When firms shifted to remote work in the spring, one of the first sets of priorities focused on their people.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, many firm leaders believed that their firms were only as good as their people, so it wasn’t a surprise that areas related to talent management (hiring, training, engagement, careers, retention and culture) became an area of concern.
Five months in, and many of those challenges remain or have become more pronounced. Firm leaders are saying things like:
- “The way we used to train our people doesn’t translate well into a remote environment.”
- “Our culture was always strong, but we don’t have a good pulse on how people are feeling now.”
- “How do we give feedback and have difficult conversations when you can’t sit down with someone face to face?”
- “What skills should we be hiring or developing, now?”
Leaders are realizing that growth during and beyond the pandemic will be directly linked to their ability to create a workplace where the best, brightest, and most diverse talent will want to be.
To make the shift, here are five areas to consider to develop the firm of 2030:
You believe you’ve built a good firm culture, you do your best to treat your employees well, you do surveys and try to keep a pulse on how people are feeling. Well, this is your test. COVID-19 has exposed the way we work and live, under the surface. Your employees are paying close attention to the authenticity and legitimacy of your culture. In other words, “When it really counts, is my firm really all about what it says it’s all about?” and “Do the leaders walk their talk?” Right now, your employees are watching, tuned into how decisions are made, values are lived or not, and behaviors and actions are supporting what we say we believe in. That’s culture. If you want your firm to grow and flourish through this pandemic, you need to be paying a whole lot of attention to your firm culture.
Here are the questions you need to be asking right now:
- Do you have a clear picture of your culture across the firm, and within teams at various levels?
- Do your leaders know how to keep people connected in meaningful ways remotely?
- Are your leaders intentionally making decisions and communicating from clearly defined values?
- Do your employees feel like they have the freedom to make choices around their time and how they get work done?
- Can your employees see a future for themselves at your firm?
Training has become more challenging for three reasons: We have less time, our virtual conferencing technology isn’t replicating in-person, and trainees need a network of people to support their learning, which is hard to establish virtually. The best training provides the right content, access to expertise, feedback, and the ability to apply learning on the job at the right time. Here are three tips to rethink training in a virtual environment.
- Use the time new hires and trainers have for live interaction to focus on Q&A, practicing scenarios, receiving feedback, and discussion. To save training time for all involved, make recordings of things like lectures, system demonstrations, or expert stories, and post them along with resources and references in a place that can be accessed by anyone at any time. It can be pre-work for the “live-time” where things can be discussed.
- High-engagement training accelerates learning, performance and a sense of mastery. Engagement can be created virtually by using polls, chat, whiteboards, video, breakout rooms, etc. In any hour of learning, they should be listening for 15-20 minutes tops before they can discuss, process, or respond to questions to let the information sink in.
- Make sure new hires have a network of supporters to help them build new skills, apply their learning, and make improvements.This requires creating networks of managers, peers, mentors, and buddies to be even more active in a virtual environment, by checking in, being available via chat, coaching regularly, and tracking progress.
Our remote work mantra: Everything can thrive remotely as long as we stay intentional, disciplined, structured and creative, and communicate well. Nothing is more true than when we’re taking onboarding virtual. Pre-pandemic, a lot of firms said, “Our new folks just jump right in, and learn as they go.” It used to be easy to get new people exposed to the way the firm works by rotating them around the office, taking them to lunch, having them shadow. Now, we need to structure the moments that people used to just absorb by being in the office. To start, try these questions:
- How do we want people to feel during their first and every two weeks?
- What do we want them to know?
- What do we want them to do?
Then, we need to involve several kinds of people in welcoming them and ensuring a positive experience as they join your team. Their roles must be clearly articulated and coordinated so that they know how and when to best engage with new people. Try to create at least three touchpoints with some combination of the individuals below every day.
- Their manager or leader;
- A mentor;
- Their teammates; and,
- A group of volunteers who agrees to “get to know you” conversations: virtual breaks, coffees, lunches, walk and talks or happy hours.
4. Feedback and coaching
We never knew how easy we had it, popping into someone’s office for a quick conversation, to share some feedback and ideas. When we had to have a difficult conversation, we could honor each other face to face. So, how do we do this well remotely?
- Have the proactive feedback conversation with your team. Ask when and how they would like to receive feedback and how often. By phone? By video chat? Do you want to check in weekly? Every other day? What kind of feedback is most useful to you?
- When you’re sharing feedback remember that the quality and usefulness of the feedback along with the level of trust you have with the person you’re sharing feedback with is what counts the most.
- People want useful feedback from those they trust. This is true perhaps more now than ever since we’re not physically located together, but people want feedback that helps them improve and get better. It’s the perfect time to build the expectation of feedback as learning. The big goal is working your way into feedback as a normal part of peer-to-peer conversations, so it doesn’t just come from leaders.
As we experience a changing landscape, firms are quickly realizing that they will need to learn their way into the future. This means that services, technologies and client expectations will evolve and shift rapidly. This also means that the skills we need today may not be the skills we need for tomorrow. Leaders will need to balance entrepreneurial mindsets along with meeting existing client demands. Accountants, tax professionals, and advisors will need to work hand-in-hand with the latest technologies to create value in new ways.
The clients we are working with start by refreshing their vision, values and mission to make sure everyone is aligned on a path forward (short- and long-term). From there they can examine the key skills that are going to be needed, and then identify the strengths they already have inside the firm that they can grow, and those that they need to bring in to the firm. Front here they can expand hiring efforts to look beyond traditional job descriptions and geographies.
How to get started
You probably already have many of these processes in place in some shape or form. Start with some of the reflection questions in this article, and engage your people in enhancing or redesigning your talent management processes. We know that a new normal will include remote and blended work environments, so there’s no better time than now to get started.
Jen Margolis, Jack Ricchiuto and Evan Ishida are consultants with Winding River Consulting, where they consult with leaders in the areas of leadership development, growing culture, and agile planning.
Reprinted with permission Accounting Today