Mentoring tax staff
By Amy V. Hollander, CPA, and Stephen Valenti, CPA
CPA firms believe that staff recruitment and retention are among the greatest challenges to success in the profession. As young and eager accountants enter the profession, their most important personal project is to explore and ultimately map out their career paths and roads to success. One integral program that all firms should consider embracing is a mentoring program. A well-designed, well-executed, and well-managed mentoring program can prove to be an advantageous investment for your tax firm.
THE BASICS: MENTORING, CAREER DEVELOPMENT, AND CPA FIRMS
Far too often, amid the day-to-day work of CPA firms, succession planning is put on the back burner. Mentoring is one of the keys to succession planning. It is a powerful way to develop the next generation of firm leaders. Consider that such a program can be established either "intra" (within a firm) or "inter" (between an internal staff person and someone on the outside). Both options have advantages. The overall goal is twofold: (1) to develop future leaders and (2) to establish an environment where the employees feel that their employer is fully vested in their future success. In today's environment, it is an understatement to say — especially with the extraordinary cost of postsecondary education — that the latter goal is of utmost importance to the next generation of the current workforce — a workforce that is eager to excel.
Mentors can offer insight, advise about challenges and opportunities, and serve as a sounding board for one's ideas and career-related decisions. An outside mentor will bring an objective perspective to complement the mentoring and coaching that a professional receives inside an organization. For example, often a young staff person is hesitant to express his or her lack of a clear understanding of a technical issue or subject; in this situation, a confidential line of communication with a mentor would be of great value.
More broadly, consider the challenges facing the tax profession itself. Specifically, consider the way in which tax compliance services — particularly tax return preparation services — will be rendered in the future. Simply, between artificial intelligence, tax reform, and other outside factors, the profession is evolving for the next generation.
These evolutionary times pose a ripe opportunity for seasoned professionals to impart their learned wisdom on the successors to the profession. The profession needs to provide a more formal gateway to future success for tax staff professionals. The authors believe that a mentoring program can serve as that formal gateway.
MAKING MENTORING WORK FOR THE TAX WORLD
With any area of the accounting profession, there are advantages and challenges — and the area of taxation is certainly no different. It is important to remember that a mentoring relationship is just that — a relationship — and, beyond the professional aspect of it all, at the center of it is the human element. The mentoring relationship is separate and apart from a firm's performance management program, which many firms have incorporated into their practices.
PATH TO THE FUTURE
With tax professionals gathered in any given room, one person's path can — and will be — very different from the next person's path. Tax professionals should be open to establishing, maintaining, and supporting a mentoring program to help ensure the growth of their firms and the success of those following in their footsteps.
For a detailed discussion of the issues in this area, see "Tax Practice Management: Embracing a Tax Staff Mentoring Program" in the March 2019 issue of The Tax Adviser.