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‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’: how this applies to accountants

Business

The famous quote by management consultant Peter Drucker is relevant for accountants wanting to attract and retain talent amid the labour shortage, according to an executive.

By Malavika Santhebennur 12 minute read

Ahead of the ACE24 Accounting Conference and Expo 2024, businessDepot managing director and founder John Knight said accounting firms with a strong culture are better placed to recruit and retain employees.

“As Peter Drucker said, culture eats strategy for breakfast. That is what will help you attract and retain your people,” he told Accountants Daily.

The modern accounting firm has not only become increasingly collaborative, but it also requires employers to engage with their employees in different ways and offer flexibility.

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“Not everybody is just a traditional employee,” Knight said.

“You might have an offshore team, independent contractors, or even outsourcing to a local company. You may deliver services by collaborating with another organisation rather than employing people and providing services directly. And you will have hybrid workers who may have a whole range of different working arrangements.

As such, employees could seek tailored and personalised arrangements from the modern accounting firm.

To maintain a healthy culture in the firm, employers are required to conduct difficult conversations with employees who are not a suitable cultural fit. Knight warned that failing to tackle the issue promptly could create divergence within the firm.

“One of my biggest failings was not having the hard conversations quickly, and instead letting the issues fester,” he said.

“Doing this could mean your whole team gets out of whack and they may not necessarily do everything you want them to do in your way.”

Embedding a strong culture has become critical in accounting as it faces an acute labour shortage. Indeed, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) forecasts have shown that Australia would require 338,362 accountants by 2026 – almost 10,000 extra a year.

However, the number of accounting graduates has halved, resulting in a shortage of almost 10,000 annually, according to Thomas Palmer, managing director of Asia-Pacific at OneStream Software.

Attracting talent has also become increasingly challenging as accounting candidates value flexibility and the ability to work from home.

Seek’s Law of Attraction survey revealed that accountants value work/life balance and flexibility over their salary, with 41 per cent considering the ability to WFH a “must-have”.

Additionally, almost half of the 385 accountant respondents said they would be “delighted” if a job had a WFH option, while only 11 per cent said they were “not bothered” either way.

“We don’t have the sheer volume of accountants required to deliver the services and we’re going to have to take those challenges head on,” Knight said.

“We have fewer people in the industry and we’re attracting even fewer candidates for the future. We’re finding that accountants in senior roles are having to undertake more tasks and handle more client relationships. There’s a certain skill set required to handle clients by everyone in a team, from the accountant right through to those in client management.”

The labour shortage challenges have been exacerbated by the fact that the accounting industry is fragmented, Knight said, because it has become easier for accountants to establish cloud-based accounting businesses and operate as sole practitioners.

“We've tried a number of different things to overcome this,” he said.

“One thing we have done is we've packaged up a parcel of fees and sold them to an employee so that they could get a head start with their own business. They've also contracted back to us for a period on a percentage basis, which works well for us. I assume it has worked well for them while they are starting their business.”

At the ACE24 Accounting Conference and Expo 2024, Knight will unpack how the “team” is evolving in accounting, the challenges facing accounting firms, and how culture and vision could play a role in a firm’s success, particularly when recruiting and retaining top-tier talent.

To hear more from John Knight as he charts the path ahead for accounting firms, come along to the conference and expo.

It will be held on Thursday, 20 June 2024 at Hyatt Regency, Sydney.

Click here to book your tickets and don’t miss out!

For more information, including agenda and speakers, click here.

This summit is produced by Captivate Events. If you need help planning your next event, email director Jim Hall at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Malavika Santhebennur

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