Chief Human Resources Officer, Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors + CPAs
Firm Years in Business: 41
Main Office: Miami
Staff Size: 300
Personal Years in Profession: 40+ years in HR
What is the single biggest HR challenge currently facing your firm? Anyone in HR knows there’s no such thing as one challenge. At this moment, overall firm member wellbeing and re-engagement into the workforce are the biggest challenges facing our firm. Team members are exhausted from COVID – working remotely, Zoom fatigue and long days that never seem to end are plaguing firm members of all ages and experience levels. Our firm has been 100% remote for more than a year and that probably will not change for some time because four of our offices are in Florida.
We are working hard to keep our team connected despite the distance, encouraging them to take time off and relax and promoting a wide range of wellness offerings. More importantly, we will need to focus on the design of the firm member experience as a whole and integrate overall wellbeing into that experience – from the recruiting process to the virtual onboarding experience to total rewards and performance management. We’re also very focused on retaining women in the workforce.
Where do you expect HR to be focusing most of its attention in the next two to three years? One area of focus is transitioning firm members back to the workplace. Firm members will need to be supported as they make adjustments to how they have been working during the pandemic. If we want to be successful in re-engaging our team members, we will need to assist them in a smooth transition back, taking into account things like commuting, childcare, pandemic pets that have not been left home alone, the emotional and physical wellbeing of each firm member and added flexibility for women in the workforce. Many firm members have been home schooling and the office environment as we left it will no longer be the same. Training managers to handle these changes will be key to the success of the transition.
A second area of focus is advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in the firm, which will be key to retention and growth. Younger firm members are especially tuned into this topic and are showing great leadership in holding everyone accountable. It’s been inspiring to see, and I know we will be a better firm for it. The remote workforce is not going away, so being inclusive while working remotely will need to be a focus. It’s been a grand undertaking that has advanced the discussion by five years.
What is the biggest issue or development related to compensation and benefits that your firm has faced recently? There is a very tight market for talent. We’re seeing the cycle of firms paying out-of-market rates and signing bonuses that are difficult to compete with at times. We are evaluating our current compensation models and benefits programs, as well as considering retention bonuses and other perks and incentives.
A culture of putting firm members first and a commitment to frequent open and honest communication are both key to retaining firm members as well. Firm members leave for promises and our experience has been that many want to return when it doesn’t work out. We have a boomerang program for those who leave and come back – we provide them with a boomerang with their date of return and use them for discussions in recruiting events, as well as with firm members who are thinking of leaving. They provide a meaningful testimony of our firm and its culture and how it compares to others.
How is your firm approaching training and staff development right now? The remote workplace has definitely hindered development of staff at all levels. Accounting is an apprenticeship profession and learning over Zoom isn’t the same as the real-time, in-person setting – the one-on-one exposure is really how staff learn in our profession.
Learning and development are integral parts of employee engagement on a daily basis. Our focus is to provide that development quickly and in a flexible manner. We have moved almost all our training to e-learning, which has proven to be valuable. We have also created microlearning and facilitated check-in meetings to assist younger staff with questions they may have during an audit or tax project that require immediate response. But effectively providing soft skills and emotional intelligence training for upper levels is a challenge in today’s remote environment. Our focus continues to be on supporting personal growth and life-long learning to our firm members.
How is HR addressing the expectations of younger professionals at Berkowitz Pollack Brant? How are you balancing their needs with the needs of longtime partners and staff? It can be a challenge, especially when generational misalignment comes into play. We have directors from all age groups, so some are more flexible than others. However, our culture has always provided flexibility according to the needs of each of its individual team members.
Providing opportunities for the age groups to get to know each other and understand each other is key. We have created a series of group meetings and one-on-one mentoring, and have assigned buddies and staff development advisors. Our directors have set office hours for access and availability and both groups participate in social virtual events within the firm. We encourage firm members to communicate and ask questions and let us know how they are feeling, and that has helped enhance understanding and empathy on both sides.
We also have an internal Toastmasters club, which new hires are personally invited to attend and participate in. The group’s membership is comprised of all levels within the firm, offering an opportunity to bond and create relationships, learn about each other on a personal level and develop good communication and leadership skills. This group meets one hour per week and has been successful in creating lasting bonds and relationships among generations within the firm.
What are the most significant issues and opportunities you see with recruitment and retention in the current environment? Digitizing our recruitment process for both experienced and college recruiting has been extremely successful for us. The remote environment has proven that team members can work from home and has enabled us to expand recruiting efforts across the country. The candidate pool is larger and the recruiting process from start to finish is efficient. College recruiting is completely virtual, and we have had great results from our process in that area as well. It has also made it easier for our firm to get involved with more diverse groups within the colleges and expand on our diversity efforts.
On the retention side, remote work has empowered firm members more, which contributes to engagement. However, there are recruiters from all over the country reaching out to our firm members as well. We are looking into enhancing our compensation and benefits packages, as well as highlighting individualized and defined career paths.
How is the firm dealing with employee engagement and corporate culture right now? Firm member engagement is a daily ongoing process and is a business plan objective for 2021. We are enhancing our engagement and culture in many areas starting at recruiting, onboarding and orientation and continuing through career development, quality of life and policies and procedures.
Our culture has always been one of caring individuals, one that puts firm members first and one that supports an open-door policy. We have conducted pulse surveys throughout the year and responding to and acting on member feedback has been key to keeping our culture intact even in a remote environment. We are always coming up with ways to keep firm members connected with events and director outreach programs. During the holidays we mailed snacks and gifts to firm members and their families and have kept our tradition of gift baskets for family members before deadline season. All departments are having their own group meetings, both formal and informal, which has enhanced collaboration and team bonding.
How has the role of HR at Berkowitz Pollack Brant changed or evolved over the past three to five years? We’ve become more focused on lateral recruiting and more strategic about longer-term objectives for hiring. We are also spending a lot of time managing our firm member experiences and continuing to strengthen our culture amid an ever-changing workforce. Enhancing culture has become more important – doing it right takes a lot of energy and attention and you can never look away.
Managing change and the expectations of leadership and younger members in the workplace has also become a greater challenge. I appreciate that the younger generations tell us what they want and what they need.
What is your proudest achievement? Since joining the firm from its inception, our founding chairman and I were committed to an employee-centric culture long before that was a buzzword. Today, even throughout the pandemic, we have sustained that culture for more than 40 years. I am extremely proud to be part of both the growth of the firm and the changes within it, driving the culture and working with a diverse team of members who take pride in their work, feel valued and, throughout the challenging times of the pandemic, have demonstrated compassion and support to each other as a family.
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