HR turnover is one of the most frustrating banes of an accountancy owner’s life. In a field where a high premium is placed on training, experience and expertise, one’s best efforts at trying to build an effective and cohesive team can be quickly smashed to nothing by a single headhunter who poaches your best staff.
As an accountancy owner who ran an award-winning accountancy practice in London for over a decade, I have found the following things to be invaluable when trying to build and train an excellent staff who cares about your business.
(Please be advised that none of the following can be taken as legal advice. Please consult a professional on all legal matters.)
1. Training pay-back clauses
Make sure that employee training contracts cover what happens if an employee suddenly decides to head over to greener pastures in the middle of a training program which your company paid for.
One thing I’ve found successful is to specify in the contract that the employer is allowed to request that all training costs incurred are paid back by the employee who left midway through training.
2. Non-poaching and non-solicitation clauses
If you are not using non-poaching and non-solicitation clauses in your contracts, you’re headed for trouble.
In 2012, employers won a decisive victory when the UK court clarified precisely what is meant by “solicitation”.
“The court has now ruled that solicitation generally occurs if an ex-employee directly or indirectly requests, persuades or encourages clients of their former employer to transfer their business to their new employer.” (source)
But proving it is still tricky, as it might be that some clients simply remain loyal to the former employee and so move over when the employee has left.
Ways to mitigate this include:
- Building strong, personal relationships with your clients. Even if you have 1,000 clients, try to reach out to each one individually at least once during the year so that you, as the owner of your firm, become the public face of your company, and not an employee. Some degree of automation might be required to do this, but there are tools around which can assist with that.
- Forbidding employees from giving out personal contact details to clients. All business-related communication must run through the company servers and phone lines. This way, it becomes easier to provide evidence of solicitation should it ever go to the courts5
3. Avoid larger issues by dealing with them when they’re still small
But if you have to go the legal route, then things likely got ugly a long time earlier. It’s best to pick up on problems early on, rather than try to tackle them when your employee already has half a foot out the door.
I do six- or twelve-month appraisals of all my employees, utilising 360° feedback to ensure well-rounded and constructive criticism of employee performance. I also accept input from the employee, and I work sincerely to improve working conditions where possible.
Employees are people, at the end of the day. We all have ups and downs, and it’s best to find problems long before they become too large to deal with without animosity or, worse, resorting to legal complexities.
4. Social days, close-knit team, avoid office politics
“Gamification” is a well-known technique for increasing employee morale and raising production. It also builds team spirit.
But I’ve taken it a step beyond mere gamification over the years. I try to build camaraderie between team members by organising regular social days, dinners, and anything else that might assist in avoiding messy office politics.
It helps when employees are friends with each other, and organising social days is the easiest way I know to achieve this.
Sure, not everyone is going to get along, but I’ve found that the mere fact of a nice dinner or day out after a stressful week, makes many of those complicated office-style politics “magically” disappear.
5. Assign better-suited people to different tasks
People’s personalities are often separated from their technical proficiency. The world has its introverts and extroverts, its go-getters and its stay-at-home types.
But personality rarely has anything to do with someone’s skill at technical tasks. People are either good at their jobs or not, regardless of their personalities.
This applies very much to accountants who might be great at crunching numbers but terrible at talking to clients.
Instead of insisting that an employee continues to do something that they really struggle with, try shift tasks around so that the load is shared, and they are not put under undue stress.
For example, let’s say you have a tax specialist who is terrible at talking to people, but you have a new people-person who is still learning the ropes. You could get the people-person to call clients, using the findings from your expert tax employee. This way, the new employee gets a feel for the technical side of the job, and the introverted tax specialist is not made to feel inadequate because of a personality quirk.
Both are made to feel valuable in the office, and might even spark up a close friendship from working together, which brings us back to point #4 and avoiding office politics.
I try and use a two-pronged approach to HR:
- Avoiding serious issues as much as possible by building morale and building a team that likes working at my firm.
- But also protecting my company fully by implementing simple yet effective legal instruments should matters go severely wrong down the line.
This method has worked successfully for me over my very many years of business and entrepreneurship, spanning multiple industries.