Small businesses find HR support through accounting relationship

Aug. 22, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by Cain Ellsworth & Company LLP.

Many small-business owners could use a little help in human resources from time to time but don’t have enough work to support a full-time employee or department.

That’s where Julie Noble can help.

As director of human resources at Cain Ellsworth & Company LLP for nearly eight years, she not only handles HR needs for the firm but also offers support to its clients.

We sat down with her to learn how her unique role serves her own business and others.

You play a dual role at Cain Ellsworth, serving as HR manager but also assisting clients with workplace-related issues. First, how would you describe the culture at Cain Ellsworth?

I feel like I want to find one word that wraps it up in a pretty bow; however, I don’t have just one. When I think about our culture from a work standpoint, I describe it as very purpose-driven. We talk a lot about why we do what we do and why it’s important for clients. It’s not all glamorous, but at the end of the day it’s important and purposeful for our clients. That’s our “why.”

Then I think about our people environment. We’re so connected. I know the word “family” is cliche, but we’re a team of 25 people and we are like a family. We talk almost daily. We know what’s going on with each other. When we bring in a new team member, we want it to feel that same way.

One of the things I appreciate about Cain Ellsworth and our culture is our adaptability. We’re willing to try things, to stop doing things when it makes sense. In some workplaces, everything seems like a struggle. At Cain Ellsworth, we want to be open and responsive to the need for change.

What are some workforce success strategies at Cain Ellsworth that might apply to other businesses?

Accountants are not known as being the best communicators. We were struggling with not providing enough feedback to staff, so we brainstormed and implemented a monthly feedback process. These monthly feedback meetings can be 10 minutes or two hours, but it’s no longer about just an annual performance review. It’s continuous feedback, and that’s been a good thing for us.

We also have a successful internship program. In our industry, internships work well, and it’s something we’ve gotten down to a science. We have very good connections with schools and accounting professors. It’s a well-oiled machine, and many of our interns have turned into full-time hires. Another strategy that works well in our environment is flexible schedule arrangements. We provide many options from reduced schedules to compressed, part-time, flexible and remote employees. We’re willing to be flexible and try new things. For our environment and our industry, internships and flex arrangements are imperative.

Is Cain Ellsworth hiring?

We are. We’re looking to hire an experienced tax manager for a senior tax position. It’s a great opportunity for someone who has three to five years of experience and maybe isn’t getting what he or she wants in his or her career progression. It’s an opportunity to step into some additional responsibilities. Working with a firm our size opens many doors. If there’s a niche or something they want to champion, we can have those conversations. We do sophisticated work, so you’re always learning. Sometimes people think of CPAs and think of long hours and hellacious tax seasons. Our workload is consistent all year. We don’t put in killer tax seasons. It’s not who we are. We try to make a manageable work-life balance. To apply, click here.

What sort of HR-related services do you offer to Cain Ellsworth clients?

I love working with our clients. Most of what I do is with our smaller businesses. The larger businesses have HR departments. But I come into play with our small businesses who don’t have as many HR resources.

I’m a resource for them. I get random emails and calls across the board, from wanting to bounce something off me to bringing on a new employee. I am asked about everything from benefits questions to sexual harassment issues when they don’t know how to deal with it. You just never know what question might come, but it’s fun to connect with clients and help provide solutions to their questions.

What are some of the most common HR-related issues you experience with clients? 

Many situations are discipline-related. It could be attendance, harassment or not getting along with co-workers. A lot of times they aren’t sure of the right protocol, so they just want to talk through it. We talk through policies and documentation, and work through the right process. As long as you have a policy or are being consistent, you have a lot of latitude in how you run your company. And sometimes they just don’t realize that. 

What are some success strategies for recruiting talent that you’ve witnessed in your experience?

I think it’s a struggle for many to find what will work because there are so many outlets you can use. We’ve tried a lot of them. We still do some traditional recruiting in northwest Iowa in local newspapers. We’ve also transitioned to technology-based hiring utilizing our website, job sites and social media. We’ve put together some corporate videos that we can link to our site or send to applicants. Several of our applicants come from colleges, and we utilize alumni sites or personal relationships with professors. We also offer referral bonuses internally. If our employees know of good people, we love that. 

Hiring someone is one thing, but keeping that person is another challenge. What are a few questions to ask yourself as a business if retention is problematic?

We’ve always prided ourselves in having low turnover. But we still lose people from time to time, so we’ve really taken a hard look at retention. We have a culture crew, and we’re always trying to stay on top of what our people want. The culture crew plans fun meals and activities, facilitates a culture survey every other year, implements wellness initiatives and reviews our benefits package. We incorporate our culture crew to evaluate that and suggest things we should look into. We implemented paid parental leave and are talking about how we can help paying off student debt. We don’t want our people to leave because they can go get something better somewhere else. The other thing that helps in retention is our leadership team. Everything trickles down from the top, and our team understands that. We do question-and-answer sessions with our partners, and we have weekly staff meetings and try to communicate as much as we can. It helps our whole staff feel connected to what’s going on in the firm. We talk about clients we’re meeting with, wins and losses, and that helps connect our staff on all levels.

What are some of your HR goals for your own organization, and how are you going about tackling them?

One goal is helping our employees at all levels see their career direction and being a little more transparent with that. I think newer employees are really wanting and maybe even demanding that a little more. We want to help them see if they stay here what it could look like for them. We implemented a couple more stepping-stones in our structure to add responsibility, and that helps show upward mobility. We’re always working on how we can improve engagement and are always evaluating our benefits.

To connect with Julie and learn more about how Cain Ellsworth can support your accounting and HR needs, call 605-610-4611 or email Julie at

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Small businesses find HR support through accounting relationship

Many small-business owners could use a little help in human resources from time to time but don’t have enough work to support a full-time employee or department. That’s where she can help.

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