Director of HR, Grassi & Co.
Firm Years in Business: 40
Main Office: New York
Staff Size: 365
Personal Years in Profession: CPA since 2009, HR since 2012, Grassi since 2018
What is the single biggest HR challenge currently facing your firm? The pandemic is definitely a big challenge – it came out of nowhere and is something we’ve never seen in our lifetimes. But I think we’ve handled it well, from taking care of our clients to keeping up with the new laws and regulations that have come about.
Outside of the pandemic, which we hope is more of a one-off challenge, retention and recruiting in the profession is more of an ongoing challenge for HR. There’s a lot of movement and a lot of opportunities and a lot of strong competition in the market, and those are issues that have been with us for a while now and will continue to be with us going forward.
Where do you expect HR to be focusing most of its attention in the next two to three years? Sticking with the challenge that I mentioned, recruitment and retention of top talent will be a big focus for us, especially with the job market starting to pick up a little bit now. Another major focus will be to support the firm’s growth goals, whether through acquisitions or organic growth – we’re looking to grow the firm and continue to make Grassi a name that people know. We’ll also be promoting a lot of our young leaders and engaging in more diversity initiatives.
What is the biggest issue or development related to compensation and benefits that your firm has faced recently? The strong competition in the public accounting market means we have to continuously review our compensation packages, our PTO and benefit offerings, and our flexibility policies. We also have to look at what’s going on in the private accounting side as well. We always have to know what our candidates are looking for and how we stack up against what else is out there.
How is your firm approaching training and staff development right now? We’re very focused on training and developing our people during this time – probably now more than ever since we don’t have everyone together. We’ve probably increased our training efforts over the past year, while also moving almost everything to a virtual environment. From self-study to in-house courses to external opportunities, we try to offer a number of different training options to grow our professionals up through the partnership level and support the firm’s succession planning.
How is HR addressing the expectations of younger professionals at Grassi? How are you balancing their needs with the needs of longtime partners and staff? In general, we’re trying to focus on providing more flexibility. We had to decide about having staff in the office versus allowing them to remain remote throughout the pandemic, as well as find ways to encourage work-life balance and flexible schedules. With respect to training and development, we find that the younger generation really wants to make sure they’re getting those opportunities. We have a great open-door policy that brings the partner level and staff level together in a casual way.
One of the newer initiatives within the past few years has been a “dress-for-your-day” dress code, which I think is a nice representation of the firm moving to be more modern. While some of those who have been in the profession for a long time saw this as kind of a radical change, it was something that the younger professionals really appreciated.
How is the firm dealing with employee engagement and corporate culture right now? Early in the pandemic, we were doing weekly Zoom addresses from our CEO Lou Grassi – we’ve since converted those to monthly sessions. As the pandemic has continued, we’ve taken our foot off the gas on things like those and our Zoom happy hours, just so it’s not overkill. We’re still making sure to do those touch points and keep up the communication overall, but we don’t want it to be a burden for our people.
In another area, we’ve recently ramped up our efforts surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion, which is something that people really seemed to be looking for. Bringing people together on these topics and issues seems like a really good thing to do right now. We’ve had events celebrating MLK Day, Black History Month, Women’s History Month and Autism Acceptance Month, and we have a lot more coming up for the rest of 2021.
On top of those bigger initiatives, we also try do a lot of little things throughout the year to encourage engagement. We play Busy Season Bingo during this time and we try to do a lot of one-on-one check-ins with our employees just to stay connected – not really anything to do with work, but rather just to make sure everything is going OK and to keep the human touch.
How has the role of HR at Grassi changed or evolved over the past three to five years? I think human resources is being seen now as a more valuable operational asset. We’re working closely with partners and employees alike on various matters and providing them with insight and advice. It’s more of a strategic and visionary role than strictly an administrative function, which is something I really like.
One other element here at Grassi is our HR consulting and outsourcing practice, which allows us to go beyond our internal work to actually generate some revenue for the firm as well. Especially for someone like myself who used to be in client service, it brings things full circle in an interesting way.
What is your proudest achievement? I go back to when I got my CPA license. I know that exam can be very difficult, and even though I haven’t been an auditor now for a number of years I’m still very proud to have that designation. Along similar lines, I obtained my SHRM CP credentials last year. When I look at my name and I see those credentials there, I know I’ve worked very hard for them and I think it’s kind of interesting to reflect on both parts of my career to date.
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