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

A thriving, growing accounting firm that runs seamlessly, makes a genuine difference to the lives of clients, and is rewarding for owners and staff.

So many accounting firms are started with this vision in mind. 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 is 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 help you and your team take your company to the next level, as well as continue to support 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. In addition, regular training can help boost team camaraderie — especially if the training is 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. 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 the teams to execute the training program. If you want to expand the skillsets of all team members, as well as expand the services of your business, you need a rock-solid commitment from everyone. 

You should then structure your team’s training to identify the right skills to couple with training in order to deliver the most value to your company and your team members. There are three different types of training: 

Technical training

Generally, most firms are good at developing a technical training plan for their staff that includes technology and legislative changes. In the accounting industry, for example, technical skills would include accounting and tax skills. This is the most common form of training, widely made available through industry organizations providing CPD points.

Non-technical

Non-technical training includes soft skills, which typically, are given far less attention than technical training—especially in the accounting world.

“Today, flourishing in accounting requires a new way of thinking,” Jessica Daley of Xcelerate Business Solutions 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.

Service-specific

This type of training would be highly specific to your accounting firm. It could be training on a new technology your team is going to begin using for project management or learning a new internal procedure for approving projects.

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. And 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. 

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 or very positive when it comes to training. 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 clearly 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 company, as well as help your individual team members.

The Talent Playbook gives you the steps, tools and strategies to help your business excel at recruiting, training and retaining the best talent.

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