By James K. Boomer
Training is one of the most crucial aspects of your firm’s strategy. It is an excellent tool to recruit the best and brightest employees and to retain them. Furthermore, it ties directly into your firm’s strategy by helping employees increase productivity and develop personally and professionally into future leaders of the firm.
Most firms agree that training is important; however, many of those same firms argue that they can’t afford the time commitment to train their employees. The numbers do not support this argument. Accounting firms average less than 50 percent chargeable time, so we would ask, what are your people doing with the other half of their time?
Firms should commit to training all of their employees, including their administrative support and non-accounting staff. Your client-facing professionals are not the only employees that will benefit from continuing education. With skilled employees at all levels of your organization, you will become a more efficient and productive firm.
The non-accountants are not the only aspect often overlooked. “Soft skill” training is also important to your employees. Don’t overlook such topics as presentation skills, business writing and team facilitation. These courses are often discounted as “non-essential,” when, in fact, these skills speak the loudest to your clients about your firm’s professionalism.
Building the culture
The goal of a training and learning culture is to create an environment where everyone teaches, everyone learns and everyone enhances their exceptional abilities. The achievement of this goal starts at the top. The leaders of the firm must commit to developing a training and learning culture and develop their own personal “teachable point of view.”
A TPOV represents your ideas and values about training and learning, as well as your leadership approach to motivating team members and the ability to make difficult decisions. Leaders should not only be able to put their TPOV down on paper, but should be able to easily articulate it to the rest of the firm.
A training and learning culture devoted to the development of knowledge has several key benefits to your firm:
- It develops leaders at every level of the firm.
- You have capable people at every level of the firm ready to step in and lead a team.
- It attracts and retains the best and brightest.
- Intelligent people are always on a quest for knowledge. A culture dedicated to this quest is a magnet to these individuals.
- It increases productivity.
- Skilled workers are always more efficient, and efficiency has a direct impact on your firm’s financial performance.
- It helps with succession planning through a leader/teacher pipeline.
- When adding or replacing partners, you don’t have to go outside to look for candidates. You have a pool of qualified successors in your own backyard.
The idea that everybody teaches is important. When people are required to teach, they will inherently want to know the topic inside and out for fear of looking uninformed.Encouraging people to teach forces them to let down their guard and make themselves vulnerable to their peers’ discovering what they don’t know. Once the guard is down, the barrier to collaborative learning is removed, and the teachers can focus not only on delivering the knowledge that they possess, but also on learning from others’ experience and knowledge.
While vulnerability is often an uncomfortable position, there are several aspects of a training and learning culture that provide satisfaction. By opening our minds to others’ ideas, we learn new skills and concepts. We also have the satisfaction of watching others develop into tomorrow’s leaders before our very eyes. With a more intelligent and collaborative workforce, we will also watch the firm increase its performance.
By contrast, “at-risk firms” (those that do not commit to a training and learning culture) have several defining characteristics as well:
- A lack of command and control.
- Intelligence is based on tenure. “I know more because I’ve been doing it longer.”
- A “cram down” attitude: The firm’s leaders are set in their ways. Employees will learn and perform consistent with those ways or they can find another job.
- Hidden information: Worried about job security, employees hold onto valuable information for fear of making themselves replaceable.
- Gamesmanship: A culture of competition. Everyone wants to know more than the others — and prove it.
- Leaders learn nothing: “I’m the leader; there is nothing I could possibly learn from these kids fresh out of school.” The leader’s “superior” knowledge set gets stale and outdated over time, putting the firm at risk of falling behind.
All progress starts with truth!Therefore, an accurate assessment needs to be conducted of where the firm and its employees are today, and where the firm wants to go in the future. Without an analysis, it will be difficult for the firm to prioritize initiatives and focus resources on those priorities.
Culture starts at the top of the firm. Without the commitment of the chief executive and the firm partners, it is difficult, if not impossible, to build a training and learning culture.
Partners must “talk the talk and walk the walk” to ensure the future success of the firm.
Jim Boomer, MCP, is a senior consultant at Boomer Consulting Inc., in Manhattan, Kan.
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