By Carolyn Cohen
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the profession today is how to keep staff happy and productive; however, doing so requires a great deal of time and energy, causing most CPAs to consider hiring a human resources professional. A dedicated HR department can address pressing staff needs and allow CPAs to maximize time on what they do well.
Money. Establishing an HR department means spending money, but it can also mean saving money. First, the CPA would be relieved of many administrative tasks, providing the opportunity to increase billable hours or bring in new business. Second, the office would become more stable: With an HR professional staying on top of the latest developments in salary and benefits, turnover would decrease and attention can be given to oft neglected areas, such as in-house training and performance appraisals.
Standardized procedures. Having an HR department can ensure fair and consistent treatment of staff through standardized evaluations, hiring, and discipline.
Specialized expertise. An HR professional can perform related tasks more effectively and efficiently than someone without training and experience in the field.
A positive message. Finally, the establishment of an HR department communicates a willingness to invest in the growth and development of staff members.
The HR Professional in a Public Accounting Firm
At a minimum, the HR professional can be involved in the following:
Moreover, an HR professional can simplify the hiring process. First, the HR professional can decide how to advertise the opening. Then, she can screen resumes, conduct interviews, check references, decide whether the candidate is right for the firm, make an offer, and provide orientation upon the new hire’s employment.
Working with an HR Department
Hiring an HR professional does not mean that the CPA will never again have to deal directly with hiring decisions, salary adjustments, and performance evaluations. The firm’s direction must be communicated to its staff, and this message is most effective if it comes from those that develop it. The CPA is a role model in areas of technical expertise, leadership, and business acumen and should be available for staff members rising through the ranks.
Keeping an HR professional busy. First, the CPA should acknowledge that any HR assistance benefits both firm and staff. Then, everyone involved should brainstorm to determine which tasks and projects an HR professional could be involved in (bearing in mind that the individual will have particular expertise and qualifications). If there is any uncertainty regarding whether a full-time position is warranted, a consultant can help with the decision.
After careful consideration, the CPA might conclude that the optimal solution in the short- to medium-term is to hire a consultant to handle HR responsibilities. That way payment would be required only when services were needed.
If, on the other hand, a full-time employee could be kept busy, hiring an HR professional would allow first-hand knowledge of the firm and its staff. To locate the right HR professional, the CPA must first write a job description (including reporting authority), determine a salary range, and decide on a search strategy. Then, the CPA should solicit referrals and ideas from friends and colleagues and consider using a consultant—especially one that has completed similar assignments and is familiar with accounting firms—to help conduct the search and selection process.
James L. Craig, Jr., CPA
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