Credit: gratsoft.comRELAX. There’s little chance of the accounting firm bonus ever going away (whew!).

In fact, bonuses are becoming more common.

But not all new positions are bonus-eligible and smaller and mid-sized accounting firms can’t always afford bonuses. What other kinds of incentives work?

Two words: Professional development …

Accounting Firm Bonus Plans On The Rise, But … 

Not too long ago, Accountemps surveyed 210 CFOs on how they were recruiting top talent.

Guess what? “Increasing benefits” and “increasing compensation” topped the list at 46% and 45%, respectively. Hot job markets like Detroit are taking these tactics to new heights.


Yes, better pay = more recruits … but it’s not always about the money. (Sadly, “free yoga classes” did not make the list.)

Not far behind better pay in the Accountemps data—at 42%—was “training and development of internal staff.”

As Max Messmer, author of Human Resources Kit for Dummies, told AccountingWEB: “Boosting compensation and adding incentives is a useful first step for attracting talent, but it’s equally important for businesses to develop the abilities of workers already on staff.”

Makings of a Great Professional Development Plan

So, what makes a great professional development plan?

The research elves at Wiley did a whole lot of digging on this subject recently and found that it comes down to six key ingredients.

Ensure your recruiting and retention plans are designed to:

  1. Stimulate. Without stimulating work, accountants (especially the millennials) can quickly become disengaged. To keep them from jumping ship, switch up their work tasks and teams often and illicit feedback about which projects interest them most.
  2. Test. Explicitly test staff for ability, engagement, and aspiration to make sure they’re able to handle tougher roles as their careers progress. This could include requiring a regular tracking report of KPIs, accumulation of CPEs, or sitting for the CPA or CMA exams.
  3. Manage. Having middle managers oversee star employees only limits their access to opportunities and encourages hoarding of talent. Instead, try to manage your top employees at the corporate level or ensure that they have access to higher ups.
  4. Challenge. High-potential employees need to be in positions where new capabilities can—or must!—be acquired. Building professional development into employees’ annual performance goals is a best practice today.
  5. Recognize. Employees are more engaged have the potential to earn recognition such as differentiated compensation or awards when merited. The Big Four and even smaller firms offer various bonuses to associates who pass the CPA Exam.
  6. Engage. Incorporate high-potential employees into strategic planning. Share future strategies with them and emphasize their role in making them come to fruition.

What matters to you? Is it really just the accounting firm bonus plan? Or are there other incentives that matter?