Are Your Listening Skills Killing Employee Retention?

We hear it all the time –  people leave their managers, managers leave their firms, firms lose talent. This cycle is nothing new, but accepting it as inevitable doesn’t have to be the status quo in your accounting firm. We’ve spoken with CPAs all over the country, and in our conversations retention always comes back to one element: the art of listening. Professionals who aren’t satisfied with their firm often cite a lack of curiosity, communication or cooperation between partners and their employees.

An accounting firm’s top talent pool will wind up switching jobs or leave to start their own practices if a culture around healthy communication isn’t cultivated. Partners who ask questions or listen to what their employees want or how they want to engage to help the organization grow often find that their efforts pay off in spades. The top-down effect of listening looks something like this:

Leader/Trendsetter: Models the art of listening by having regular conversations with their employees. They don’t hold formal meetings to solicit ideas. They don’t wait for “input meetings” (AKA performance reviews, career planning meetings company meetings) to have honest discussions with their employees. Vision casting takes place in the day-to-day dialogue – it’s an ongoing exchange of ideas, concerns and strategy.

Employee/Manager: Learns the art of listening from their leaders. Values the connection and energy that is shared between partners and staff and gains the confidence to ask questions, receive instruction, and identify and embrace their role in the organization. Translates the communication process to their client interactions.

I recently read the article, Listening Is an Overlooked Leadership Tool, from Melissa Daimler in the Harvard Business Review. She outlined a few great tips for becoming a 360° listener (going from flat to dynamic listening):

  1. “Look people in the eye.” In the era of hyper-connectivity, we’ve lost basic connection. Put down the devices and look each your peers and employees in the eye. Place priority on this in the workplace and your employees will be less tempted to side-eye their phones during client meetings.
  2. “Create space in your day.” A culture that values communication makes room for communication. An overbooked calendar will always thwart your relational efforts.
  3. “Ask more questions.” Don’t settle for the superficial – go deep. Be sure you understand the issues you’re addressing before you dive in.

As you assume your role as communication trendsetter in your organization, you will inspire a culture of mutual respect. Clients value this quality in the firms they hire. We encourage you to start practicing the art of listening every day. To get a jump start on your communication strategy, consider conducting Stay Interviews. Learn how one accounting firm did it here. If you need guidance along the way, please contact one of our growth professionals. We’d love to help.

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