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Staff must develop and grow if companies are to develop and grow. Many owners and partners are short-sighted and fail to do the things necessary to retain and develop staff. Many staff members also don’t push their development and just go with the flow. The problem is that the flow ends with stagnation, dissatisfaction and the departure or dismissal of the staff member.

There are many reasons for the lack of development, but it can be mitigated somewhat if only one party is working on it. If both parties do this, much more success is assured. Here are some reasons that hinder growth and how to counteract them.

  • A member of staff does a great job with an important but difficult client and gets along very well with the client, so they are “permanently” assigned to that client. When this happens, that staff member’s growth comes to an end. One suggestion is to assign a lower level staff member in year three and have the person already working on this client supervise them, stay in touch with the client and also commit to taking on more of a partner role . This way, both staff members grow, the partner grows, and that high performing staff member is put to good use.
  • A quick and dexterous member of staff is given many small jobs or small clients because the work is done quickly and without requiring much revision. However, the overall volume of business may not be that high compared to the salary paid or the volume needed for that staff member to be profitable. A pattern of comfort sets in and the situation works well for customers and partners. For the staff member, there’s a lot of satisfaction in getting a lot of work done and getting it out. The problem here is not growth. Unlike the previous situation, these clients are too small to have an additional layer on this client. What I’m suggesting here is that in the third year a younger staff member starts working on this client, with a review by the regular staff member, and after a year the staff member regular drops the account. After another year of working alone on this client, the process is repeated with a younger staff member on this account.
  • Many senior tax professionals prefer to do their own tax research, which can sometimes be time consuming. One suggestion is to have an assistant or junior tax preparer do some preliminary research to present to the senior (for example, with links to articles, code sections, regulations, tax rulings, Tax Court proceedings and memoranda or rulings). They can also be asked to go through the material, seeking to identify any of the specific problems. They could cut and paste excerpts from what they found into a Word file as a guide for the supervisor. If they think it might be useful, they can also write a short paragraph about what they found, referring to the material. I propose a time budget for this. It can start with simpler questions to introduce them to tax research. With patience, it can elevate the staff and relieve the most experienced person of work that may be left to others.
  • Some tax examiners are blogged or overloaded with statements. One way to reduce reviewer time is to assign proofreading and content verification to another preparer, i.e., a peer preparer at the same level as the preparer. The examiner should then only have to check a few voluminous elements from time to time. Many companies have opted out of the content review stage, but if you haven’t, it’s time-consuming and tiring for the reviewer. It also creates fatigue for reviewers, which is not good for maintaining quality or a long-term strategy. Examiners are hard to find or train and need a great depth of knowledge. A problem develops if they are not allowed to progress to other roles. The exact nature of these roles is a separate discussion, but reviewer growth needs to be put on the radar. Without growth, what does their future look like?
  • Much of the work can not only be done by lower level employees, but also by paraprofessionals. It’s a way to reduce work and elevate staff into a supervisory role and free up time to take on the work that the owner or partners would be doing.

There are many other illustrations, but these should make me realize that staff members need to be moved for them and for the business to grow. It takes effort, but it can create worthwhile results.

Do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] with your questions about practice management or assignments you may not be able to complete.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is a partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on Accounting Today’s list of the 100 most influential people. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns”, co-authored with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition”. He also writes a blog twice a week dealing with customer issues on www.partners-network.com as well as the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. He is an adjunct professor in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s MBA program and teaches end-user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is an ongoing series where he shares autobiographical experiences with advice he hopes his colleagues can adopt. He welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or [email protected]