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Accountants have to bite bullet on desperation hires, poor performers


Talent shortage or not, getting recruitment right pays off in the long term, says consultant Rob Pillans.

By Philip King 13 minute read

Desperation hires and hanging on to poor performers are two pernicious problems that have become worse due to the talent drought, according to consultant Rob Pillans.

He said accounting practices paid a price for recruitment missteps and it was better to bite the bullet – be a team member short – rather than have the wrong person in place.

“I still see firms holding on to poor performers – and hiring people they probably shouldn’t have hired in the first place,” he said on the latest Accountants Daily podcast.


“I actually think it’s an enduring problem although I think the talent shortage has certainly made it worse. It’s ever so tempting to make that hire because you just need a bum on the seat, if you’ll pardon the expression.”

He said firms which bucked his advice against desperation hires often lived to regret it.

“A number of them have come back to me and said, ‘Rob we probably didn’t take your advice first time around, we hired someone and we went, Oh, my God, that was a dumb idea, a mistake. They weren’t a bad person, they just weren’t a good fit for us. And in the end, the cost to us as a firm was way too high. And we should never have taken them on.’

“And it’s a little bit like that with poor performers. The reality is, if you’ve got a firm of multi-people, the poor performers tend to stand out. And that has an impact on the good performers, where they don’t really understand why the directors don’t deal with these people who aren’t pulling their weight.”

He said one extreme example involved a 20-member firm where he conducted a survey asking, “What would be the one thing you would change if you could?”

“And 19 of them said, ‘Get rid of this person!’”

Related problems included confusion about a staff member’s role, where many outgrew their initial job description but it had never been updated, and half-baked induction processes. Research suggested the first few weeks at a firm were critical for retention and role definitions paid off over the long term.

Mr Pillans said a clearly articulated vision for the firm helped address both issues “so that people who are working in that firm have a sense of where the firm is going and how what they do contributes to that”.

“I know people chuck around words like, mission, and mission statements, and values and these sorts of things.

“I don’t want to get too caught up in the particular terms. But accountants are smart people and I think smart people want to work in a business where they feel like there is some sense of direction and we’re doing something worthwhile.”

He said it was important to be authentic and get the statement right.

“It starts with people’s values – what we think are important, what we believe in, guide our behaviour – I often think it comes from that.

“It’s got to be truly you, it’s got to be real.”

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Philip King

Philip King


Philip King is editor of Accountants Daily and SMSF Adviser, the leading sources of news, insight, and educational content for professionals in the accounting and SMSF sectors.

Philip joined the titles in March 2022 and brings extensive experience from a variety of roles at The Australian national broadsheet daily, most recently as motoring editor. His background also takes in spells on diverse consumer and trade magazines.

You can email Philip on: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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