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Keep your staff--even without the big pay increases
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By Accounting Office Management & Administration Report

The tight economy may help firms hold onto their best staff after this busy season-but it will take more than fear and a sluggish job market to keep people around for the long run. The raises and bonuses that, by tradition, you offer after the busy season may be smaller than in the past, but you can take other steps to retain your best staff CPAs and administrative staff.

Excellent suggestions on how to retain on a dime came from Dr. Beverly Kaye in a session at the Society for Human Resource Management (Alexandria, Va.; 800-283-7476; www.shrm.org) conference in Philadelphia. Kaye is president of Career Systems International (Scranton, Pa.; 800577-6916) and co-author of Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay.

Retention issues are changing with the market, she noted. Rather than physically walking out the door, staff may "check out" by abandoning motivation and productivity, which makes for so-called "psychological turnover." In fact, there are now two groups in the workplace, Kaye said: "hipo," those with high potential, and "popo," those who are passed over and "put out." Your job is to identify them, keep the former, and eliminate the latter. That can take changing the work environment and helping staff develop their potential.

Coping mechanisms. "It seems that we all chase the same people, so why not make it possible for all people to perform as if they were in the top 25%?" Kaye asked. She added that understanding the following realities is key to retaining talent and encouraging better performance from all staff:

* There's a serious shortage of talent.

* The worst of the shortage will come by 2008, as baby boomers retire and there are fewer younger workers.

* Employers spend three times as much to recruit as they do to retain, a recent study found.

* There are reasons beyond pay for people to stay. * Employers must be competitive on dollars and win on culture.

* There will always be a higher bidder.

Once managing partners and firm administrators know why staff stay with the firm or leave it, they can develop an effective retention strategy. The easiest way to find out is to ask them- conduct periodic "stay" interviews as well as the usual exit interviews. Both types can inform you about what the firm is doing right, what can be improved, and where it's lacking.

Retention is everyone's job. Every partner, manager, and administrative department head should be involved in the retention effort. Many people leave because of dissatisfaction with leadership, so making improvements in that aspect of the firm-which also encourages staff to growshould be part of your retention plan.

Mentoring is central to this effort. Everyone should have a mentor-a good model with whom to discuss successes and failures, and who understands the realities of the firm and can communicate them. "Power mentoring" is a variation on this theme for those with little time to spend on more traditional mentoring but who can at least share stories, encourage dialogue, discuss the person's experiences in the firm, and help build connections.


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