What you need to know about training your accounting firm's staff

Imagine this: A thriving, growing accounting firm that runs seamlessly, makes a genuine difference their clients' lives, and is rewarding for owners and staff.

So many accounting firms are started with this vision in mind. But achieving it is difficult. 

The key: a great team. 

A great team is about more than simply finding great talent—it requires work throughout the lifecycle of every staff member. You need to: 

  • Find people who fit your culture

  • Develop and grow the skills of every staff member

  • Help them stay up-to-date on latest industry and tech trends

  • Keep your team engaged and motivated

While this is a constant process, it's within reach for every accounting firm.

Why training is important

Most training in the accounting industry is highly technical and based on providing the best solutions to your clients. But additional training on a regular basis can be what takes your team to the next level (at the same time as supporting everyone’s personal career goals).

As more technology is developed, the need for continuing education becomes greater. A survey done by the Pew Research Center found that 87% of workers believe it will be essential for them to get training and develop new skills throughout their work life in order to keep up with changes in the workplace.

Not only that, but regular training can help boost team camaraderie—especially if it's done in-person and has a team-building component. 

Adding to the critical need for on-the-job training, only 8% of firm owners believe the right skills are being taught at universities to prepare students for real-world experience in a practice.

Implementing a training program at your firm doesn’t mean you need to overhaul everything you already have in place though. In fact, small improvements are the key to long-term results.

Structuring your team’s training

The first step to take is performing a skills gap analysis. Evaluate your team as a whole. Ask yourself:

  • What is your firm great at?

  • What could be improved?

Then work down and ask those questions of the individual teams throughout the company, eventually identifying which topics you’d like to cover in training.

After you’ve done a skills gap analysis, you’ll need full support from senior management, as well as the support and enthusiasm of each team. A rock-solid commitment from everyone is critical.

You should then identify the right skills to couple with training so you deliver the most value to your team. There are three different types of training: 

1. Technical training

This is the most common form of training, and is made available through industry organizations providing CPD points.

Generally, most firms are good at developing a technical training plan for their staff that includes technology and legislative changes. These technical skills would include accounting and tax skills. 

2. Non-technical training

Non-technical training includes soft skills, which are usually given far less attention than technical training.

“Today, flourishing in accounting requires a new way of thinking,” Jessica Daley, owner of Parable said in The Talent Playbook. “It is less about the technical expertise and number-crunching, and more about whether you can handle systems, communicate well, innovate, solve problems and build rapport with your clients.”

While 93% of accounting firms are investing in ongoing training, most are not focused on the all-important soft-skills. These soft skills can make a massive difference in team collaboration and client experience.

3. Service-specific training

This type of training is specific to your accounting firm. It could be training for a new practice management tool or learning a new internal procedure for approving projects.

Training providers

After you’ve identified which types of training your team could benefit from, you can decide if this training will be internal, external or on-the-job.

  • Internal training would include someone from within the company leading a training session.

  • External training could include things like conferences, webinars, or even bringing an external expert in-house.

  • On-the-job training could include assigning certain team members to work on a specific client project that will help them build skills you’ve identified in the gap analysis. 

Set objectives and a timeline

The final step in this process is mapping out how and when it will all take place and identify your overall objectives and key results (OKRs). You can break down goals down into quarters and pair them with training sessions by month.

Planning well before the beginning of a new year can be beneficial because then once January 1 comes rolling around, you’ll be able to jump head-first into training and everyone on your team will know what to expect over the next 12 months.

You will face challenges

Throughout your training program, you will face challenges. You may have some team members who are not fully motivated. Not everyone on your team will understand how important ongoing learning is to the company and their personal career progression.

If you see someone clearly bringing the group down, reach out to them and explain why you’ve implemented the program. Chances are, communicating one-on-one will help get them on board.

The way different team members absorb information presented to them can also be challenging to handle. Everyone learns differently. Some people learn best by seeing, others by hearing, and others by actually doing. This is something to keep in mind when planning your training sessions. Typically, a combination of the three will lead to the best outcomes from a training perspective.

The other thing to remember is that it takes time to form a new habit. So, just because you had a training session on email communication skills doesn’t mean everyone will immediately change how they’ve been communicating for their entire lives.

This is why follow up sessions or even follow up emails are important to reinforce what was learned in a training session.

Overall, there is no question that implementing an ongoing training program will benefit your firm, as well as help your individual team members.

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