members. However, since culture impacts all aspects of an organization, the greatest recruiting tool is a firm’s culture.
How to Evaluate and Improve your Firm’s Culture
Culture has been proven to directly impact performance, motivation, attraction, and retention. In short, if employees love the organization, others are drawn to work for that organization.
Start by examining your firm’s current culture. An easy way is to ask employees for words or phrases that best describe what it is like to work for your firm. Use an anonymous survey tool or an outside organization to gather feedback in order to avoid bias or ‘please the boss’ responses. How does that perception differ from how the leadership team sees the firm? Then, dive deeper. Why do employees have that view? Get specific. Diagram all touchpoints – from the moment of recruiting to onboarding, training, job assignments, work environment, processes, vocabulary, traditions, organizational norms, reviews, communication tools, and events.
Examine the delivery or implementation method of each touchpoint. What tools are used? Techniques? Delivery mechanisms? Vocabulary? Does everything align, or are the intentions misaligned with the approach?
Gather honest feedback through informal gatherings such as roundtables, lunches, or one-on-one meetings to stay in tune with the pulse of the organization. Ask and listen for feedback around what is working well and what is not working.
Focus on purpose. Become clear, if you are not already, on why your firm exists. What impact does your firm have? Why do you do what you do? Talk about what is important.
Be transparent across all communications. Create benefits and perks, but do so only with a strong understanding of why. Is this something that employees really want or just something leadership thinks they want? Focus on the values of your firm. What do you stand for? Then, live those values in everything you say and do.
Actively seek to eliminate negativity in your organization. Find the root cause of any negativity that exists. Then, take decisive action to reduce or eliminate that negativity. Leaders: be honest with yourself. Does that negativity start with you? If so, change your mindset first, then focus on others.
Be grateful. Show gratitude each and every day. Actively demonstrate the happiness that you want others to adopt. Start small. Find something seemingly small to praise or deliver a small compliment. Remember, everything we do is a culmination of small actions.
Happy employees attract others who want to work in a happy environment.
About Christine Hollinden
Christine M. Hollinden, CPSM, founder and principal of Hollinden | marketers + strategists, is passionate about helping professional services firms distinguish themselves from the pack. Her forward-thinking approach has earned her industry recognition as evidenced by the firm’s nationwide client base. Her competitive spirit has helped hundreds of firms build brands, create niche practices, and expand their practices. In her spare time, you will find Christine playing golf, cooking a gourmet dinner for friends, or leading the Houston Chapter of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the oldest wine and food society in the world.