A training and learning culture is key to retaining and attracting bright employees. What is a training and learning culture? It's a culture in which the firm grows smarter and more productive. Mediocrity is unacceptable to firms that embrace it, and the alternative results in a downward spiral as the entire firm grows ineffective.Training and learning is a two-way street: Everyone learns and everyone trains. Firms that don't incorporate it as a culture will face increasing difficulty retaining and attracting Generation X and Y employees.
Seven key requirements of a training and learning culture are:
1. A champion.
2. An education director or learning coordinator.
3. Fostering relationships.
6. Learning management systems.
7. Budget resources.
Do you think your firm has already implemented most of these? In reality, few have developed a training and learning culture. Meeting CPE requirements is not the same thing. Today, training and learning encompasses CPE, soft skills and technology. All are important.
Partners and administrative personnel receive the greatest return on training investments. Gartner reports that an organization reaps five hours of increased employee capacity for every one hour of training. The five hours include time saved from knowing and implementing a new skill, elimination of mistakes, trial and error, and interrupting others.
Let's take a more in-depth look at the seven requirements.
1. A champion. Firms with the highest rates of success have a chief executive who believes in education and ensures that training and learning are high priorities. They must communicate a vision, as well as secure resources and staff according to the firm's size. The CEO is also responsible for terminating partners and employees who do not learn and teach (i.e., develop others).
2. A director of learning. This person is often expected to teach, as well as coordinate the educational process (assess requirements, develop learning ladders, curricula, schedules, etc.). This is a full-time job in many firms, especially in the first few years of implementation. A network of peers in which firms exchange learning ladders, assessment tools and curricula is a great benefit to someone in this role.
3. Relationships. Content is critical, and numerous resources are available. Some are obvious, such as the American Institute of CPAs and state societies for traditional CPE. Others provide soft skills and technology training. Don't underestimate the value of relationships with peers, vendors and partners.
A pivotal initiative of a training and learning culture is to capture the experience and wisdom of senior personnel who are within a few years a retirement. A learning coordinator can provide methodology to knowledge transfer - if senior members cooperate. Intellectual property is important, but intellectual capital allows firms to leverage cumulative knowledge and wisdom.
4. Accountability. Many senior members of firms do not want to be held accountable, or they feel that managing a large book of business is the definition of accountability. But it really starts at the top and encompasses multiple pursuits: financial, client satisfaction, training and learning, and processes.
In order to integrate performance with compensation, firms should start with a learning assessment. What skills are required at each level (learning ladders)? Inventory current skillsets within your firm to determine the gaps. This requires time and someone with a background in education, rather than accounting. Once a curriculum is developed for each position, skills and performance can be tied to compensation. Seniority is no longer a valid measure of value.
5. Facilities. Without a onsite training facility, or one that is easily accessible, firms send the wrong message regarding the importance of training. Educational equipment and reliable systems are important to a training environment. Whiteboards, surround-sound and video equipment enhance the training experience. Generations X and Y are highly motivated by training, expanding skillsets and maintaining employability. A quality training program and facilities are key elements in the retention and attraction of skilled laborers in this age group.
6. Learning management. Tracking CPE can be a daunting task, but this is only part of the equation when it comes to the learning management system. Assessment tools, learning ladders, curricula, schedules, materials, instructors and attendance records should be maintained in a centralized database. Currently the best system appears to be ReqWired (www.reqwired.com).
7. Budget. Without allocating resources, firms will get stuck in old paradigms. Many are reluctant to spend money on training people who may leave the firm, but the alternative is worse. The cycle of mediocrity sets in, and the firm's capabilities spiral downward.
Develop a training budget based upon the firm's requirements. Plan for soft skills and technology training, in addition to CPE requirements. Firms that think in terms of 40 hours per year grossly underestimate their needs. If you spend $5,000 for training on an employee who produces $150,000, the return is the increase in capacity times billing rate, according to Gartner.
Let's assume an employee bills a rate of $100 per hour at 1,500 hours. Gartner suggests that the employee will gain five hours in capacity for every hour in training. If the person spends 40 hours in training, they will contribute an additional 200 hours to the firm. At $100 per hour, this results in added revenue of $20,000.
Cultivating this kind of culture is not easy. It requires vision, resources and an enthusiastic champion. Firms that have made the investment say it is critical to thriving in today's market. Also take note how much soft-skills training increases the value of the firm to its clients.
Resistance typically comes from partners who say, "What is the return on investment?" and, "I had to figure it out, and younger generation can do the same." Times have changed, and emerging generations don't need to waste time on trial and error.
In addition, younger generations do not want to work overtime. They prefer the best technology and related training to enhance individual productivity and production. Employees want balance and significance in their job roles, and a world-class training and learning culture serves as a differentiator among firms.
Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.
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