Art of Accounting: 20 Best Practices for Training and Retaining Staff

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IMGCAP(1)]Colleagues complain that it is hard to train staff because they do not listen, and even if they were trained properly, they would then leave, preventing recoupment of the training costs.

I hear what they are saying but do not agree with either premise. Training is essential and must be committed to by the partners and owners and become part of the firm’s culture.

Presented here are 20 best practices. I also refer you to my previous column on Aug 3, 2015 (see Art of Accounting: Retaining Staff).

1. Find ways to constantly tell each staff person they’ve done a good job.

2. Don’t let someone go home upset, or with unfinished tasks.

3. Excite your staff.

4. Consider your staff to be team members, not employees.

5. Recognize that each staff person is a “free agent” who can get another job quite easily and with an increase in salary. Treat every interaction as if you are competing for their loyalty

6. Give smaller or more frequent tasks to do. It’s easier to assign, train and review small things than big things, and takes less time to train.

7. Try to train in threes. Give a team member three of the same type of work to do. Instruct on the first. Monitor on the second and congratulate on the third

8. Think in terms of modularization of the work functions. This makes it easier and quicker to train, makes it easier for other staff to train and easier for a newer team member to step up to the work done by those above them.

9. Emphasize processes, systems and checklists.

10. Irrespective of the last item, encourage independent thinking, ingenuity, ideas and questions.

11. Work toward empowering staff and take advantage of their judgment abilities.

12. Grade the training upward as they accomplish the earlier functions.

13. No shortcuts and no skipping steps.

14. Tell your staff what is expected of them and how they should develop learning habits for clients they work on.

15. Ask each team member what they learned today.

16. Don’t assume anything. Teach everything.

17. Don’t assume the obvious is obvious.

18. Be patient.

19. Make effective training and learning part of your culture.

20. Be a learning organization.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, published by and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition,” published by the AICPA. Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or

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