IPA Profile: Carol Hargenrader, Director of HR, Meaden & Moore

IPA Profile: Carol Hargenrader, Director of HR, Meaden & Moore

Firm Years in Business: 100+

Main Office: Cleveland

Staff Size: 200

Personal Years in Profession: Meaden & Moore since 1993, HR since 2005

What is the single biggest HR challenge currently facing your firm? I think it’s the same with every firm – recruiting and retention. Fewer people are going into accounting, and we’re not only competing with other public accounting firms, but with every other industry.

Where do you expect HR to be focusing most of its attention in the next two to three years? I think our focus isn’t going to vary too much from where we focus now – providing the best employee experience possible so that we can attract and retain top talent. If we focus on our culture, the retention stays strong. If we’re retaining our employees, attracting them is easier. It really all starts with culture.

What is the biggest issue or development related to compensation and benefits that your firm has faced recently? I think we pay competitively, and our benefits are in line or better than other firms our size. If there’s any issue, I would say people have worked very hard this last year and a half, and that was multiplied by needing more staff.  We want to make sure we are rewarding them for that, and we have a way to do that through our incentive and other bonus programs.

How is Meaden & Moore approaching training and staff development right now? It’s important for team members to understand what it takes to progress from one level to the next. Our focus now will be developing the right learning paths for each individual so they are excited about developing and growing. The pandemic wasn’t all negative. One of the positives that came from it is that we learned how much can be automated and virtual. While in-house and on-the-job training is always going to be a cornerstone for development, training can effectively be presented virtually, and we’re making use of some online learning platforms and recording our own trainings.

How is HR addressing the expectations of younger professionals at Meaden & Moore? How are you balancing their needs with the needs of longtime partners and staff? Several years ago, when we were shifting our strategies to attract and engage Millennials, you heard the inevitable griping from more senior people – my generation included: “Why do we have to change for them?” Well, it’s pretty simple – if we don’t, they’ll go elsewhere. The Millennials are getting into management positions, and everyone has made some shifts and the world looks different. Now we’re adjusting to Gen Z, and we’re going to have to get ready for Generation Alpha. Guess what? For better or worse, we need to keep adapting.

And to credit the Millennials and Gen Z folks, who doesn’t want more flexibility in their work schedule and the ability to work remotely? Who doesn’t want the option to dress more casually occasionally? They were just more vocal, and forceful, than previous generations about it. So instead of automatically saying, “that’s never going to work,” I think we’re going to have to say, “give me a minute to catch up,” and then eventually get there. Because most of the changes that are being requested are totally doable and many of them are beneficial to everyone.

What are the most significant issues and opportunities you see with recruitment and retention in the current environment?  Public accounting has a reputation of “churn and burn,” especially with some of the larger firms. While that’s never been our model, it’s hard not to burn out staff when you need more help. We’re making a concentrated effort to bring in more interns and staff, and I believe the retention will take care of itself if people feel they are getting proper work/life balance. Additionally, now that more people are coming back into the office, there will be a greater sense of belonging and collaboration.

How is Meaden & Moore dealing with employee engagement and corporate culture right now? The pandemic made employee engagement a challenge, but it also brought some opportunities. First, handling a crisis like this in the right way, with plenty of communication and assurance, demonstrates how much you care about employees’ well-being. We also brought about a lot more communication virtually through town halls, informal chats, check-in meetings and check-in buddies. We figured out workarounds for client engagements and internal functions together, which brought a sense of ownership, teamwork and togetherness. When a problem or situation arises, you find out who rises to the challenge and helps get you through. We had so many people who were involved in providing the solutions. That’s a huge boost for morale, engagement and a strong culture.

How has the role of HR at Meaden & Moore changed or evolved over the past three to five years? While the pandemic made all of us pivot, there are some other things that started changing in the HR landscape internally and externally prior to that. Virtual interviewing and events were already starting.  The pandemic just made something that was going to take five or 10 years happen much sooner. We’re able to touch people much more efficiently through technology.

One of the biggest changes that we’re seeing, though, is the fact that we need to act much more quickly on committing to, and getting commitment from, candidates. A few years ago, we were making internship offers to seniors and some juniors. Now we’re looking at sophomores and engaging with freshmen. We’re getting more involved in high schools, especially underprivileged/underserved schools, to get them excited about opportunities in accounting. We’re making sure we’re engaged in a wider variety of colleges to attract a more diverse workforce. And we’re keeping in touch with our alumni through mailings, CPE events and social media, as they can be great referral sources. We’re constantly considering ways to be more creative in attracting talent.

What is your proudest achievement? I guess I’m always striving for continuous improvement in myself and with Meaden & Moore, so I don’t know if I could pick one achievement as my proudest. But I can tell you that when I look back at my years here and see how many improvements have been made that have shifted our firm to where it is today, I’m really proud that I’ve been part of that. It’s the little things that may seem inconsequential at the time, but consistently putting the effort in makes for the big changes. You can’t always appreciate that until you’ve been at an organization for many years.

 

 

 

 

The IPA community wants to get to know you better! If you’re an HR professional who would like to share your thoughts and insights in a future edition of the IPA HR Profile, let us know at mloehrke@plattgroupllc.com.