Accounting firms have been waging the war for talent for many years, but one battle may be winnable.

As accounting compliance work is becoming more technology-driven, there are opportunities to develop new services. Based on client needs, these growth services can help accounting firms prepare for future success using non-traditional roles.

The Shift from Compliance to Advisory Services

Old wisdom says that an accounting firm should make about 80 percent of its revenues from compliance work and 20 percent from advisory work. That mix is flipping and the firm revenues of the future will be driven by advisory work, which requires being perceived as a client’s trusted advisor.

For firms, getting there requires people with the skills to be curious, ask probing questions and help co-pave their clients’ future. Non-accountants will uncover and reveal a broader perspective into how clients think, how they will want to collaborate and how they will bring new ideas beyond the numbers.

Case in Point

In fact, a recent AccountingWEB article explains that accountants are finding themselves in need of sales experts and big data analysts who might not have an accounting background. Identifying specific advisory needs starts with a firm’s clients. Bringing in non-CPAs to meet client needs provides a holistic look at the client experience.

Focusing on revenue expansion from a traditional accounting perspective is limited in today’s technology-driven environment, so hiring a person with diversity of thought pushes a company to think outside the bubble. Recently, GHJ made the first-ever non CPA a partner.

Diversity of Thought in Action

An article on says that to stay competitive and relevant, great organizations must constantly self-examine, improve, grow and evolve. They need to challenge the status quo. Good business necessitates examination from every angle to uncover new approaches and discover new opportunities.

A firm’s culture should be built on a willingness to try new things, and no one person gets to be the only smart one in the room. Leaders should not only encourage new ideas, but they should promote and reward them — out loud.

Diversity of thought is a clear business driver. It comes from intentionally bringing different skills, experiences, talents and backgrounds together. Different perspectives lead to better problem solving, which can advance product/service development, which in turn leads to better business results: revenue, profits and talent metrics.

On important issues, leaders should actively seek input across the firm regardless of age, background or seniority. An accounting firm should have a passion for debate, growth, change and thoughtful inclusion of perspectives. Hire people who are not afraid of exploring new territory and serving clients in a new and exciting way.

Finding the Right Talent

Expanding the way an organization looks at “work” is an important step. Do people need to be in the office? Can they work from home — or anywhere — and be just as productive and keep their career on track?

If you are not changing your view on how someone works, the tools they are given and the expectations you have of them, you will constantly have a talent issue. The smartest and best people out there are now controlling their own destiny — through the use of technology, they can have more freedom.

Expanding the talent universe also means turning to non-traditional hiring sources, like tapping into workers who have spent time out of the workforce. For example, The Mom Project, which helps highly skilled and experienced women obtain flexibility so they can take care of their family and still meet their career goals.

Another underutilized talent source is older generations or retirees who might not want to commit to a full-time job. A 2017 report from the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging shows that 85 percent of baby boomers are continuing to work into their 70s and even 80s. These individuals are highly skilled resources that can be leveraged for a company’s growth.

Firms that want to attract talent outside the traditional mix should also consider moving to a more project-based approach. Recruiting people to do a project is very different from asking them to commit to 50 hours a week.

Utilizing these various alternative hiring methods is a great way to expand a firm’s talent pool and make sure it is finding the best employees to fit into its culture. The right DNA is more important than any other hiring factor.

Look for people that fit your firm’s culture well based on their tenacity and curiosity, passion and collaborative spirit. A cultural fit is more vital than anything and finding someone that fits into a company’s culture will help with guaranteeing their success (and the company’s success) more than if they followed a traditional career path.

Key Takeaways

Expanding a firm’s diversity of thought with strategic non-accounting hires always starts with client needs. Think about what your clients want that your firm lacks. Begin to talk openly with a diverse set of people who will add value and expand perspectives.

Protect the future by resisting the temptation to stay the same — tradition is wonderful, but build the future by defining a new model for growth.

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Tom Barry

Tom Barry, CPA, believes in building a successful life one day at a time. He does that by leveraging technology to create a flexible schedule that allows him to be a father and husband in addition to fully committing to his career at GHJ, where he has worked since 1997. Tom’s role as GHJ’s Managing…Learn More

Mari Anne Kehler WEBSITE Standing

Mari-Anne Kehler

Mari-Anne Kehler, CDP, is a member of GHJ’s Executive Committee and leads firm growth strategy, especially in relation to business development and marketing. She is also Strategist for GHJ Foundation, GHJ’s vehicle for purposeful and proactive giving to the community, and Global Leader, Client…Learn More