Growing Your Own Talent

Article by:
Greg Crabtree
EO Atlanta

He was supposed to be the right guy for the job— what happened? As you watch your latest hire struggle through the first 30 days of work, you take another glance at his “great” resume to see if there was something you missed. All you can think is, “does he really have 15 years of experience, or just one year of experience 15 times?”

As the CEO of a CPA firm, I’ve experienced this post-hiring dilemma more than once. Every year we would turn over what we thought were quality employees, and I couldn’t figure out why. What’s worse, since they had “years” of experience, they demanded a premium salary that bore a poor relationship to profitability. Unfortunately, the loss of these employees would impact those clients who have come to rely on our services. It was a problem that prevented us from financial growth, and it needed to be resolved immediately.

After much introspection, I realized that everything boiled down to my hiring style. It occurred to me that upon hiring employees, I immediately made them one-dimensional. It wasn’t until I learned to grow my own talent that things started to make sense. Instead of hiring employees with a single focus, I needed to train them to be experts in all facets of the business. By doing this, I would ensure that access to our services remained affordable and flexible, while still meeting the needs of our clients. Though we would have to accept the slower growth curve that comes with growing our own talent, it would be worth it.

The first step was to identify the five core areas of the business we needed our employees to be competent in. Once we did this, we identified the personality characteristics needed in an ideal employee; someone highly motivated and not averse to stretching their capabilities as a CPA and business analyst. With this in mind, we leveraged screening tests during the hiring process. For example, using has been like having a corporate psychologist on staff. For a small fee, a consultant provided feedback on how new hires will work with an existing member of our team, as well as guidance as we transitioned existing team members into new roles. Finally, upon hiring someone, we employed a 70/20/10 training philosophy designed to make them bend, not break. Ten percent of training is classroom, 20 percent is one-on- one mentoring and 70 percent is throwing them off the deep end to see what they can do.

Before we started this process in 2003, we had nine employees, US$1 million in revenue and breakeven profitability. While we have always had plenty of new business opportunities, our only bottleneck was how quickly we could add the right people. By growing talent from within, we were able to peg our growth rate to our talent development rate. The result: we went from turning over a few employees each year to turning over just two in seven years. Today, we have 21 all-service employees and are on pace for US$1.8 million in revenue. More important, we now know the full value of each employee, and as entrepreneur, that kind of knowledge is invaluable.

Greg Crabtree is the CEO of Crabtree, Rowe & Berger, PC. E-mail Greg at [email protected].

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