Industry Trends

A 4-Step Framework to Develop People Advisory Insights

Gusto Editors  
Businessman explaining his idea to colleague at meeting.

Do you want to know how to deliver the most effective people advisory insights you can? Being an advisor is a honed skill that involves quantitative analysis, employee surveys, key performance metrics (KPI) tracking, and more. When you do it right, you’ll deliver a value that keeps clients with you for the long haul.

Gusto is here to help you grow your advisory practice. So we’re thrilled to partner with CPA Academy to talk about a four-step framework for advisory. The webinar “How to Use People Data to Deliver Advisory Insights” featured accounting expert Will Lopez. He laid out a simple process to guide clients in ways that keep them coming back to you.

Will Lopez proudly serves as the head of Gusto’s Accountant community. He has dedicated his career to supporting accountants and small businesses and is a veteran in the accounting tech space. Prior to working with Gusto, Will founded AdvisorFi, a modern accounting firm which used technology to help automate business processes and provide financial coaching for small businesses.

Review past performance

Thanks to Will and other Gusto thought leaders, delivering effective advisory insights is just a bit less complex. By following a simple framework, you can be sure you’re hitting all the bases. The framework begins just where you’d expect it to begin—with a thorough review of past performance. 

“People advisory analysis is grounded in an understanding of your client’s goals, their business model, and historical performance. So the first step is actually really easy. Start by reviewing notes from your previous client check-in, and then review people-advisory summary work across the payroll process.”

– Will Lopez
Young woman working on a tablet.

As you look through reports and summaries, ask yourself some simple questions. How are they performing? What are their strengths, weaknesses, and areas of opportunity? What’s their level of churn (employee turnover)? 

At this point, you want to set up a deeper relationship with your client (or a new relationship if it’s a new client). Showing that you’re doing meticulous review signals that you’re giving them genuinely personalized attention. You never want to give blanket recommendations to clients. This is the first step in delivering the detailed insights that will truly make a difference.

Develop people planning KPIs

The next step is to develop KPIs to assess the team’s performance. To begin with, you’ll need to identify which metrics will give you the most valuable insights and which are reasonably easy to measure. People planning KPIs will work much like financial KPIs by helping you assess where you are and where you want to be. 

“They help connect the dots between people data and business performance. You all know that when a team is not happy, they don’t perform for your client. They leave, and it actually leaves your client in a big lurch. And then they look to you … to solve it. … Double-check financial KPIs, … the team side of things, and the team performance. It really does help connect the dots to business performance.”

– Will Lopez

Remember, keeping the team around is one of the biggest objectives you should have when it comes to advisory. That’s the purpose of people KPIs—to measure whether your client’s business is a great place to work. It’s going to be very hard for your clients to increase their bottom line if they’re hit with the constant battle of recruiting, hiring, and training new team members.

Will talked about some of the objections people have had to this model of striving to retain employees. His counterpoint was clear.

“When you think about [having] your client’s best interest in mind, their team is what they don’t want to churn. And yes, career development doesn’t mean staying at one company, but for the sake of your client trying to achieve business performance, [your role as an advisor is to help keep] them [staff] a little longer, help them [see] the company’s vision and [see] themselves [as part of] that.”

– Will Lopez

Just think about your own firm. Sure, you know some people are going to move on when it’s the right time for them. You expect that, and you wish them the best when they leave. But is it something you look forward to?

“If you had clients that came on board and left every three months or six months, would that be positive or negative for your firm? Would it be disruptive or would it provide continuity? I think we would all agree that it’s actually very disruptive to have clients just churn over and over and over again.”

– Will Lopez

By putting things into perspective, you can see why it’s imperative to reduce churn for your clients.

Review and analyze employee survey results

Gusto’s advisory process really shines when it comes to bringing people into the equation. So what does that practically look like? It means asking for employee feedback and actually listening to it. 

“You want to review and analyze the employee survey results. … This is so different from … what a majority of our peers do. [When we] review and analyze employee survey results, [it’s] a very drastic difference [from] what we do as [as CPAs that] are only focused on the numbers.”

– Will Lopez
Businessman and his colleague having meeting.

Yes, data can provide insights into the experience employees are having too. Numbers can tell their own story, but those stories can be better understood or enhanced by harnessing subjective data. 

“You can compare your quantitative analysis, your financial analysis, with rich qualitative data straight from the source—employees.”

– Will Lopez

This boils down to the most fundamental aspect of your role as an advisor—you bring value to your clients when you do what machines can’t. Machines can spit out reports, and, of course, they’re getting more and more sophisticated. But they can’t bridge numbers with people data. They can’t look at the whole picture while discussing findings in real-time, ask their clients the right clarifying questions, and identify new goals. When you bring together quantitative and qualitative data, you’re giving the best of both worlds.

“What people advisory does is combine your financial expertise with knowledge of people operations to guide your clients. [You’re combining your] quantitative financial analysis—how’s the business doing, how are the revenues, how are the margins, what does the profit look like—with rich qualitative data … right from the source. [These are things like] how the employees are feeling. And so, by making that connection and actually weaving it into your consultation, you end up widening the breadth and reach of your analysis and value. And I think that’s what’s really cool.”

– Will Lopez

When you pair financial acumen with a strong understanding of people operations, you have a truly unique offering to give your clients.

Deliver your recommendations

Next up after analysis is actually to go through the process of communicating your recommendations. Remember to emphasize how you’re partnering with your client. Build that trust, and let them know you’re here to support them in an ongoing process. You’ll want to really pay attention to your delivery.

“What’s important about step four is that as an advisor, you really just need to lean into your soft skills—client communications, listening, [and] empathy. [This] is exactly the] area where the profession is continuing to develop [to be] better and better and better.”

– Will Lopez

As the industry changes, CPAs need to develop their people skills more than ever. In the past, offering services was likely very cut and dry. Accountants deal with numbers after all, and it’s logical and expected that you’d be more into data and absolutes. In the past, you were probably used to interactions that were transactional in nature. You’d deliver results, and then you’d bill the client. Advisory is much different.

But as Will said, CPAs have been adapting at a remarkably fast rate. You’re evolving, so bring that empathetic touch to your clients. Develop your relationship by giving them reasons to trust you by showing up for them and being available for them when they need you. Work on your communication skills, ask questions, and put yourself in their shoes. 

Leave lots of room for discussion, and make it clear that you’re in things for the long haul. Let them know you’ll be available for support as they roll out the changes, and you’re happy to help tweak things if needed. 

Learn more about the four-step framework

To get the best results, follow a four-step process for delivering advisory insights. Get a thorough look at your client’s historical data to identify strengths and areas of opportunity. Identify the best KPIs to measure, and combine numerical data with employee surveys. When delivering your insights, do so with tact, empathy, and active listening. Your soft skills will be your best asset in this final stage.

Gusto’s mission is to create a world that empowers a better life. We’re here to take you step by step into a positive future. For more insights, check out our other articles based on the same webinar: How People Advisory Is Revolutionizing Payroll, Exploring Gusto People Advisory Reports & Integrations, What Are People Planning KPIs? and Gusto’s Employee Happiness Survey and Why It Matters.

Becoming a Gusto Partner can make your life easier. Get payroll and HR support for your team and our new advisory revenue stream for your practice through our people advisory platform. As a Gusto partner, you’ll also get tools to help you expand your accounting practice and offer your clients new insights, plus a free payroll subscription for your own accounting firm. Sign up today!

Updated: April 4, 2022

Gusto Editors
Gusto Editors

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