Headquartered in Lancaster, PA, Trout CPA is an accounting firm specializing in tax, audits, business advisory, outsourced accounting, and transaction advisory services. The firm, which was established in 1929, never had a dedicated HR professional until Joe Biesecker was hired in 2013. As the Director of Human Resources and team of one, Joe wears many hats. He oversees the firm’s recruiting, compensation, compliance, performance management, and employee relations efforts.
“I would label myself as a people person. I strive to be an approachable avenue for people and try to strike a nice balance between an employee advocate and a strategic partner for our firm,” shares Joe.
Historically, the accounting industry has a reputation for being slow to embrace change, but Trout CPA is undoubtedly an exception. One unique element of the Trout CPA experience is the firm’s approach to letting employees choose their own career paths.
“We don’t define what a career path looks like for somebody. Most firms won’t do that. They’ll give you a specialization from day one, but we don’t want to dictate someone’s career for them. We want them to decide that for themselves,” says Joe.
As a result, every Trout CPA accountant starts their career as a generalist, gaining experience in every aspect of the business, from audits to consulting. This encourages employees to understand where their interests and strengths lie and also helps the firm build a team of passionate accountants and retain top talent.
Accounting can be a demanding line of work, especially during the busy season. This is why Joe works hard to fight burnout and build connections amongst teammates. Joe organizes regular company-wide events like their annual employee appreciation day. The day starts with a company-wide breakfast before breaking into smaller groups for their selected activity. Employees choose an experience from various options such as go-karting, golfing, horseback riding, pottery making, or wine tasting, to name a few. Each year, Joe adds new experiences to keep the event fresh.
“We want our employees to enjoy each other’s company and relax after yet another rough tax season. After all, if you don’t enjoy the people you work with, it will be pretty challenging to continue to go back and do that job every day, right?” asks Joe.
While Joe is coming up on nine impactful years at Trout CPA, he certainly had a few challenges to overcome at the beginning of his tenure. Joe admits he knew the firm’s previous HR processes and systems would be a bit messy, but he was not expecting to find that Trout CPA still did everything by hand.
“They were doing everything on paper. Everything on paper,” emphasizes Joe. “When I started here, we were about 80 to 90 people at the time, and even with that many people… it’s a lot. After one employee evaluation process, I said to our managing partner, ‘We’re never doing this again.’”
For the next few years, the company jumped between a few digital HR solutions, all of which were clunky, disliked by employees, and still extremely labor-intensive for Joe. Joe knew he needed a more sustainable solution that could simplify his day rather than add to it. He was also looking for a solution to help digitize the company’s frequent project-based reviews. After finding Lattice and seeing it in action, Joe knew he had found the long-term answer to both his and the company’s growing needs.
Using Lattice at Trout CPA
Frustration with the company’s old HR system peaked just a few weeks before Trout CPA switched to Lattice, with one partner telling Joe, “I never want to use this platform again.” After Lattice was implemented, Joe noticed an immediate change in employee feedback. “We’d only been using Lattice for two weeks when I had people start coming to me and telling me that they love it,” he says.
Employees weren’t the only ones who benefitted from the switch. “It’s just so simple to use from an administrator’s perspective. Lattice provides us with a ton of flexibility and automation that we’ve had before, but feels cleaner and smoother and easier to use across the board,” he says.
In addition to being easy to use, Lattice’s people success platform helped streamline Joe’s role by bringing performance and engagement together in one place. Joe said he is excited to use this new combined data to gain deeper insights into the organization’s overall health and become more strategic about talent management.
This newfound visibility has even helped him combat engagement survey fatigue. By creating and administering engagement, pulse, and ad-hoc surveys from one platform, Joe can easily track whether certain employee groups are receiving too many surveys and cut back on the volume.
Overall, Joe is excited to continue collecting employee data with Lattice and finding new ways to leverage it. “I hope that once we get some good data in the system, we will be able to start predicting things that could happen, such as anticipating turnover or prediction promotions,” he says. “Anything that will give us an edge in managing our talent. It’s a challenging time in a number of ways, and we need reliable data to show us what areas we should focus on.”
Impact of Lattice
While Trout CPA currently only uses Lattice Performance and Engagement, the company plans to add new features in the near future. “We are also interested in Lattice Grow because next year, we will be implementing competencies in our organization. We also plan to add one-on-ones and feedback, but for now, we are focusing on a slow rollout, so we don’t overwhelm people,” Joe explains.
Joe anticipates these features will complement the company’s internal matrix structure well. As a result, an employee doesn’t have one boss but rather can “report” to as many as 14 different people depending on their projects. While this structure works well for the company, it does make reviewing goals and sharing ongoing feedback more challenging than a traditional direct report-manager relationship. Joe hopes Lattice’s 1:1s and Feedback tools can help build connections amongst employees and their mentors and help the company create a culture of ongoing feedback.
When we asked Joe what has been the most surprising benefit of using Lattice, he enthusiastically shared his one-word answer, “Sara.” Sara is Joe’s Customer Success Manager, responsible for helping him get the most out of the Lattice platform and its features.
“The service level from Lattice has been tremendous, and I never had that with previous systems,” exclaims Joe. “Sara has challenged me to look at things differently and always asks me, ‘Hey, have you thought about this? What about that? Hey, the system can do this. Have you thought about…’ She keeps me on my toes and has been a great partner.”
Ultimately, Lattice has allowed Joe to step away from time-consuming admin work and focus on building amazing experiences for his employees. “The partners at Trout CPA genuinely care about the professionals that work here and want them to have a good experience. In essence, the partners want them to enjoy all aspects of working at Trout CPA, including who they work with and what work they do,” shares Joe. “We’re trying to create an environment of mutual respect and have a little fun while we’re doing it. And if that means we have a happy hour at three o’clock on a Tuesday, then that’s cool. Let’s do that.”
- From two systems to one, Lattice helped Joe consolidate his HR needs into one solution that employees love.
- With engagement and performance data in one place, Joe is excited to gain deeper insights into his workforce and use data more proactively.
- Goodbye paper evaluations! Using Lattice, Trout CPA has brought its traditional and project-based reviews online.
- Lattice’s dedicated customer support helps Joe, HR team-of-one, feel like he has the support and resources of a larger team.