Accounting firms revamp mentoring programs

by Kristen D’Andrea

Published: October 24, 2012

Come Thanksgiving, executives at Marcum will be focusing on more than turkey and Black Friday sales. The Melville-based accounting firm is set to launch its newly overhauled mentoring program at the end of next month.

Previously, each of Marcum’s more than 1,000 employees nationwide – from entry-level staff members up the corporate ladder to managers and partners – was assigned a mentor whom they met with quarterly. Though Mark Fogel, chief human resource officer, said there were “pockets of success,” he acknowledged that some participants were more enthusiastic than others.

“Not everyone wanted to do it,” he said. “Not everyone is a good mentor; not everyone wanted to be ‘menteed.’”

Marcum’s new mentoring program will not be mandatory, with the exception of first-year staff members. “We do have individuals who are at that mid- to late-career level, not at the partner level, who are very good at what they do and don’t necessarily need that mentor relationship,” he said. However, Fogel believes most employees will choose to opt in to the program.

Marcum is scaling the program back so it can become more focused, Fogel said. Another new aspect is that the human resources department will help match mentees with appropriate mentors and step in if the chemistry is not there.

“The main goal is for people to build relationships and offer someone an outside ear, while tying it back to what to do to build their skills, not just in the firm but in their profession,” he said. “From a common sense standpoint, give employees and emerging executives the time and attention necessary, and they’ll become more engaged in their career.”

Employee retention is directly tied to the coaching and mentoring that PricewaterhouseCoopers provides to its staffers, said Paul Salerno, managing partner of the Melville office, who noted the firm makes mentoring programs a priority.

“We see a difference in the people who work for us,” he said, explaining PwC has reduced its turnover rate by 40 percent in the last three years.

PwC’s mentoring program takes different forms based on different employee levels. New hires are provided with a coach, who assists them during their first three to five years at the firm. They are also assigned a peer host, who is generally a colleague at their level who knows the day-to-day operations of their job. Additionally, they are paired with a relationship partner, who can offer more long-term career guidance.

“As part of that process, we bring younger staff members into board meetings to give them a broader perspective – how what they’re doing impacts what goes on in the board room,” Salerno said.

Once employees receive their first promotion to senior associate, they require a different type of mentorship, Salerno said.

“Now they’ve had leadership responsibility and we want to help develop those skills,” he said, noting employees will be sent out of town for three to five days to meet with peers at another office.

After gaining five or six years of experience and achieving a managerial position, employees will move from having a mentor to a sponsor. Generally a partner or director, the sponsor “takes ownership” of the employee for the remainder of his or her career. “The sponsor says, ‘How do I get you to the next level of your career?’” Salerno said.

Salerno recognizes that the next level might entail leaving the firm. “A good percentage of our people will leave us … we understand that,” he said. His hope, however, is that the mentoring relationship will continue and employees will reach out to their mentors at PwC with questions even after they’ve moved onto their next employer.

“We hope they will leave as loyal PwC alumni,” he said.

The Nassau chapter of the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants is broadening the scope of its mentoring programs. Mark Meinberg, past president of the chapter, said his goal has been to encourage senior accountants at multiple firms across Long Island to “invest in the youth of our profession” through participation on the Young CPA committee.

“You can lose a lot of people in this profession when young, inexperienced people are just thrown out there to fend for themselves. We have to break that mold,” said Meinberg, managing partner at MayerMeinberg in Syosset.

Meinberg’s firm is also developing a more formalized mentorship program. Recognizing that different generations learn differently, Meinberg is in the process of pairing seasoned professionals with young up-and-comers.

“We may have a younger person helping a more senior person navigate software,” he said. “That breaks down barriers.”

As his firm has merged and grown to include more than 30 employees, Meinberg said the need for a formal mentoring program is evident. “Larger firms have been doing it for years,” he said, adding, “that’s the capital we reinvest in our own people.”

Marcum timed the launch of its revamped program so that it will be in place before the firm heads into its busy season.

“We want people to have those connections, so if they’re under stress, they can call their mentor and say, ‘Do you have five minutes to talk? I could use a different opinion or viewpoint,’” Fogel said.