Accounting Firm CEO Challenges Outdated Talent Paradigms to Declare Organizational Purpose

Can a profession built on long hours and a survivalist instinct change to better amplify its talent and ultimately provide better customer service? A chief accountant thinks he can

The professional services industry has long been known for the billable hour, long hours, and dedicated effort toward partnership promotion that is the hallmark of much sought-after success. Acceptance of these industrial structures for decades has unfortunately perpetuated survival of the fittest mentality, and most employers and employees assumed it was necessary work practices, done in the name of customer service.

Alan Whitman, CEO of Baker Tilly, embraces these longstanding paradigms – what he calls breaking the mold – and declares the company’s goal to “unleash and amplify talent”. “With everything else remaining unchanged, our mission and vision – which are, respectively, to enhance and protect the value of our clients and to create the CPA consultancy of the future today – were all part of our strategy. before the pandemic,” Whitman explains. “When during the pandemic we learned so much about ourselves, how we work together and what people wanted, it clarified our talent-centric organizational focus.”

“By unleashing and amplifying talent, we help people become the best version of themselves, whatever they want to do.”

Clarification of Baker Tilly’s purpose

The pandemic has dramatically changed what employees want, says Whitman, adding that he himself is a different person now than before the crisis began. Additionally, he sees similar changes in the Baker Tilly team members he works with. The time employees had freed up from commuting and commuting has caused “big thinking” for many in the industry, he says, and the longevity of the pandemic has forced everyone to adapt to work at distance and flexibility in where and when the work is done.

Whitman observes that the way the firm and the accounting industry in general operated before the pandemic has stagnated. Indeed, the way most CPA firms now operate in 2022 in terms of staffing is much the same as how firms were run 35 years ago when Whitman started in the industry, he says. , arguing that the old way is no longer relevant because people’s wants and desires in their careers have changed monumentally.

Alan Whitman, CEO of Baker Tilly

Specifically, old ways of talent management that no longer apply to the accountancy profession include the expectation of a “busy season” with intense ups and downs and the idea that there is only only one path to partnership.

In contrast, today’s young people in the accountancy profession and the next generation entering the industry want to participate in shaping the way the industry and their workplaces work. Rather than being part of a pre-established structure to which they have no choice but to adapt, they expect working methods to be better suited to them.

According to Whitman, Baker Tilly is responding to these new expectations by radically changing old ways of working and career progression, including actions such as:

Challenge the “always on” mentality by implementing company-wide disconnect days — Resulting from the pandemic, Baker Tilly has set up a day a month where everyone collectively takes a day to recharge their batteries. It was an intentional way to redraw the boundaries between work and home by collectively disconnecting. “We know it’s easier to get away from work when everyone else is leaving at the same time,” says Whitman, adding that by proactively communicating dates for these “disconnect days” a year in advance, those serving customers could plan their work accordingly.

Erosion of the importance of the billable hour — Under Whitman’s leadership, Baker Tilly is also shifting its focus from inputs, such as billable time, to results. The company is rolling out pilot programs across the organization to experiment with this transition.

Removal of time-limited requirements for promotions and annual career performance — Baker Tilly also separates the timing of individual performance reviews from the fiscal timing of reporting financial results. “If we’re really here to turn the tide and focus on developing our people and unleashing and amplifying their talent, there’s no reason to wait for the timeline to tell us we can assess their promotion,” says Whitman.

Reverse script for onboarding new hires – Whitman is committed to having every new hire spend their first week in the company’s innovation lab to think differently from day one.

Assess readiness to embark on the journey of change

To assess the readiness of the organization and prepare for the changes that will come with a bold goal, the company held a series of meetings with 70 leaders holding several small group discussions to personally reach over 6,000 people. These meetings encouraged open dialogue about purpose and broke the mold and solicited feedback and ideas. Whitman guides the continuous evolution of the organization with a focus on developing people’s ability to adapt, be resilient and navigate uncertainty. In a few years, Whitman says such skills will become second nature. “The more this happens, the better off we are as an organization.”

Aubrey L. Morgan