Employee Satisfaction: Is it enough?

Road trips are a fairly common occurrence in our family. Whether driving to an out-of-town hockey tournament or to visit relatives in North Dakota, the contentment of my passengers is always a top priority. (Nothing spells road-trip disaster like a backseat full of quarrelling kids. Trust me.)

Keeping everyone happy is always a good idea, right? After all, it’s certainly one I’ve embraced as a managing partner. But, over the past year, my thinking has changed: I’ve learned that, when it comes to employees, happiness—or satisfaction—may just not be enough.

Let me back up a bit: Last year, when we decided to rework our annual employee survey, we contacted Dr. Steve Johnson, CPA, CITP, of Canopy Consulting Group, LLC. Through Steve, we learned that satisfaction alone isn’t enough keep someone excited about coming to work each day; however, someone who is engaged in their job is more likely to stick around.

Steve’s proprietary survey tool not only measured employee engagement but also identified drivers of employee engagement and satisfaction throughout the firm. Plus, his survey process provided us with segmented data—along with a statistical analysis—that enabled us to take a targeted approach to improving employee engagement.

During the first survey we conducted in 2013, Steve found a strong driver of employee engagement within our firm centered on the statement “I believe I make a difference at work.”

So we honed in on learning what that meant to employees. Our HR director did focus groups. We included it as an agenda item in our 120-day partner meetings, as well as in meetings with staff. When we saw people making a difference in our organization, we made sure to point it out. We believed we could make strides within a year.

And we were right.

This year’s employee survey responses relating to “I believe I make a difference at work” were drastically higher—indicating a nearly 40% uptick in employee engagement. And now, thanks to Steve, we have a new driver to focus on in 2014: “My job takes advantage of my strengths and abilities.” So far it’s led to some great conversation, and it’s challenged us to help our employees get to where they want to be.

What about you? We’d love to hear what you’re doing to keep your staff engaged. Leave your reply in the comments section below. 

5 steps for creating opportunity in your career

There are times in our career—especially when we’re just starting out—when we get caught up thinking about our dream job more than our current job. We find ourselves simply going through the motions. We wait for someone to give us the next steps.

But the most successful individuals I’ve worked with over the past 20-plus years don’t wait for instruction: they take initiative. And by doing so, they create opportunity. 

Here are five steps you can take to create opportunity in the job you have right now.

  1. Crank up your job’s difficulty level

The people who excel in their jobs—and get noticed for it—are the ones who seek out extra responsibility. They go out of their way to teach and solve problems. They do everything they can to learn and grow. As a result, they get better and better at the job they were hired to do, allowing them to move on—and up—to more challenging roles.

Thomas Edison said it best: “Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.”

  1. Go out of your way to make your team better

It’s incredible what can happen when you work to improve things for those around you. This starts with asking questions and listening. Don’t just accept things for the way they are, and don’t assume your team knows what they’re doing. “Because we did it that way last year” is never a good reason to stop looking for a better way to get things done.

  1. Identify the need—and find a way to help

If you listen carefully—whether you’re working with clients or coworkers—you are likely to uncover a need. Think of this need as your golden opportunity: How can you meet this need?

Here’s an example: One of our major client-service initiatives has been to conduct “listening meetings” with our clients. This free call—conducted outside of our standard service—helps us to understand our clients’ biggest challenges while learning more about their business. In many cases we‘re able to uncover a need that we can help with. Many of these needs turn into significant projects.

  1. Broaden your understanding of the status quo

Making improvements within your team—and your organization—will require some level of change. To create lasting change, you must first understand why things are the way they are. Meet with those who will be affected by the changes you are suggesting. Knowing where they’re coming from will help you to anticipate their concerns and objections—and get their buy-in.

  1. Realize no one cares about your ideas…as much as you do

This is one of the most important pieces of advice I can give for creating opportunity. No one will have the energy you have for your ideas. Change starts with ideas and only happens with execution. Execution only happens with a passion for making something better. I count myself fortunate to have seen several ideas mature from a wish to a new process. Every time it has taken much more work than I ever anticipated, but the satisfaction of seeing an idea put into place is immeasurable.

These five steps are what I’ve learned through my own experience in a CPA firm; I wish I would have known them when I first started out.

I’ve found the payoff for taking initiative will often be tangible—more money, promotions, etc.—and many times it will be intangible, like when your coworkers come to you for help solving problems, or when you land the best projects. But it will almost always create opportunity—and put you one step closer to making your dream job a reality.

You’re never too old for another first

As the father of three kids, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing several firsts—the first steps, first hockey game, and first taste of paddlefish caviar (it’s a North Dakota thing). Each new experience has left my kids with expanded horizons, and, yes, a time-out or two. Fellow parents, remember your child’s first crayon-produced mural?

