Managing the ‘great transition’

Managing the ‘great transition’

Recruitment and retention are at the top of everybody’s agenda in professional services as many people look to transition to new roles and new ways of working since the pandemic ended. And like with business development, everyone seems to be looking for solutions to this ‘great transition’ in the wrong places.

With business development everybody wanted to know “how can we win new work!” and this means they want to think about the key marketing messages to go out to prospects, just desperate to change their firm of professional advisors, and if only they could distil the perfect elevator pitch, the firm would be flooded with new enquiries. Of course, it’s not like that at all. In real life, finding new work from new prospects is like looking for a needle in a haystack, it’s a really tough uphill struggle.

It’s exactly the same when you’re thinking about recruitment and retention. New staff who currently work elsewhere, are going to require a mountain of messaging to get them to disengage from their current employer, and change systems, processes, and friendships to come to your firm, a not inconsiderable task.

The simpler thing to do would be to ensure that we spend a proportion of our time on retention, yet few firms actually do this. So, what can we do?

Start with Retention


Retention Strategy

#Have one! You need one person responsible


Well, let us start with creating a strong retention strategy. This means putting someone in charge of retention and no, do not choose the easy option and give that to HR, as most teams are already overworked – that is your job as a partner. Work with your HR leader, and as a Board, give someone the responsibility.

If you have a single point of accountability for retention, the first thing they are likely to do is to create some very effective statistics about which teams, departments, and people are losing staff. If you find you have ‘toxic leaders’ or unhappy staff in a particular area then you need to address that immediately.

Research by Gartner clearly shows five key levers that you can apply to engage your staff:

Radical flexibility:

More than just flexible working, but trusting the teams to do a good job and allowing them to work in the area best suited for them, their clients, and the business.

Personal growth:

This is not only ensuring they are all over the new quality standards (deadline of December 15!) nor the latest IFRS or taxation standards, it’s actually about offering them growth in any area they want – playing a musical instrument? Juggling? Chess? Painting? People always strive for mastery, and if you can show your firm endorses that approach to life, then you will win supporters.

Personal well-being:

This has had a lot of press in the last few years and many firms are still struggling to identify how best to ensure their staff are in a good place. Remote working does not suit everyone but does delight some and we need to know who is who, and how we can best engage those who prefer to work in the office.

A sense of purpose:

This is a big one and the subject of a different blog because purpose is tricky for most professional firms to define… To make money (no that is an outcome, and besides which it is shallow!) End world poverty (nice try, but impractical), provide an unparalleled client experience… (once again, nice try, but it does not really look any different to the other 100 potential employers), so your sense of purpose needs to be something that you honestly believe in and it will help you shape decisions. It does not have to be altruistic; it just has to be believable to everybody working in the organisation.

Deeper connection:

This is all about ensuring that everybody has a voice. Take a look at your partners and understand how they seek to include people of different backgrounds, ethnicity, age, and beliefs, and see if you think you’re really being inclusive. Where do you look for new recruits anyway? Same old places? Then you will get the same old faces.

I was speaking to some managing partners the other day and having heard one of the speakers Maisie Poskitt (Continuous Improvement Lead at BHP) discuss what people really wanted from their employer, they said to their colleagues “I think I’ve identified the problem… And it is me…” Sometimes we find it difficult to move on when society is changing around us, and it is important that firms remain agile and nimble to meet the needs of an ever-changing candidate population.

What about Recruitment?

In terms of recruitment, you need to start with your website.

We were working with a firm recently and they were bemoaning the fact that “they could not get enough candidates to interview let alone provide enough offers”. We did some work to compare the market perception of the firm with that of its competitors. The results were a stark contrast. Our client’s firm had an exemplary website, focused completely on clients and potential clients. There are case studies, stories, reams of benefits and videos, and interviews with people for whom they had done sterling work.

There was nothing for potential candidates. The landing page had no information about the process and the only video that showed people discussing the firm itself was some equity partner alumni (with an average age of 70), sitting around a table surrounded by bone china and biscuits discussing what a wonderful firm it was. This single element of media was enough to put off anyone we spoke to about working at the firm because it portrayed a firm that was old-fashioned, stuck in its ways and against change.

Contrast that to the information provided by their competitor firms: excellent interviews with new joiners, interviews with people who have been with the firm for 2, 3, 4, 5 and, 10 years, talking about their experiences, the work they have done, the fun they have had, the collegiate atmosphere, the values of the organisation and what had made them stay.

It’s undoubtedly true, that people buy from people, so whoever you are trying to attract, you need to be able to present similar people to them on film so they can empathise and engage with all the messages.

In the past, it’s always been true to say that “people join a firm, but leave a boss”. In 2022 after the world has gone online and many firms have adapted, candidates are becoming much more demanding in what they expect from a prospective employer and that includes meeting the team with whom they’re going to work and being able to identify with those who they see as currently employed.

If you would like us to undertake an assessment of how appealing your firm looks then please do get in touch as we’d be delighted to help you improve your candidate journey and help you engage with all the staff working at your firm.