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Developing a New Generation of Leaders

Developing a New Generation of Leaders

Firms everywhere are struggling to cope with the “Choose Your Own Adventure” approach millennials (and millennials at heart) take with their careers. Who are these brazen young kids that boldly shun the traditional career paths that decades of faithful CPAs have so nicely blazed for them? More importantly, how do we recruit/develop and retain these people? What do they want?

If you want to know what millennials want, ask them – like Tom Hood did at the recent AICPA Edge Conference. Even if they are as unsure of the answer as you are, they will most likely appreciate the freedom to choose when they figure it out. The tools and education to determine where they want to go is the best gift – no, investment – that you can provide.

If they don’t know what they want, what do they need?

Today’s college graduates are among the brightest and best trained that we’ve ever seen. Increasing competition and higher standards have helped to produce some of the sharpest technical candidates to date. However, as Bruce Tulgan recently pointed out in a recent Accounting Today article, they have an overwhelming deficiency in soft skills. And this doesn’t look like it is going to get any better with future generations. (Don’t believe me? Watch how 12-year-olds communicate – talking is definitely overrated.)

It has become our role as employers to teach these skills to younger generations, but we don’t have the luxury of 10-20 years to do so. With succession and retention major concerns, leaders are looking at how to impart their wisdom to younger talent in record time while also running their firms. What can they do? Well, here are the strategies that we see top firms using successfully:


Mentoring requires no outlay of cash, helps to create bonds and cement relationships internally and ensures that staff members are being trained specifically in the ways of your firm. But the experience is one dimensional and extremely time consuming. Even if you select the right mentor match for your mentee, both must to have the desire and the non-chargeable time to commit.

Internal Training

Internal group training utilizes either a partner team or outside professionals. These classes provide the opportunity to educate many people at once with the added benefit of controlling the content, message and timing. A well-designed program can be tailored to your firm, but it takes expertise to plan, can be costly and has the potential to spark some unwanted internal competition.

External Training

Group training outside the firm is another option that is gaining in popularity. While local options in municipalities and universities provide excellent networking, they are not specific to the nuances of public accounting. As an alternative, many CPA firm associations now offer training in a non-competitive environment, bringing together the best and brightest from across the country. Networking with peers establishes camaraderie and provides the opportunity for future referrals and resources, and participants leave with best practices to take back to their firms.

So, is it a firm’s social responsibility to develop the new generation of leaders in the profession? Yes. Is there any way to ensure that this investment will keep them tied to your organization? No. But investing in an employee’s personal development demonstrates the firm’s level of trust and commitment and helps to provide the skills that millennials need to advance within the profession. By demonstrating faith in your people, and showing integrity by giving them the tools that they need to forge their own path, you will make them want to help you succeed. And maybe they’ll stick around.

Kathy Sautters has spent twenty years working with public accounting firms. She is currently the Director of Communications for PrimeGlobal North America.

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