BY: V Pattabhi Ram
What are the needs of the members of an audit firm today? And how critical are they: hygiene or motivational? This article takes you through by borrowing ideas from Abraham Maslow and Herzberg.
This is the 75th anniversary of one of the pioneering theories of motivation: the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s incredible that what Abraham Maslow, the famed psychologist, wrote in 1943 resonates with Generation Y and Generation Z, although the nature of needs is different. As you get to run your audit firm into the third decade of the 21st century, it is necessary to know what drives your team. Maslow spoke of five needs and the fact that lower ones need to be addressed before moving to higher ones.
We take each one of them, in turn, in the ascending order of needs.
1. PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS
According to Maslow, physiological needs are basic needs for human survival. Money is the medium to meet those needs.
a. Salary & Benefits: What constitutes today’s ‘needs’ for survival are different from what they were when Maslow propounded his theory.
“To a man with an empty stomach, food is God;” said Mohandas Gandhi. While that is still true, world poverty is no longer at the level at which it was when the Mahatma strode the world like a colossus.
Financial independence is one of the primary reasons why a person pursues employment. To attach value to money does not mean being materialistic. Whether we like it or not, for today’s generation, financial compensation is the most important criteria. You, therefore, need to compensate the team members reasonably well, in line with comparable firms.
As they climb up the ladder, these members expect the pay to be commensurate with the effort, time, and strain that work demands. They also expect transparency about processes and criteria that determine their financial growth in the organization.
b. Comfortable work environment: Access to clean restrooms, requisite breaks, 5-day work life, good cafeteria, suitable leave structure, plus a reasonable HR policy are a few of the critical requirements. Breaks would of-course depend on person to person and should hence be left to the individual to decide.
The physiological needs are ‘hygiene’ factors, not motivators. It means that while their presence may not act as a stimulator, their absence can be a de-motivator. The term “hygiene” is used in the sense that these are maintenance factors. In contrast, motivators are intrinsic to a job and give real satisfaction.
2. SAFETY NEEDS
Once the physiological needs are met, next comes the safety needs. In an audit office, it is about safety regarding the job, health, and workplace.
a. Job security: The days of job security are gone. Even in government jobs, one can be sacked. There are no jobs for life. That said, employees must not be made to be on the lookout for job safety continually. You cannot run a race, by frequently looking backward. While complacency and unprofessionalism must not be tolerated, a hire-and-fire culture does not yield results in the long run. Good firms take time to assess and recruit employees; and turn to fire them only as a last resort. If at all a person has to go, there must be an exit interview with a senior director in the organization where the party is heard out, the reasons for the pink slip explained, and the partying is pleasant without burning of bridges. Under no circumstance should HR alone handle this job.
b, High-pressure environment: While challenges are enthralling, care must be taken to not induce too much of stress on employees. This has long-term consequences. Understaffing is not a wise strategy. The modern workforce looks out for mental health as much as physical health and family time. Top-heavy firms must periodically assess the appropriateness of such a structure, and see that there is adequate bench-strength.
c. Workplace safety: Since a lot of women work in organizations, it is essential that adequate checks be in place when they work late hours, and that facility is provided to all employees to be dropped home. This is truer in an era where people commute long distances, and traffic snarls are the rule rather than the exception.
All these safety needs are hygiene factors.
3. BELONGING NEEDS
Third on the ladder is to have a ‘sense of belonging.’ This is what Maslow had famously called social needs. People like to be liked. Team members must take pride in the fact that they work for your firm. They must come to work every Monday with a smile and must feel it’s worth working with you.
Feedback, staff training, an open-door culture, mentoring, and team outing can bring in the sense of bonding.
a. Feedback: Reviews must be continuous. A two-way feedback system, preferably after every assignment, must be implemented. The immediate supervisor as also the functional head should give such feedback. These must not become a rote procedure; instead, they must be acted upon expeditiously.
b. Staff Training: In a world where knowledge is increasing at break-neck speed, if you do not update yourself you will rapidly become a museum piece. Training has to be continuous, and not an off-season affair. Firms can also take up the cost of studies and certifications, subject to the candidate passing the exam.
c. Employee-focused, open-door culture: All firms, especially medium-sized ones, must ensure that their workplace does not reek of office politics, lest it becomes an unpleasant environment. Directors and senior audit managers must be approachable and adopt an open door style of management. Partners must also be accessible on an emergency basis. When a team member wants to deal the partner directly, the partner must do so and not let an executive assistant take his role.
These three are hygiene factors, and the next two that come up are motivating factors.
d. Mentoring: A proper system of mentoring must always be in place for everyone. This is the best way to ensure a smooth transition in roles. Try to understand employees’ areas of interest and nurture them appropriately. Assign more work on such areas of interest and put them on to bosses who share the enthusiasm.
e. Team outings and fun: All work and no play makes an employee dull. While different people have a different perspective of what constitutes fun and relaxation, firms must engage in activities to foster team bonding and a better understanding of colleagues. Do not make them obligatory though!
4. ESTEEM NEEDS
People want to have a sense of self-esteem. A large measure of that comes from working with branded firms, challenging work, and flexibility. How lovely it sounds when you say you are a part of a well-known firm. How beautiful it is if you can boast of doing offbeat work and claim to have flexibility in doing things. Each of these is a motivating factor.
a. Brand: Employees seek to work for established audit firms with niche branding in the market. Multi-city firms and multinational brands are usually preferred. So firms must continuously try to expand.
b. Challenging work: Horizontal and vertical exposure make work-life more interesting. Using technology aids such as statistical tools, audit software, internal social network, data analytics, cloud applications, continuous auditing aids and collaborative team tools not only keeps employees engrossed, but also improves efficiency and effectiveness. Outsourcing or engaging non-accounting folks for administrative and rote work such as printing, xeroxing, formatting, proofreading, etc., can be used.
c. Flexibility and Freedom: There is now an increasing expectation of flexible work options. ‘Work from home, flexible time, remote working, and benefits like “unlimited paid time off” are international buzzwords. Firms are increasingly using technology and cloud-based services for this purpose. So long as productivity is ensured and clients are made happy, time-off, holidays, family time and personal space must be respected. Of course, some of these can be offered only at certain levels and not at every conceivable level, lest the organization becomes amoebic and unstructured. Also, space for different working styles must be given. While work processes and expectations must be clearly communicated to employees, the team members must be given the space to explore and discover their paths. If each partner demands employees to learn up to their way of doing things, it could become frustrating. Bosses must not micro-manage. ‘Review’ is checking what they have and understanding why they have done it. Space for different working styles must be given. Guidance must be provided when needed, and reviews must be undertaken in detail.
5. SELF-ACTUALIZATION NEEDS
How do you help your members achieve self-actualization? How do you ensure that they do “what every man is best capable of doing?” One way is to allow them the laxity and space to pursue their personal interest that is not exactly connected with the interest of the firm. : if he is a painter let him use some office time when he is stressed, to paint. : if he is an ardent storyteller allow and encourage him to become an author.
On its part, a firm achieves self-actualization when it can get an ordinary team to do extraordinary work. If you hope to run audit firms in the 2020s remember, talent is not only going to be scarce but also expensive. You will have to work with what you have, convert them to world-beaters and lead an exciting outfit. Are you asking, “what if they learn in my organization and then leave?” Well, “what if they do not learn and stay back?”
And finally, trust your team.