Issue: September/October 2011
Best Places to Work: Employee Development
Apple Growth Partners’ employee development model helps associates and managers map out the skills needed to succeed.
During his first interview with Apple Growth Partners, Sean Cwynar sensed it was the kind of place where he could find his niche.
He liked how his interviewers interacted with one another. They worked well together and seemed to really enjoy their jobs. When he was introduced to managing partner Randy Misch and COO Karl Driggs, he was impressed by their positive tone.
“It just felt right,” Cwynar recalls. “I enjoyed being there.”
COMPANY: Apple Growth Partners
LOCATION: Akron and Independence
What They Do: Accounting and business consulting services
Why It’s a Great Place to Work: Apple Growth Partners is focused on employee development, so self-starters who want to grow, professionally and personally, thrive there.
A new college graduate whose accounting experience came from internships at a public accounting firm and the Cleveland Clinic, Cwynar joined Apple Growth as an associate in the audit division at the end of summer 2008.
At the time, plenty of other firms were skittish about taking on new hires because of the downturn in the economy. Apple Growth offered Cwynar direct client contact, a rare responsibility for new associates at most firms, but one at which Cwynar felt he’d excel.
“The sky’s the limit here,” Misch told Cwynar. “Work hard, meet your goals, and you will be rewarded.”
Senior managers at Apple Growth shared Misch’s commitment to employee development. In fact, they were looking for new ways to help less experienced colleagues grow personally and professionally.
Borrowing from a university model where students work through a set curriculum with clear expectations in a variety of areas, Apple Growth set out to create a set of goals for each professional-level employee at the firm.
“We had too many people on different levels,” says Katie Lee, human resource manager. Some employees didn’t fully understand the requirements for career development and promotion. Others had been promoted without learning the skills necessary to succeed.
Lee and other managers compiled a list of things they wished they would have known earlier in their careers and began passing it along to newer associates.
“We just needed to make an even playing field,” she says.
They identified five areas where they wanted staff members to grow and be challenged: technical ability, client service, contributions to the firm’s financial success, business development and people development/teamwork. Next, they defined specific skills in each of those areas and spelled out three or four possible ways employees could work on developing each skill.
The result was a comprehensive career development tool called PATH (Program for Advancement, Training and Holistic Growth). Rolled out to professionals during the company’s annual retreat last September, PATH is posted on Apple Growth’s intranet for ongoing reference. A new version, for support staff, is near completion.
Like a GPS for career tracking, PATH helps employees identify where they are, map out long- and short-term career destinations and plan how and where to stop for refueling or retooling along the way.
Cwynar was one of the first employees to benefit directly from PATH. “A lot of the competencies we have are very achievable, but working through all of them takes time,” he says.
Cwynar was already well prepared to service clients. He’d worked in customer service at Best Buy and Circuit City and as a lifeguard manager. But his technical ability needed some work, especially with Apple Growth’s proprietary software and paid research sites. Learning how to extract data and examine financial analytics from a variety of online tools was tedious, but Cwynar says it taught him the reasoning behind a number of critical accounting issues and helped him to work more independently.
By reviewing his individual development plan quarterly with a mentor and using the PATH template, he realized how much he’s grown technically and as a leader. When he was promoted to senior associate in July, he already knew he was ready to tackle the new responsibilities.
“Everybody knew he was ready [for the promotion],” says Brian Morgan, his mentor.
Cwynar says he’s taken on harder assignments and is studying for his master’s degree at Cleveland State University. “There are quite a few younger partners here,” he says. “I want to be one of those younger partners.”
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