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Forging the Future: A Commitment to Cultivating Future Leaders

Member Spotlight: Jana Cinnamon, Partner and Chief Operating Officer

Firm Name: Abdo

Location: Edina, MN

# of Offices: 3

# of Partners: 26

# of Employees: 240

Forging the Future: A Commitment to Cultivating Future Leaders

Jana Cinnamon, Partner and Chief Operating Officer at Abdo, was drawn to a human resources career because she loves working with people, understanding what motivates individuals to commit to an organization, remain engaged and contribute to its overarching objectives.

Before the Minnesota native joined the firm 11 years ago, she worked in HR at General Mills. That role was in the learning and development space, but Cinnamon felt ready for a greater challenge.

Cinnamon decided to pursue a master’s degree in human resources from the University of Minnesota. On the first night of graduate school, as Cinnamon listened to her peers describe their diverse professional experiences, Jana felt called to look into other possibilities within her chosen field. That same evening, she started looking at HR positions online, leading her to discover an opportunity at Abdo. The firm was in search of an HR professional with a focus on learning, development, and recruitment—a perfect match for Cinnamon’s skill set and passions.

From HR to Operations

During her initial interview at Abdo, the managing partner's perspective on the importance of employee experience resonated deeply with Cinnamon.

“The way that he talked about people, he saw how critical it was to provide a great employee experience, how that translated to an effective client experience and how that helped to facilitate firm growth,” Cinnamon says. “I saw that he was looking for a strategic partner in the role, and after meeting with him, I thought, ‘I want to work with him. I want to work at this firm.’”

She recognized a shared belief that a positive work environment is directly linked to exceptional client service and, consequently, to the firm's growth. This alignment of values solidified her desire to join the team.

Cinnamon was initially brought on board with the understanding that she would eventually take over for the retiring HR Director. However, as Abdo grew, so did her role. Her involvement in firm initiatives outside the traditional HR domain revealed her aptitude for change management and communication.

Despite not being an IT expert, Cinnamon played a significant role in some major IT initiatives, and the partner group recognized her strengths in team building, questioning the status quo, and forward-thinking. In 2017, she was promoted to Chief Operating Officer and eventually became a partner and owner of the firm.

“What I love about being at Abdo is there's an understanding of the value of a different skill set and different strengths,” Cinnamon says. “I am contributing to firm growth. Although I'm not bringing in client revenue, I'm helping to grow this firm through our people and processes.”

The Boomer Talent Circle: A Synergy of Expertise

Cinnamon got to know Sandra Wiley, President of Boomer Consulting, Inc., through Wiley’s consulting work for Abdo. So when Wiley mentioned to Cinnamon that she was forming a peer community for talent professionals from top accounting firms, Cinnamon recognized the initiative as an ideal platform for collaboration and became a founding member of the Boomer Talent Circle.

“I've found public accounting to be one where we are collaborative,” Cinnamon says. “As much as there's competition, there is an abundance mindset at our firm—there’s enough work and opportunity out there. And we have challenges facing us as an industry. If we're going to face these challenges, we can't do it alone.”

From day one, Cinnamon has been a major contributor to the peer community, understanding the benefit of getting perspectives from peers across the country on how they approach learning and development, employee engagement, recruitment, flexible work and other issues and trends.

Over the years, the Talent Circle has been a wellspring of innovation for Abdo. One of the tangible benefits of this collaboration was the connection with an external trainer who was pivotal in shaping the Abdo University internal curriculum—a cornerstone of the firm's learning strategy.

The collective wisdom of the Talent Circle has also spurred cultural initiatives at Abdo, such as the creation of an annual yearbook that celebrates the firm's achievements and its people, coaching and mentoring programs, and new recruitment strategies.

Abdo's Innovative Path to Partner Program

In early 2021, Abdo took a significant step towards ensuring the firm's future by launching the Path to Partner Program. This initiative arose from an awareness of industry-wide conversations about the development of staff and the preparation required for ascending to partnership roles.

“The health and sustainability of our firm depends on having a strong bench of people to take it over,” Cinnamon says. “So we saw a need to create better awareness and ensure we weren't just making people partner because they put in so much time at the firm. We wanted to really put forth a good effort to make sure we were adequately preparing them to be successful.”

The Path to Partner Program Guide is a published guidebook made accessible to all members of the firm. It serves to illuminate the roles and responsibilities of a partner, clarifying the path while setting clear expectations. Abdo’s dedication to nurturing talent extends beyond those on the partner track. They communicate that there is room for growth and a place for everyone at Abdo, regardless of their career aspirations.

While Abdo focuses on learning and development at every stage of a person’s career, once individuals are within a three-year trajectory to partnership, the program becomes more intensive and personalized, featuring coaching, mentoring, and a customized development plan for each potential partner. The plan encompasses a range of growth opportunities, from internal mentorship to external leadership programs, ensuring that candidates are prepared and primed for success in their prospective roles.

These future firm leaders are also invited to an annual retreat, which offers a space for professional development, relationship building, and open discussions about partnership and practice management.

“This year, we made four partners at the start of the year,” Cinnamon says. “That's very different than where we were five or ten years ago when we maybe made one new partner a year. Now we have a class of new partners coming in, and the feedback that I've heard from them is how valuable it's been to be part of this cohort of people going through the Path to Partner because they're experiencing things together and learning from each other.”

This inclusive approach to career development has had a tangible impact on the firm's culture and retention rates. Abdo has seen its turnover rate drop by half in the past year. While higher retention rates aren’t entirely a direct result of the Path to Partner Program, Cinnamon believes providing clear career pathways and investing in comprehensive learning and development plays a crucial role. By investing in the clarity of career paths and the continuous development of its people at all levels, Abdo is preparing its future leaders and strengthening its present.


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