3 Ways to Engage Accounting Employees

Every day, as leaders, we are faced with dozens of decisions, and the first question should always be, “For whom are we solving the problem?,” even before “What are we trying to solve?” At Intuit®, we explicitly solve for four stakeholders: employees, customers, partners and shareholders. Knowing that everyone with whom I work shares the goal of solving for all four makes conversations more productive and solutions better for everyone.

But, with four stakeholders, how do you prioritize? Our CEO, Brad Smith, taught me an easy way to remember. Shareholders are like food … critical to your survival, but you can go three weeks without food. Customers and partners are like water … you can go three days without liquid. However, employees are like air … three minutes and you are done.

Brad’s point, I know, is that engaged employees will lead to satisfied customers and partners, which will, in turn, result in positive shareholder outcomes. I’m proud that Intuit is on Fortune’s list of Top 100 Places to Work for the 14th time in 2015. So, what have I learned here about engaging employees, applicable to any size business?

First, at the strategic level, I believe there is no better guide than Daniel Pink, author of five books about business, work and management. He doesn’t believe it is about carrots and sticks anymore, but instead about mastery, autonomy and purpose. I’d encourage you to learn more, but, in summary, your employees want to grow their skills over time (mastery), be in charge of something (autonomy), and be part of something larger than a transactional relationship with their employer and customers (purpose). That isn’t hard stuff, but you must be deliberate in offering this to whoever works with you or for you. Of course, you have to pay decently and provide a positive work environment, but you cannot bribe your way to happiness, nor hope that beanbags and a ping pong table will work for long.

On a more day-to-day basis, I have found three things to be helpful:

Make it cultural – Hire people who care about their employees, measure their employee’s engagement, and reward employee outcomes equally with shareholder and customer outcomes. Talk is talk, but measurement and rewards are the ‘walk.’

Communicate, communicate, communicate – There is no substitute for having at least monthly development discussions with your direct reports to ensure issues and assumptions are not festering. You can also hold quarterly meetings with various staff and periodic town halls that help everyone share in the vision and the outcomes as the organization progresses. I’ve sometimes forgotten to make the time for these, and I’ve seen my engagement levels fall off with near perfect correlation.

Something personal – I’ve seen great leaders create an engaged environment with small, yet meaningful delighters. Tom Fricke, a boss at PepsiCo, sent birthday cards to everyone in the division. I remember being with him when he met employees for the first time, and often, the card was the first topic of conversation. Steve Reinemund, former CEO of PepsiCo, gave his personal watch away to leaders for a job well done. They wore it with pride for many, many years, happy to share the story of how they earned it. Finally, Carlos Paz Soldan, who led Argentina for P&G for many years, just walked around, sat down at your desk and chatted. All day long. I never saw him in his office, and I don’t know when he did email, but we remain friends more than a decade later.

Back to work, I suppose, but if you’re wondering what to do now, why not go have a chat with one of your most valued employees? Your customers and shareholders will thank you.