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2017 Dynamic Dozen Top Local Human Resources Professional: Sara Choate

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Sara Choate was determined to make a positive impact from day one.

“If they were looking for an HR box checker, I would not be a good fit for the position,” Choate says of her 2014 employment interview with KPM CPAs PC. “However, if they were looking for a strategic partner to help take the firm to the next level, then we would both be successful in this endeavor.

“Fortunately, they were looking for the latter.”

In the more than two years since starting with KPM, Choate has made talent retention her No. 1 priority.

“I put retention above recruiting, because while constantly seeking new talent is important, in my opinion it is more important to retain the talent you already have,” Choate says. “It is no secret that the war for talent is fierce. It does not matter if you are paying $8 an hour or $80,000 per year. Good people are hard to find, and in the current environment, they are hard to keep if you are not doing the right things to retain that talent.”

In an effort to keep the highly trained and intelligent staff KPM already has attracted, and recognizing businesses need to be forward thinking and competitive, Choate sees it as her mission and role to keep these professionals engaged. She says one can never underestimate the power of talking with employees.

“Do they understand where the business is headed and how their daily contributions drive that?” she says.

The workforce has evolved tremendously, just in the past 15 years, she says. It is no longer fulfilling for individuals to perform only the specific tasks associated with their jobs. People crave an understanding of how what they are doing connects to the bigger picture and serves a higher purpose.

“My role is to help make those connections,” she says.

Choate worked with KPM managing shareholder Jim Lewis to develop what she calls “stay interviews.” Choate says KPM, like most organizations, had conducted exit interviews when an employee left the firm voluntarily. However, she says talking to individuals who have already made the decision to leave is not always the best way to obtain the kind of information that may aid in retention.

“I talk to those high performers who are loyal, hardworking and continue to remain with the firm,” she says. “I ask them why they have chosen to remain with KPM and what we can do better.”

Choate says this is an exercise she would encourage any organization to participate in. It has been so successful, KPM now advises clients in the practice.

“KPM is invested in helping clients achieve their goals, and helping them with staff retention is another avenue to help them be successful,” Choate says. “You have to be ready to hear the good, the bad and the ugly, but also understand that your employees appreciate their leaders putting themselves in vulnerable positions.”

Choate is a member of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s young professional group, The Network, and outside the office, she volunteers for Springfield Public Schools.

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