A GPS for Staff Success

by Robert J. Traphagen, CPA, CGMA, Traphagen Financial Group LLC – February 6, 2018
A GPS for Staff Success

Retaining qualified talent is one of the top-five issues affecting CPA firms according to a 2017 AICPA survey. Recent surveys also show that the new and upcoming workforce comprised of Millennials (ages 24-35) and Generation Z (ages 18-23) seek a sense of purpose within a transparent workplace that focuses on continued growth as a member of the team, with a performance timeline that allows them to envision their success. Establishing a clear career progression will allow employees to be engaged, motivated and eager to stay at the firm. Firms should be focusing on effectively setting staff expectations. This will also help build trust and retain staff.

Firms should consider investing in up­-and-coming leaders as early as they can. From the moment an employee begins his first day on the job, a clear sense of purpose should be established. Job descriptions and expectations should be communicated and tied into the firm’s mission. It is important to create a shared vision of success. Employees should feel that their work is meaningful and that their firm is willing to support and invest in their personal and professional potential.

At our firm, we have adopted the AICPA CPA Firm Competency Performance Management model (CPM model) for our career development program. The model provides definitions of the five roles within our firm — associate, senior, manager, senior manager and partner — as well as the core knowledge, skill sets and abilities required to reach the next level. Each role is clearly defined by the type of work performed; the model identifies competencies that associates, seniors, managers and senior managers need to advance to the next level as they master their required competencies. 

The CPM model is structured around five core competencies identified below:

  • Performance Measures/Productivity
  • Technical Knowledge/Relevant Technology
  • Client Service 
  • People Development and Teamwork
  • Business Development

These competencies explained in detail give staff a clear diagram of career progression. It provides objective criteria for all client development activities, sends clear messages to the team about what is expected of them, and allows for identification of individual and firm learning needs. At our firm, we foster an entrepreneurial culture based on education beyond credentials. Our learning environment includes a firm library stocked quarterly with the top 10 non-fiction and fiction New York Times bestsellers, as well as other business resources. It fosters a friendly, fun and focused environment.

As part of our orientation program, each new team member is given our CPM model. We discuss their personal and professional goals, and expectations are communicated for every level and aligned with their skill sets. We create a roadmap for where they want to go and where we would like to see them go within our firm.

Each team member has their own personal plan and performance summary which is monitored and discussed on a continuous basis throughout the year to ensure expectations are being met.  Ongoing feedback sessions are the most important part of the process. The following should be used when crafting a good career plan:

  • Include two-way communication. 
  • Establish a baseline of measurement for future performance.
  • Empower associates to act independently.
  • Provide a foundation for accountability.

Since the implementation of the career development program, our employees have shared their enthusiasm and feeling of support as one of the most important perks our firm has to offer. “Traphagen has helped me to develop professionally as well as personally. In addition to technical seminars, I had the opportunity to attend Strictly Business: The Dale Carnegie Immersion Seminar; this helped me gain confidence with one-on-one client sessions and group meetings,” says Craig Sikora, senior accountant.

Increasingly, firms are implementing programs that focus on employees’ person­al and professional development. We believe this is the pathway…the roadmap… the “GPS for Success!”


Robert J. Traphagen

Robert J. Traphagen

Robert J. Traphagen, CPA, CGMA, is the managing partner at Traphagen Financial Group LLC. He is a past president of the NJCPA and a member of the Accounting & Auditing Standards Interest Group and Volunteer Relations Committee. Robert can be reached at robert@tfgllc.com or 201-262-1040 x225.

This article appeared in the Jarnuary/February 2018 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.