The Importance of Feedback in Your Accounting Firm

Gusto Editors

Do you know how to deliver effective feedback to the members of your accounting firm? 

Giving people honest feedback can often be challenging. Failing to deliver feedback tactfully can create a strain on your professional relationships, but if you don’t offer honest criticism, people within your firm might not improve their work performances and professional behaviors. To optimize your ability to provide effective feedback, you need to learn the different types of feedback and how to deliver feedback effectively. 

Gusto, along with our partners at CPA Academy, presented an exceptional webinar all about delivering effective feedback within your accounting firm.  It was called, “Feedback: Give It, Get It, Use It,” and you can watch the entire webinar here.  

In this article, we’ll share some incredibly useful highlights from webinar presenter Kristen Rampe, a former CPA and current consultant to CPA firms. Kristen covered various topics relating to giving feedback, including the importance of giving and receiving constructive criticism, the three different types of feedback, and how to deliver professional advice.

The importance of giving and receiving feedback 

Constructive criticism plays a critical role in expanding an accounting firm. Giving and receiving feedback gives you and others at your firm the opportunity to grow and improve. Kristen observed that the most obvious reason to give someone feedback is to initiate a change in their performance or behavior:  

“You may want to have someone grow and develop, [and] you might want to have better quality work from someone on your team. Perhaps you want to see some behavioral changes? So a lot of this is looking at what is going to be different with the person I’m giving the feedback to, like ‘What do I want them to change?’”

Kristen Rampe

When giving someone constructive criticism, you primarily aim to help the person change a specific behavior or guide them to improve their work performance. 

In addition to helping an employee or coworker improve, you’re also strengthening your professional relationship with them. Enhancing your professional relationships with members of your accounting firm is vital for your retention rates. Accounting firms have an incredibly high turnover rate, so reinforcing your relationships with the members of your firm is incredibly important: 

“The secondary goal [of giving feedback] is improved relationships and retention. … Recruiting and retention [are] a big deal in the accounting industry. We’re always looking for talented people who have some experience [and] have that degree that we want, and then we want to keep those that are good.”

Kristen Rampe

You can increase the likelihood of retaining talented employees by offering them effective feedback. When you’re giving an employee or coworker feedback, you should keep your secondary goal in mind. You’re not only aiming to change their behavior or help them improve—you’re working on building better relationships and increasing your firm’s retention rate:  

“When we heighten our awareness of [our secondary goal], that can help us go into more challenging conversations thinking, … ‘What do I want the relationship I have with this person to look like on the other side of [this feedback].”

Kristen Rampe
Female accountant giving positive feedback to a male accountant.

When you deliver feedback, you’re shaping the relationship you have with your employee or coworker. Learning how to give effective feedback is not only critical for improving your accountants’ performances and behaviors—it’s essential for creating long-term professional relationships in your firm. 

Types of feedback

You can improve your feedback’s efficacy by learning about the three different types of feedback. You can use all three types of feedback to enhance your ability to tactfully advise a co-worker or employee and improve your own performance. 

The first type of feedback is evaluation. It deals with the expectations and the overall performance of a worker based on measurable statistics:

“‘What are the expectations you have of me? Am I meeting them or not? Maybe I want to progress to the next level. What do I need to do to get there?’ So the more measurable components of someone’s performance would fall into this evaluation piece of feedback that someone needs.”

Kristen Rampe 

The second type of feedback is coaching and development. Unlike evaluation, this deals more with improving skills rather than meeting measurable expectations. Coaching and development typically deal with improving in weak areas: 

“You’re teaching somebody what skills they need or how to do something or how to get better at an area that they’ve historically not been so great at. So this is really kind of that learning piece.”

Kristen Rampe 

The final type of feedback is essential but straightforward: appreciation. Appreciation means that you’re thanking people for doing a good job. 

You need to utilize all three types of feedback to optimize your ability to improve your employees or co-workers while also continuing to build excellent professional relationships. Some accountants have an easy time using all three types of feedback, but many excel at one kind of feedback while having difficulty with the others. Often, employers who thrive at appreciating their employees will fail to give effective evaluations, coaching, and development, and employers who are excellent at providing evaluations, coaching, and development fail to express appreciation: 

“What I hear from the people who report to that person is like, ‘I’m glad to have [been] appreciated, … but they don’t have time to sit down and tell me how to do the next thing or the next complicated project or section that I want to work on.’ So they’re looking for more of that development piece but not getting it. … Sometimes, we’ll find people who are really great at giving lots of critiques and lots of development points, and maybe even a lot of that teaching and coaching, but they’re missing … appreciation efforts.”

Kristen Rampe

Evaluate which types of feedback you use effectively and which you need to strengthen. You can improve your ability to deliver effective feedback by utilizing the different types. You can help employees and co-workers improve while also showing your appreciation for their hard work.  

How to give constructive feedback

In addition to using the different types of feedback, you need to optimize how you deliver feedback to improve work performances while strengthening professional relationships. The delivery of your feedback directly impacts how helpful the input will be for the recipient. Kristen stressed the importance of delivering feedback promptly:

“Has anyone ever given you feedback three to six months after you’ve finished a project … [and said you’ve] done something wrong? And you’re like, ‘Wait, but I didn’t know about that.’ And for a lot of people, that can be really frustrating. So when you see something going on that you know is worthy of giving someone feedback, be sure to address it quickly.”

Kristen Rampe

People don’t want to receive criticism long after completing a project or doing something worth addressing. If you notice something that you need to address, whether that’s a work performance or behavioral problem, try to address it promptly so that you can improve the issue while retaining a positive professional relationship with your coworker or employee. 

Male accounting manager giving feedback to a younger male accountant.

Another important step you can take to deliver more effective feedback is by discussing issues with people rather than merely offering written feedback:

“Another challenge for someone who’s receiving feedback is if they’re getting a written evaluation … something written down that they’ve never heard before or they don’t think that they’ve heard before. … When you take it upon yourself as the person delivering feedback about a particular situation to talk to the other person first, they’re going to get a lot more information, and you’re going to get information back from them about whatever the situation was.”

Kristen Rampe

If someone receives written criticism without having heard it first, they may take offense or not understand what they did wrong. It’s more beneficial for both you and the recipient of your feedback to talk about the issue. You’ll both gain valuable insights into the root cause of the problem and how to move forward from it professionally. When you’re willing to talk to someone about an area in which they need to improve or about a specific incident, you’re far more likely to help them improve while also continuing to strengthen your professional relationship. 

Bottom line: How you deliver feedback is as important as the feedback itself. You’ll increase your likelihood of improving your employees’ or co-workers’ work performances and behaviors by giving timely feedback and speaking with them directly. 

Learn more about the importance of feedback

Feedback plays an essential role in the growth of your accounting firm. Delivering quality feedback can improve work performances and behaviors while also building professional relationships and retaining talented employees or co-workers. When offering feedback, make sure that you use all three types: evaluation, coaching and development, and appreciation. You can also improve the effectiveness of your feedback by speaking with the feedback recipient promptly. 

If you’re ready to learn more advice and tips for giving effective feedback, make sure to read Part Two and Part Three of this webinar article series. You can also watch the full webinar here

Getting the most out of your accounting services to help your clients and expand your firm can be challenging. Fortunately, Gusto offers accountants exceptional services for serving their clients and improving their firms with health insurance and 401(k) integration. We also automatically file and send taxes for businesses that have under 100 employees. When you become a Gusto partner, you’ll gain access to invaluable tools for expanding your firm, and you’ll also get direct access to HR experts. If you want to learn more about how Gusto can help you improve your firm, check out our Gusto for accountants page.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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