The funny thing about firsts is this: No matter how old you are, there’s always room for another one.

This year—our 50th year in business—Abdo, Eick & Meyers experienced a significant first of its own: In June, Christine Powers, CPA, became the firm’s first female partner.

Chris is someone who has exemplified our firm’s values since coming on board in 1997. She is brilliantly driven, committed to her clients, and respected for her expertise. Despite her accolades and qualifications, her making partner is considered a really big deal. Out of the norm, even.

It’s no secret that men far outnumber women when it comes to partner positions in accounting firms. Recent studies show that men and women are neck and neck in the share of manager positions; yet only 21% of the nation’s accounting-firm partners are women. To me, this statistic says that we, as a firm, are at risk for losing top talent.

Which is why, a few years ago, Chris and two other women leaders within our firm, Jill Gates and Tara Torseth, established the AEM Women’s Initiative. Acting as a task force of sorts, they help local women within the accounting industry—not just women at our firm—grow in their profession. Earlier this year they collaborated with YWCA, Wells Fargo, and South Central College to assemble a panel of established women within the community to speak on networking. The response was overwhelming: they were expecting 50 RSVPs and ended up with close to 150.

I know the AEM Women’s Initiative is working hard on their next event; I hope this last event was their first of many. I’m convinced these types of initiatives will allow us to better retain top talent and build diversity within our partner group. And better serve our clients.

It may have taken our firm 50 years, but we couldn’t be more proud to welcome our first female partner.

There’s still time: What firsts do you hope to achieve yet this year?  

5 Solutions For Attracting Top Talent

“Attracting talent” is a challenge expressed by organizations everywhere, from nonprofits and small businesses to multinational corporations. It’s a challenge that can prove costly: When the right people aren’t in the right positions, opportunities are missed. Staff members become overworked. Profits and market share are left at risk.

What’s more, this challenge takes on new meaning when it comes to recruiting young, creative minds (a.k.a. students). Whether in high school or graduate school, students experience a deluge of information each day. And, with limited talent available, competition among prospective employers can be fierce.

Several years ago, our firm wrestled with this challenge. We watched as the “old-school” approach to hiring-posting ads and crossing fingers for the right response-became less and less effective. We realized there had to be a better way. Finally, after months of revamping our recruiting strategy, we found one.

Five solutions that helped our firm overcome obstacles and attract top talent:

1.  Narrow your focus.

Think about the skill sets you’re looking for in a prospective hire. Which institutions produce people with these skills? Do your prospective hires come from high schools, technical colleges or state universities? Which institutions have a strong program related to your industry?

Pick two to three institutions that make the most sense for your organization. Remember, geography can be a factor, too; focus on institutions you can easily visit regularly.

2.  Identify your internal resources.

Now that you’ve narrowed your focus to a few institutions, think about which staff members are best suited to connect with its students. Look for young alumni who are passionate about their alma mater. The bottom line: Send staff members your prospective hires can relate to.

3.  Determine your target audience.

You’re looking for the cream of the crop, so think about where you will find top talent within your institutions. For example, we target students in accounting clubs and honor societies, not just students who are majoring in accounting.  

4.  Build relationships with influencers.

In order to connect with your target audience, you must have a relationship with its influencers. For us, this meant building relationships with deans, chairs of accounting departments, and presidents of accounting clubs. To begin, we picked up the phone, called these influencers, and stated our purpose in these eight words: “We have a great opportunity for your students.” They responded enthusiastically.

5.  Use social media.

Social media can be a great way to build awareness of your company and foster connections. It can even give your target audience valuable insight into your company’s culture. But how do you determine which social media outlet your target audience prefers? Ask them.

Four years ago, we asked the Minnesota State Mankato chapter of Delta Sigma Pi to help us create a social media strategy to connect with students. They proposed a Facebook page. “Facebook?” we asked incredulously. “That’s too unprofessional!” “That’s what your target audience uses,” they replied. Eventually we relented, and the results-increased engagement with our target audience-were astounding.

Attracting top talent takes time; it doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a proactive approach. It calls for seeking out the best candidates and learning what’s important to them. Most important, it calls for listening.

Only then will you be able to present your company as a great place to work. 

Contact Steve at: steven.mcdonald@aemcpas.com

Direct Line 952.715.3002 

The Power of Deadlines

Although some may associate deadlines with late nights, long hours, and greasy take-out (ok, maybe that’s just me), their value is indisputable. Just as this post on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network points out, without them—or with the permission to push them back—it’s hard to make things happen.

At Abdo, Eick & Meyers, we view deadlines as essential to providing a high level of client service within our audit practice. Several years ago, after listening closely to our staff and clients, we began instituting “turnaround times” for the delivery of our clients’ annual financial reports.

