What a firm knows today may not be relevant in the future, and many risk a significant loss of knowledge when partners retire. Fostering a culture that efficiently transfers knowledge is crucial. Is your firm’s knowledge centered mostly in its partner group? If so, it may be unable to remain competitive in the future.To many partners, knowledge is tantamount to power. But if a firm’s intelligence is locked away within its partner group, it cannot grow much beyond its current profit levels. Systems, processes and culture will inevitably require an overhaul to remain competitive in the future. Why? A firm’s intelligence revolves around information, experience and wisdom. The speed, leverage and scale at which a firm can transfer this block of knowledge are determined by the quality of its training program and willingness to share information.
Many firms talk about training, but few invest the resources to insure success and consistency. Partners’ attitudes toward training generally determine its success. If partners are too busy to train or lack the confidence to transfer knowledge and wisdom, training programs typically fail.
There are four components to a comprehensive training/learning program:
1. Technical skills;
2. “Soft” skills;
3. Process understanding; and,
Technology offers incredible opportunities for some, while it causes crises in personal confidence for others. We have all heard some boast about how they don’t care much about technology. They are expressing fear and lack of confidence. Confidence is crucial to transferring knowledge today. Firms that demand that partners be teachers will dominate this industry in the coming years.
Consider the characteristics of your best teachers down through the years: They were most likely prepared, energized and good communicators who interacted with students, were confident, yet open to learning themselves, and also had high expectations.
How many of your partners display these characteristics? Does your firm look for people like this when it hires? Moreover, do your partners often fly solo (i.e., are rugged individualists), or do they work as a unique ability team? Do not ignore these questions if your firm wants to remain competitive. Training/learning is a two-way street. Partners must continue to learn and grow, as well as develop others. They should be particularly interested in the development of people, planning and processes.
If your firm desires to be better equipped to transfer knowledge, several initiatives can have a significant impact:
* Develop a training needs assessment based on a defined body of knowledge for each job description.
* Hire a professional learning coordinator to administer the training/learning program.
* Implement a two-way mentoring program between partners and staff.
* Hold people accountable.
* Define your firm’s standards, processes and procedures. You will be surprised at its inefficiencies. The “old way” is not necessarily the best and most profitable way.
Implementing a training/learning culture is not easy and is often met with resistance from those who promote mediocrity. It won’t take long to identify the weak links. Those who need training the most are often those who resist and ignore it. Setting a curriculum for each employee and holding them accountable will improve the employee and the firm. Don’t be afraid to terminate those who don’t comply with the firm’s culture — even if they’re partners!
Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.
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