May 13, 2021

Market Savvy, Collaboration Rank as Top Qualities for CPA Firm HR

Ira Rosenbloom, chief executive officer of Optimum Strategies in Spring House, Pa., joins us to close our three-part series on the top expectations for specific personnel units of CPA firms. In this final episode Rosenbloom addresses the qualities best possessed by human resources departments. He discusses the need for leaders here to be motivational, creative, and more.

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By: Bill Hayes, Pennsylvania CPA Journal Managing Editor

Podcast Transcript

In the first two parts of this three-part series on CPA firm expectations for targeted personnel, Ira Rosenbloom, chief executive officer for Optimum Strategies in Spring House, has walked us through the ideal traits for operations managers and marketing personnel. Today, he closes this informative series with a discussion of what CPA firms should expect from their HR departments.

Today, we'll be going over the top five expectations a CPA firm should have for the manager of its human resources department. That top five is motivational, creative, proprietary, market-intelligent, and collaborative. We'll start with motivational here. In what way are we expecting the head of an HR department to be motivational?

[Rosenbloom] It's really valuable to have the entire personnel unit feeling excited about the opportunity to work at that firm, to feel excited about the opportunity to grow and to take on more responsibility no matter where in the firm the person is currently assigned in terms of their levels of responsibility. So, whoever is heading the HR function has got to be a person who can stir the pot around motivating continued growth and continued happiness. There's not a one-size-fits-all approach because what motivates one person may not motivate somebody else, but the worst thing that a CPA firm or any business can go through is personnel turnover. To replace somebody is quite costly and oftentimes demoralizing. The HR person or HR group has to focus on having a very motivated and energetic and highly driven group of people even though they may not be in some cases the most outgoing people on a socialization basis, but in terms of their own evolution, they have to be motivated to continue to grow and to continue to perform.

Looking at “creative” here, it's a word you usually would associate with artists and the like, right? But in what way can an HR department head be creative to the benefit of a firm?

[Rosenbloom] Again, this touches different avenues. In many firms the culture of the firm is a focal point for the HR department. Depending upon how much the culture is thriving or how much the culture can thrive to a whole new level, creativity is often a necessary component of driving the culture and the creativity can come from the standpoint of work-life balance. It could come from the standpoint of the intangibles that you'd go into evolving as a professional, and it can go into the aspect of how we represent ourselves in the community and how we could create more challenges for the team as they grow to take on more responsibility so that we challenge the organization to think out of the box. I think that that is the essence of the creativity.

Now some firms may have their HR group within the organization, some firms may outsource some part of it, but it's very important for these people to find ways to stimulate and be out of the box so that people don't have an excuse to leave and to focus on something else. That's where the creativity has to come from, the standpoint of keeping the firm fresh and keeping the mindsets fresh. It's programs, it's opportunities, it's places to find new employees. So to be open and creative toward potentially hiring people into the CPA firm to work on accounting clients that may not have majored in accounting or finance, but may have some financial interests that could be put to good use, but they have other perspective which could help a client so that it could be somebody who's had a history background, this could be somebody who's got politics, and somebody who's got knowledge of public affairs and urban affairs, which could be relevant to a client base.

Why is it important for an HR department to be thinking in a proprietary way as well?

[Rosenbloom] I think that if the HR group is going to be more of an academic group, then it will not do justice to the core purpose of the organization, which is to take care of clients and to produce value for clients and to create satisfaction between the firm and the client, and that includes individualized satisfaction in terms of the responsibilities that they are taking on or they're being offered so that they can evolve. And the clients are expecting more and more. We have a very complex world. We have technology moving at lightning speed. We have regulations moving at rapid speed sometimes because technology can afford regulations and monitoring that couldn't have happened years back. We need for the HR division and the HR personnel to have an interest in the perpetuity of our business and, yes, the evolution and the development of people and having people become the best that they can be is vitally important, but it's all toward helping make client's financial world and operational world a better place and doing it in an efficient way.

