The best accountants never stop learning. They make an effort to maintain their education and training throughout their career to ensure they stay on top industry developments and best practices, and continuously improve their skills. If you want your firm's team to grow into the best accountants they can be, you need to make sure their learning is as effective as possible.
Helping your staff to grow can happen in a range of forms—from formal technical training such as seminars, conferences or online webinars, to informal methods like in-house mentoring, reading or sharing amongst the team.
All these strategies have their pros and cons. The key is to offer a balance and track everything because it’s fruitless to invest time, money and effort into training you team unless you can determine what is best for your team.
How else will you know who is learning what, how your team is progressing, what areas they naturally gravitate towards, what learning strategies are working, and which ones aren’t?
With these steps, your firm can establish a proven system that will track the development of your staff.
#1 Pick a central place to document everything
Select an area to store all progress and communication relating to your team’s learning. It doesn’t need to be any system specifically built to track training. In fact, the most effective platforms for this are those that aren’t too rigid. You want to inspire growth amongst your team, not drain them of motivation to learn.
Most importantly it should be a platform accessible to everyone in the team. If your firm is already using an internal communication or collaboration tool, use that. Karbon-users—setup a “Team learning” piece of work, and track everything right there!
This central place will be used to note, share and track everything we discuss in the following steps.
#2 Identify individual learning goals
Ask each team member to identify three things they want to learn during the upcoming quarter. Work together (or if you’re a larger firm, ask managers to work with their staff) to come up with a way to measure how these learning goals will be met. The goals should be clear so that when the time comes, you can easily judge how much progress is made (Hint: use the SMART method).
One of your staff might want to improve their face-to-face client skills. Together, you could set a goal for them to speak with a client on the phone at least once a day and sit-in on a client meeting each week. By the third month in the quarter they should aim to be ready to lead a client meeting themselves.
Or your practice manager might want to become more proficient at capacity planning. They may aim to attend two training webinars on the topic and read something (a blog, article or chapter of a book) related to it each week.
Each goal should be systematically documented in the platform you chose in step one. Ensure the goals are all clearly assigned to the right staff member so there is no confusion over who needs to concentrate on what.
#3 Introduce daily shares
At the end of every day, ask everyone to share something they learned. What they share does not always need to be related to their own goals, or be technical in nature. It could be something they learned about a particular client, something interesting they read on a blog, or even a new keyboard shortcut they discovered for one of your firm’s systems.
This method encourages your staff to always be on the lookout to learn throughout their day, and to pay more attention to the specifics of what they are learning.
Best of all, you will be able to keep an eye over what topics are being shared. By paying attention to who shares what and who is progressing at what pace, you can mold your team and get the best of out each member.
#4 Summarize the week
The end of each week is a great time for a more detailed summary from each staff member. Each Friday everyone should share a short post covering:
- What topics their learning focused on
- How they learned (include whether it was informal or formal)
- The time they dedicated to learning
- Their three biggest learnings from the week
- Are they on track to meeting their learning goals?
An exercise like this will take each person five minutes at most and will provide you with a succinct update of where each staff member is at.
#5 Monitor each quarter
The end of the quarter requires a more detailed assessment of the team. Each staff member should sit down with their manager to discuss their progress and how successful they were at meeting their goals. Work through each goal and give a rating (we rate out of 1.0, but you can choose whatever rating system works for you) for each.
As well as discussing individual goals, you’ll want to touch on, and note the following:
- What learning techniques taught you the most?
- What techniques weren’t very successful?
- What is one thing the firm can do to help you learn more next quarter?
- Is there anything new you are interested in learning next quarter?
You should also use this occasion to begin discussing new goals.
#6 Review & adjust
Learning and training should never end for your team. The training you offer and how your staff learn must be continuously revisited, reviewed and adjusted as your team and the industry evolves. Issues and obstacles must be attended to at the end of each quarter, and you should always be looking for ways to accelerate the growth of your staff. Remember that improvement requires constant evaluation and refinement.
The accounting teams who grow and develop quickest aren’t necessarily those who invest the most time and money in staff training. The most successful are those who acknowledge the importance of learning on the job, and foster this through a meaningful plan that includes regular assessment.
With the steps outlined here, you can put a plan into action that will ensure you’re helping grow your staff in a manner that works for them, and in a way that provides you full visibility over their progress.
To compare the challenges your firm is facing acquiring, training and retaining staff with accounting practices from around the world, download The talent challenge: insights from Karbon’s 2017 talent survey.