Culture as a Competitive Strategy: Transforming into a Destination Workplace

This time of year, when you hear someone speak about their “destination,” you’re likely to picture warm, sunny, sandy beaches. But HR Director Eileen Connor has a different destination in mind.

“I’m all for enjoying a vacation, but it’s also important that I spend my days at a destination workplace,” Eileen explained. “Work is such a sizeable, consuming part of everyone’s day, so you have to make sure it’s a job you love, in a place you want to be. Everyone’s job should meet that standard of being a true workplace destination.”

Eileen’s perspective reflects our firm’s nearly two-decade emphasis on building a high-impact culture. In 2002 we created the Employee Enrichment & Engagement Committee (e3) to ‘foster employee connectedness and community involvement by creating a positive and engaging environment.’ The e3 Committee is actively involved in our firm’s strategic initiatives, and together with the firm’s “Employer of Choice” (EOC) Committee, they focus on creating and sustaining a truly remarkable and productive workplace environment. These groups’ collaborative efforts have laid the groundwork as we prepare to apply for “The Best Firms to Work For” recognition, sponsored by Accounting Today.

“The Employer of Choice project isn’t just a one-time initiative related to applying for an award”, says Eileen. “It’s actually tied to a wide variety of activities, programs, and plans at BMF that have been underway for several years.”

In addition to the e3 and EOC Committees, the firm implemented advisory councils to engage each employee through individualized career development with active management and partner involvement and guidance. Eileen further noted that with this council approach, “every employee can expect their development to be enhanced throughout the year with ongoing personal development coaching, supervision, and career planning.” In addition, BMF recently updated our Paid Time Off and CPA Benefit policies to ensure our offerings are not only competitive with other firms but in some cases, leading the market.

“Coming into the firm four years ago, I could immediately tell BMF was trying to build a community of employees, beyond just building a business,” said Stephanie Smith, Marketing & Communications Specialist. “So many places do culture wrong, where they think it’s about bowling and putting out snacks during tax season. Here, BMF creates an environment where every employee, from the partners to our new associates, feels empowered to drive change.”

Identifying and implementing innovative ways to boost workplace culture has never been more important, and not just because of the relatively tight job market in which good employees are hard to find. Gallup’s workplace research finds that a shocking 85 percent of employees report they are not engaged at work.

That’s what keeps Rachel G. up at night. Rachel is a senior manager in our audit and accounting department and serves as Chair of the firm’s EOC committee. She’s been with us for three years, after working for several other regional CPA firms.

“Other firms talk about culture, but it’s not their main focus or they don’t put the effort into it as they do here,” Rachel said. “Certainly, we’re like every other CPA firm in that we measure utilization rates and expect people to work hard. But the difference is there’s a foundational concern that rests underneath – with whether people are happy, whether they have what they need to succeed – personally and for our clients. Culture is about more than whether you completed that spreadsheet.”

BMF CEO Richard Fedorovich explains that having strong cultural ties to the core of its competitive strategy. “Simply put, culture ties to client satisfaction. It positions us at the front of the line to hire and retain the very best people, who in turn, are talented and driven to provide the very best strategic counsel to our clients. The same set of financial regulations governs every accounting firm; so it’s our ability to interpret and apply those regulations in ways that are more insightful than what they’d hear anywhere else that provides the most powerful differentiation for us. That only happens with a workforce that comes to work every day focused on making an impact for their clients.”

In other words, when you like what you do and where you do it, you do a good job.

Even recent graduates, who don’t bring the context of other workplace experiences with them, are aware that there’s a unique style of communication here at BMF. Mary R., who joined our Tax Department last year after serving an internship with us, says the flow of communication is different than what her friends describe at their jobs.

“Nobody here is a stranger. They coordinate things to make sure you get to know people in other departments, even other office locations. They make time to get to know you, your family, and your priorities.” -Mary R.

Eileen emphasized that all of these collective culture-enhancing efforts over the last few years, driven by the firm’s top strategic priority of workforce engagement, are proof that building that destination workplace is far from lip service or an illusion. “Everyone contributes to the ideas here – it’s this contribution that shapes who we are,” Eileen noted. “That’s the way you drive culture and improvement, based on ideas generated by EVERY level of the firm. It creates a true appetite for progress because you feel connected as a real contributor.”

About the Authors

Stephanie E. Smith
Stephanie E. Smith
Strategic Communications & Engagement Manager, Marketing Department


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