The more efficient we are, the less frustration the staff will experience and therefore more likely to want to continue with the organization. And a proprietary interest is going to focus on efficiency, profitability, and going the extra mile. That is really important to have the leaders in the HR group focus on routinely day in and day out so that they're programming the entire organization to be focused on that critical mission of client care.

What would you say it means for an HR department head to operate in a way that's market-intelligent?

[Rosenbloom] This is something that crosses several different barriers. One, we certainly want the HR professional to be aware of what salaries and compensation systems are looking like in our immediate area and throughout the country. That kind of market intelligence, as it relates to compensation, is something that is the natural first place that we need them to be aware of. The partners of the firm certainly don't want to overpay and they don't want to underpay. Where they can create best opportunity, they will rely on the HR group to do that. That also falls into line with the kind of benefits and understanding where our benefit package may resonate or coordinate versus the competition. That competition now is not just other CPA firms. It could be private industry.

So, being intelligent about what else exists out there in the way of salary benefits and comp is a market intelligence type of feature. The other area or an additional area I should say would be to understand what kind of opportunities people have to grow and take client matters into their own hands and at what point in time they're given those opportunities. That's something that understanding the competition and what the competition is doing is important in that market intelligence, as well as the method of evaluation. Are we evaluating performance in a similar way to the competition? Are we cutting-edge in the way that we're evaluating people? We want to be able to be at the forefront. We want to be able to diminish turnover, but nonetheless turnover will be there because perhaps our standards are high and people can't always live up to our standards.

That's a good type of turnover. What is it that can be done to grow the personnel on an accelerated basis and on a more comprehensive basis? We would turn to the HR group to understand what kind of educational forums are available. Can we go outside the traditional provider and find non-traditional providers? Where does technology and the virtual comfort zone begin and end? That kind of intelligence is something that they need to know from the overall market. Then there's the internal intelligence, which is where the HR group has to have a real pulse on the vibe of the organization. What are people worried about? What are people excited about? What are the trends that people are beginning to focus on and how do we stay several steps ahead?

We don't want to find out about things after the fact. This is a very important series of responsibilities that the HR group or the HR resources are empowered to facilitate on behalf of the accounting firm and more and more accounting firms are placing significant emphasis on career development and the ability to match people to the right challenges, and here again, how do we assess people in terms of their personalities and their attitudes? Beyond their technical skills, what is it about their personality and their demeanor that's going to be important? This is another thing that with market intelligence the HR group would know where to turn for diagnostics and other types of evaluations that could make people blossom in their best fashion.

Why is it important for an HR department manager at a CPA firm to be collaborative? Who are they collaborating with, and how does it benefit a CPA firm?

[Rosenbloom] The goal is not to have a series of silos. You want to be able to have an organization that is tuned to function like a team. Teams have players who collaborate. You have to be able to pass things on from one to the next, recognizing that certain people are going to be more adept, more finessed, more capable, or more interested. The more we have knowledge of where each other's pluses and minuses are, the more we can get a better team functioning. The HR group has to be able to understand the pluses and minuses and the desires, and to be able to bridge the gap between ownership and the non-owners. It can be very intimidating, especially to a newer person joining the organization to interact directly with the ownership group. That doesn't mean that the owner is intimidating. It means that to a rookie or a new person, they're just not comfortable in their own skin to engage someone with 30 years’ worth of experience in some type of dialogue.

The HR group has to be able to oftentimes be an intermediary and facilitate that collaboration and help people find the best way to communicate and to interact. Management relies on the HR group to be their eyes and ears. Not to be their spies, but to be in their awareness so that they can do a better job. Where are they missing the mark? More importantly, where are they hitting the mark? If they're hitting the mark, is every person hitting the mark in the same way, and can we learn from each other? Can we have partners teaching other partners and partners teaching managers? Moving managers up to partner, it's not a button you just push. You have to be able to work collaboratively, think collaboratively, and recognize that it's the firm ego that's the most important ego. I know we've mentioned that in other conversations, but by collaboration, you really are working on making that firm ego the vital point of focus.

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Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.