Here’s how it works: Once a staff member completes their fieldwork (i.e., gathering information from a client), they work closely with their client to establish a turnaround time for completing the financial report. These turnaround times are realistic yet ambitious, and vary depending on the nature of the project.

One might think that setting a turnaround time would result in added stress for both staff and clients; however, we’ve found the exact opposite to be true. Since implementing turnaround times, we’ve noticed the following benefits:

1. Our staff members stay in control of their schedules

Simply put, having a set turnaround time—versus passively waiting until we have all of the information we need—lets our staff plan better.

2. Less stress for all parties involved

Although we may work the same number of hours to complete the report, the pace of work is much less stressful. Plus, keeping everyone on the same page—and ahead of schedule—prevents last-minute crunches.

3. A more thoughtful process

Better planning and less stress allows our staff to be more thoughtful. As the post I mentioned earlier states—we don’t necessarily work better, or smarter, under pressure.

4. Incredible client service

Above all else, setting turnaround times has allowed us to exceed client expectations in regard to the delivery of the annual financial reports.

Happy clients and staff? That’s a win-win in my book.

How have you leveraged the power of deadlines?

We Couldn’t Have Done It Without You.


Abdo, Eick & Meyers LLP celebrated the firms 50th Anniversary on July 24 with a party for clients, employees and friends of the firm at the Centennial Student Union ballroom on the campus at Minnesota State University, Mankato.  The large crowd enjoyed viewing a running timeline describing the history of the firm with accompanying era music, and 150 rotating past and present pictures throughout the night on the 360 degree digital projection system and Dolby sound system.

ImageI had the honor of hosting the event program and reading a letter written by former long-time partner Gerry Eick.  He said “Abdo, Eick & Meyers looks to the future with great expectations.  First and foremost as a firm that listens to our clients to assist them in solving their challenges and achieve their goals, providing a great environment for our employees, and being responsible stewards in the communities where we live and work.”

At the conclusion of the program, the audience was invited to continue celebrating our We Listen 50th Anniversary campaign through the remainder of 2013.   Our campaign website was shared (www.aemlistens.com) with the centerpiece being a video of firm staff sharing our firm’s People + Process message. 

We are very proud of the work we have done in our 50 years in existence.  We could not have accomplished this without support from our clients, employees, friends and families.

I look forward to a bright and successful future. 

Reflecting on 50 Years

This year, Abdo, Eick & Meyers celebrates 50 years in business. To mark the occasion, we’re listening to you—our clients and communities. Here at stevelistens.com, you’ll find my take on what we’ve heard. Don’t be surprised if you come across mentions of my favorite new recipes and food finds, too. (I spend a lot of my free time cooking, so I tend to keep an ear out for good things to eat.)

This first post is a welcome opportunity for me to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re headed. I started at Abdo, Eick & Meyers (known then as Abdo, Abdo & Eick) nearly 25 years ago. How I joined the firm is somewhat of a funny story:

After graduating from Minot State University in North Dakota, I moved to the Twin Cities and rented a room in a frat house (and probably ate ramen for breakfast, lunch, and dinner). I had a job at a bank in Saint Paul, but what I really wanted was to become a partner in an accounting firm.

I passed the CPA exam that summer and began the arduous task of sending out resumes. I interviewed with Jay Abdo in September of 1991 (and, boy, was I nervous—just ask Jay). I must have called him seven or eight times after the interview, but he never said no. Finally, on the first week of December, he relented. I felt fortunate to have the job.

From day one, I recognized—and loved—the firm’s entrepreneurial spirit. I learned that if I was interested in something, I could take the initiative and do it. As a new guy, this gave me the ability to quickly gain experience across the board. Despite our growth, this spirit is still very much here. We strive to create an environment in which our staff can contribute, grow, and develop.

Speaking of growth, I’ve always appreciated the firm’s tradition of organic growth in addition to the few key mergers that have strengthened our team. Through it all, we’ve kept our identity intact. We like what we have, we like what we’ve built, and we want it to grow—which means we’ll continue to invest in our People and Process.

Looking ahead, we’re focused on bringing in new leaders and making the firm a great place for them. This means continuing to further our training and development. It means making our firm an attractive place to work and build a career.

Most important, we’re committed to being there for our clients. We want to be their sounding board, their partner, their resource. The ones who help them work through the opportunities and challenges they’re faced with. That’s where the listening comes in.

Fifty years is significant; but like we tell our clients, numbers don’t define success, nor do they tell the whole story. Success comes from doing things right. That’s why we’ll chart our course for the future by building the next generation of leaders. It’s how we’ll grow, and how we’ll be there for you as you grow, too.

So let’s hear from you: What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing as you look ahead?

Find out what Abdo, Eick & Meyers has heard over 50 years by visiting http://www.aemlistens.com