INVESTING IN PEOPLE MAKES A DIFFERENCE


April Homer
28 November '23

6 minute read

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Here at CP we’re all about making life count for our people. We were one of the first companies to introduce things like flexible and remote working. Hybrid working is now a norm across many firms so we’ve been updating our offer to new and existing CPers. I’ve been reflecting on our approach to recruitment and retention which has evolved over recent years.

It’s now commonly accepted that recruitment and retention have proven challenging for many sectors in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research has shown that there’s a growing culture of ‘quiet quitting’ as employees become less engaged with their roles. The result being that productivity levels are weak.

The accountancy sector isn’t immune from these challenges and employee relations and recruitment haven’t been as straightforward since the pandemic. In lots of ways, it’s become a candidate’s marketplace. Making it really tough to hire, particularly at senior manager level and especially in the audit space.

We like to be different. Living true to our ‘Rebels of Accountancy’ culture in what can often be a traditional and serious profession. Long before the pandemic hit, we had invested heavily in building a strong employee culture. We offered things like yoga and fitness classes on-site, as well as visiting hairdressers and other well-being practitioners. The aim being to boost people’s health and happiness. We also track employee engagement through regular surveys. Our flexible and remote working practice were established and valued by our people.

THIS IS HOW WE DO IT

Yet in the aftermath of the pandemic, when flexible working became the norm, we had to adapt our approach. Flexible and remote working was quite a big differentiator before the pandemic. Now it isn’t. So, we’ve had to step up our game. Though having said that many of our competitors aren’t as flexible as first appear. Some firms set minimum expectations on the number of days worked in the office. Our approach is different with its flexible and remote work approach. We’re committed to our ‘work from anywhere, anytime, forever’ policy, which provides flexibility.

We’ve been trialling a shorter working week with our 100-80-100 approach. 100% of the productivity, 80% of the time and 100% of the pay. That trial has been amazing for finding efficiencies. Some believed the work could not fit into the amount of time, but when you start to unpick working practices, such as how often you check email, which adversely affects concentration, it is normally possible to find a couple of hours each day. The early results are highly promising. There’s nothing to suggest that reducing the number of hours worked is having an adverse impact on productivity; if anything, it’s having a positive impact.

Underpinning the rollout of these initiatives is our substantial investment in our managers. This in turn supports broader staff teams. The key is having really, really good people managers. All of our managers go through our ‘rebel managers’ training programme, based on Gallup’s studies into what makes the world’s greatest managers. It helps them to have better competency and strengths-based conversations. It also helps people to really identify what it is they love about their jobs and what they find draining so that they can carve out a role that really suits them.

The management training programmes have been intrinsic to developing our culture. Their importance is recognised throughout the business. It costs money and takes investment to put on the training programmes. Not just an investment of cash but a substantial investment of time. Our heads of departments could say, ‘I don’t want my managers attending because they need to focus on client delivery’, but we don’t have that. We have real support across the whole business that the return on investment of training is equally as important as going out to a client and getting hard cash.

We also set great store by frequently monitoring employee engagement and listening to staff feedback. We carry out a weekly happiness survey, which is conducted by an external provider, as well as some bigger surveys every few months. The surveys are anonymous but enable us to understand trends at a team level and quickly identify areas of the business where there is discontent and, most importantly, taking action. The key thing is not just listening to people, but also actually doing something about it. You can do all the feedback surveys in the world, but if nothing changes, people get complacent and think there is no point in giving feedback.

HR AS AN INVESTMENT NOT A COST

Support from senior management and the finance team – along with a significant allocation in the annual budget – has been essential. The people team budget is healthy. It allows us to do many things that other places aren’t doing. When I meet HR heads of other accountancy firms, they are often curious as to why we have such a big team. We do, but we couldn’t do half the well-being stuff, the engagement activity, if we didn’t have the people to do this. There’s been huge financial investment as part of a wider business strategy to do this.

Those investments have also included a greater focus on technology and working practices. We’ve invested heavily in technology and automation to improve processes. This has included a lot of investment in the people team to improve our own HR systems and improving our applicant tracking system. So, our candidates can have a better experience, so our managers can have a better experience. All of which ultimately benefits our clients.

As a result of all this activity our investments have certainly paid dividends in fostering a strong culture where employees both thrive and create a more productive firm. Yet, we’re not planning on standing still. There’s lots more that we can do. We’re learning all the time, and we’re now working with a private equity house that really gets our culture. All of which will help us build even more on what we are already doing.