How a coaching culture can transform your accounting firm

All managers provide feedback to their team. But that's not enough. To really help your staff continuously improve and develop, you need to do something not every manager does—coach them.

Providing feedback is not the same as coaching. Both are communication tactics designed to address someone’s performance with a goal to improve it in some way.

But feedback and coaching aim to achieve this in different ways, and each have different results.

Accounting firms that focus on creating a culture of coaching tend to have a more aligned team, increased employee engagement and productivity, and they’re able to build genuine relationships and retain staff.

But how is coaching different? And why is it such a powerful tool?

The differences between providing feedback and coaching

A common mistake is getting feedback and coaching mixed up.

Feedback occurs often, whether it's informal and faceless, or during an actual conversation between colleagues. Either way, employees expect it.

But coaching goes beyond that. It’s about finding what your employees are genuinely good at and what they are passionate about, and then combining them to create real possibilities. Both for them, and your firm.

Here are some key differences between feedback and coaching:

  • Feedback teaches you how not to fail. Coaching helps you succeed and surpass your own expectations.

  • Feedback keeps you ahead on the path you’re on. Coaching helps you explore the path you’re best suited to.

  • Feedback is about your current goals. Coaching helps you set future goals.

  • Feedback is behavior-centric. Coaching is performance-centric.

  • Feedback tells. Coaching asks.

At its simplest, coaching is about developing your employees and helping them reach their potential.

It encourages employees to set their own developmental targets, keeping in mind the GROW method:

  • Their specific Goals

  • What is Realistic

  • The Opportunities needed to achieve the goals

  • When they want to achieve them

The coaching culture

Coaching isn’t just a one-on-one strategy. It’s a principle that your firm lives and breathes day-by-day—from the top to the bottom. It needs buy-in from your entire firm, so it’s important that everyone understands the benefits to them and the team.

Because coaching is all about helping your staff to develop as accountants, the culture tends to be positive and supportive. Individuals are confident that they can push themselves and look for new opportunities, knowing their manager will back them up and help them along the way.

People are genuinely invested in each other, and the culture shows it.

Firm growth via coaching

Your goal should be to create an environment where coaching comes naturally to your leaders, rather than creating specific coaching jobs that distance your executives or management team from their coaching responsibilities.

As a result, your accounting firm can benefit from:

  • Better employee loyalty, saving resources on hiring and training

  • Higher morale, which naturally increases productivity

  • A more diverse workforce thanks to word-of-mouth praise about your company culture

  • More people willing to offer up solutions and step outside their comfort zones means more innovation and more creative solutions to challenges

  • Increased openness and honesty from your employees because they’re secure in knowing they are more likely to receive support than criticism

  • Lower churn—employees who are happy at their job stay at their job

Coaching doesn’t always have to focus on hard skills. By focusing on soft skills like communication and time management, your team will develop their ability to connect with people and maneuver complex situations. Ultimately, it’s through soft skills that accounting firms can develop true relationships with clients.

Recommended reading: Why soft skills are crucial in a modern accounting firm

Consciously choosing coaching

The first step is always a choice. Take the time to research how your current development practices and culture can benefit from the principles of coaching.

Remember, coaching should become a way of life for your firm—you need to believe in it, and so does your team.