Boomerang effect Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008
Gary Shamis isn’t an inventor, but the managing director of SS&G Financial Services Inc. doesn’t have to be for his firm to be successful.

“We are very good at copying others,” Shamis says. “What I try to do is learn from others who have done things successfully. Once in awhile, we’ll take credit for an original idea. But for the most part, it’s keeping our eyes and ears open and trying to understand what other people are doing successfully in our industry and in other industries and trying to understand the applications and how it can help our business.”

As an example, Shamis noticed that a consulting company was having great success working for cities, communities and companies to make them culturally appealing to young people. He saw the potential benefits of employing such a strategy and immediately hired the company.

As a result, the 450-employee firm has improved retention while posting 2007 revenue of more than $50 million.

Smart Business spoke with Shamis about how to stop young employees from leaving and why it’s worth it to splurge on Starbucks.

Listen to what your employees want. Our people felt that we weren’t giving them the degree of positive recognition we needed to. That was important to them, but we didn’t even understand it was an issue.

Once we understand that [as a result of employee surveys], it’s trying to get our senior-level people to understand the importance of that and then begin doing more of that.

There are other things, too, like looking at quality of life issues, which are very important to young people.

We have a very sophisticated wellness program. We work with nutritionists and have physical activities the firm sponsors and pays for. With the wellness program, if we have people who are healthier, certainly we’re going to have lower health care costs, but that is a long-term project. That’s not something you put in, and in one day, you lower your health care costs.

Also, having the best technology, the best computers, things like that are going to appeal to younger people. ... Even the little things are important.

Like the coffee they drink is important to them, so we switched over to Starbucks. We have Starbucks in all the offices, and it costs us $10,000 extra a year to have Starbucks, but it’s just one little piece of the puzzle.

Convince your employees the grass isn’t greener elsewhere. The focus is on the retention, our ability to keep these young people. I think young people become preprogrammed when they leave college to have many life experiences.

That makes it really challenging when you’re trying to train them and get them working on a consistent basis on a client, and then they’re thinking, ‘I need to spend two years at SS&G, then go elsewhere.’

So the challenge is to convince them that elsewhere is not as attractive as they may think.

Along those lines, we’ve started offering something we call the Boomerang Award. We give that to people who have left our firm and come back.

We’ve had around 30 employees who left the firm at one point, returned and are currently employed by the firm today.

Show employees that you’re willing to promote. We want to grow, and one reason you want to grow is young people are looking for challenge and opportunity. If they see a CPA firm or any organization that’s stagnant, that is the same size now that it was years ago, they’re going to sit back and say, ‘Where’s the opportunity for me?’

We’ve always wanted to let people believe and show them there is opportunity.

If there is somebody (we’re considering for promotion), they know that we know, and they will be recognized.

We’re not going to hold somebody back because they don’t qualify for the right amount of years. If they can continually perform at higher levels, we’ll keep moving them.

Keep the culture together. One of the other things we do is bring all of our employees together once a year for a two-day event.

We pay for them, we transport them statewide, we attempt to talk to them and really do some programming with respect to what our vision is and what our culture is.

... Even though it’s one firm, when you have other offices, you’re going to tend to have some divesting of culture. You can’t avoid that, but we try to have a culture check often. I liaison with every office and just try to be sure we continue to accentuate what we think are the important parts of our culture.

Know your role in the culture. One thing I consider to be my job is to make sure the firm works together as a firm rather than individual offices.

What that does is get people working in different offices that may not be their home office. We encourage multiple people from different offices working on one client relationship. We want them to try to share resources and be more of an organization rather than the four walls that surround Columbus or Cincinnati.

A lot of times, people get confused over management and leadership. Management is managing people on a day-to-day basis. I really don’t look at that as my job. My job is to focus on the organization in terms of the strategy and vision, the direction, and then the people who manage on a day-to-day basis will hopefully manage within those parameters we establish in terms of vision and goals.

HOW TO REACH: SS&G Financial Services Inc., (440) 248-8787 or