Don’t leave talent on the table

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Have you ever been way ahead of a trend? I mean, so far ahead that what seemed an obviously good idea to you no one else was buying? We have.

More than a decade ago, the Indiana CPA Society began discussing what we called “vital skills” for the accounting profession. We recognized in talking with members and observing technology changes that CPAs would need to do more for clients in the future that would require what we later called “core competencies.”

The vital skills we defined in 2007 are the exact same skills being talked about in 2020 — critical thinking, strategy, communication, decision-making and leadership.

We created an entirely separate for-profit entity called the CPA Center of Excellence. We created gamified, online interactive courses focused on these vital skills. We worked with our state board of accountancy to make sure these non-traditional courses would count for CPE credit at the same time we were pushing competency-based education. We didn’t want there to be too many impediments to learning. We even won national awards for this initiative. We were confident that if we built it … well, you know how that goes.

They did not come. The majority loved the idea, but for others — not for themselves.

When we heard members expressing frustration about finding great staff, the core competencies were the kinds of skills they were looking for. And we had a solution! Not a perfect one, but a great start and at the right price (sometimes free) — and yet we could get few people to actually do it.

Yes, they wanted their employees to have the skills, but no, they did not want them to take the time to work on those skills.

Today, I still hear from managers who struggle to find the right people with the right skills. It often seems in the accounting profession there is a pervasive view that people are good communicators, or they aren’t. They are born leaders or they’re not. They think strategically, or they don’t. They want to be partners, or they aren’t interested. But I didn’t believe that in 2007, and I still don’t believe it today.

Are there professionals who naturally stand out in the core competencies? Sure. But shouldn’t there also be space for the idea that one can improve upon those skills? There are still people I know who would have loved to be partners but didn’t see a path in their firm. I know people who are quiet leaders but don’t have the tools to expand their leadership and show their firms they have more to offer. I know people who want to better understand strategy and how they can help their clients but need someone to mentor them in that area.

It didn’t feel that complicated years ago, and it doesn’t feel that complicated now.

Were we just ahead of our time? I hope so. Though our focus has shifted somewhat, the CPA Center of Excellence still exists. We still have the courses available and still believe they help. We’re also doing more to work those kinds of skills into our traditional education offerings.

I write this not to sell anything. I write this to say that the profession is leaving talent on the table every day by not providing enough resources to their teams to learn about some of the less technical aspects of being a professional. What can you do if this is a concern? Give honest feedback to your team, communicate frequently about what the future could look like and provide real resources to help professionals get better.

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