5 ways to create a firm culture that improves employee retention and satisfaction

Posted 5 years ago in Accountant Insights
by Tim Chaves

“Tourist Tuesday” at Nichols Accounting Nampa office (part of Employee Appreciation Week, August 2018)

Each year, there is a season that every accounting student simultaneously dreads, prepares, and looks forward to…recruiting season. 

It’s a grueling time of year. Days are filled with firm visits, recruiting events, midterms, extracurricular business and accounting club activities, first- and second-round interviews, decisions between auditing or tax positions, and more. 

On top of that, senior accounting students typically have to make the difficult decision of where they will work for the next few years by the end of October—often with little experience in the accounting field.

Finding the right accounting firm for you

As a CPA at Nichols Accounting, I plan and participate in various recruiting activities every fall in order to bring in the best recruits. But I’ve also been on the student side of recruiting and am passionate about making sure students have a great experience.

Our firm is focused on making sure every potential recruit has a rewarding and informational experience when we visit with them during recruiting. Whether or not a student is interested in joining our firm, we want to make sure we impart wisdom that they can later employ at our firm or a different firm. 

Accounting is a small world—a recruit that may not have worked out in one year may be a potential great fit or professional resource in the future.

Culture: more than a buzz word

Of all the factors I emphasize about choosing a future firm, the thing I emphasize the most, by far, is culture. 

I repeatedly tell accounting students, “The work you will perform from firm to firm will be similar. The tax law is the tax law, regardless of where you go. Being part of a company with a great company culture will afford you success in both your personal life and your professional career. Don’t underestimate the power of enjoying where you work.”

Prior to working at Nichols Accounting, I had great disdain for the word, “culture.” I had worked at a number of places through my high school and college years and “culture” was simply a buzz word employed when the company was going to make a dramatic change that negatively impacted employees.

When I started working here (as an intern during my senior year of college), I realized how valuable a company culture really can be. At Nichols Accounting, we invest substantially in creating and maintaining a great company culture that our employees love and don’t want to leave, and that is evident in the excellent work we produce for our clients.

But… what is  culture? In short, culture is the personality of a company or firm. 

Culture is the tone at the top, the way in which it responds to employees’ concerns, the environment, the work-life balance (or lack thereof), the values, the mission statements, and the expectations of a company.

How to build a company no one wants to leave

A culture directly contributes to a firm’s success in a variety of ways. A satisfied, happy employee will generally produce better work for a client and the firm. Plus, they’re less likely to leave. A dissatisfied, unhappy employee is more likely to perform poor work, potentially leading to termination and/or the employee leaving.

Hiring new employees is far and away more expensive and time-intensive than maintaining the satisfaction of current employees. So, what can you do to make sure your company has a fantastic culture that employees don’t want to leave?

Here are a few tips for creating a fantastic company culture that both improves employee retention and employee satisfaction:

1. Create a mission statement and list of values for your company

If your company doesn’t already have one, develop a mission statement and list of values. In times of discord, these will be your North Star, guiding the decisions you make for the future of your employees and firm.

 Additionally, a mission statement that the company follows allows your staff to better understand your decisions. When analyzing their own goals or decisions, staff will be able to ask themselves, “Is this in alignment with the firm’s mission statement, the client’s goals, and my personal goals?”

2. Provide avenues for employees to give feedback

Providing and receiving meaningful feedback is a key to success for a company’s culture. If we do not know how employees feel, we cannot guide the direction of the business to best serve our clients and employees.

Develop firm benchmarks to measure changes in culture and employee satisfaction. Having recurring options to receive feedback from employees is critical. Many companies have an annual employee survey, but often times, that is not enough. A company’s culture can change dramatically from season to season, particularly during busy deadlines.

A Suggestion Box that employees can use to continuously provide feedback can make a world of difference. Be sure to have an anonymous option—employees are more likely to give feedback about difficult subjects if they can remain anonymous.

3. Engage and involve staff in culture creation and maintenance

At Nichols Accounting, senior management developed a group of staff members to cultivate culture called the Culture Council. Staff serve two-year terms and directly respond to employees’ feedback from the Suggestion Box and the annual employee survey. Throughout the year, the council creates initiatives and plans and coordinates events that directly impact the firm’s culture.

By developing a small Culture Council of your own, you can involve staff-level employees in management decisions about company culture. Additionally, employees are more likely to share their grievances or suggestions for improvements with fellow co-workers, rather than senior management themselves. 

A Culture Council allows you to have representatives to be the eyes and ears throughout the company.

4. Never underestimate the power of appreciation

When an employee performs exceptionally on a project, recognize them! This can be as simple as a handwritten note, a $5 coffee card, or a quick email. People respond well to this positive reinforcement.

Provide an avenue for employees to recognize one another when they see coworkers going above and beyond. A quick, Hallmark station with greeting cards is an inexpensive and valuable way a firm can provide employees an outlet for their gratitude.

5. Have fun!

Lastly, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day client work and lose sight of the wellbeing of your company culture and employees. Be proactive in having fun! 

Plan an occasional trip to a bowling alley, order coffee or lunch on a deadline day, plan a ping-pong tournament, etc. These are small, but valuable investments that staff will remember during those difficult deadlines and busy seasons.

About Tim

Tim is Founder and CEO of ZipBooks. He keeps his desk really nice and neat.

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