Preparing your accounting team for an environment of constant change

Keeping up with the pace of change is a challenge for firms of all shapes and sizes. Technology and changing client demands create powerful business opportunities, but they also bring skills gaps.

How can your firm combat this skills gap while retaining your current talented team members? Your firm’s ability to upskill, or its capacity for training and developing talent to expand their skillsets, creates a real competitive advantage in our increasingly technology-driven profession. Not only will it allow you to better serve clients, but it will help you retain talent. When motivated and driven professionals feel like they’ve stopped growing within the firm or learning new skills, they tend to look elsewhere.

Here are some tactics you can use to upskill your team.

Devote the resources

Learning and development are complex, so your firm’s leaders must recognize that and budget time and resources.

With the uncertainty around COVID-19 and the economy right now, many firms put learning and development initiatives on hold. But right now is an excellent opportunity to identify the resources to develop your people and make them more valuable for the future.

What your people are learning right now might be different from what you’d planned back in January. However, it’s still a huge opportunity to upskill your high performers. These initiatives have to be supported and prioritized from the top of your firm.

Make it bite-sized

Conferences and formal training programs are excellent methods for developing your people, but they’re not the only approaches.

One of the barriers people have to upskilling is capacity – in their minds, if not in reality. Busy professionals with packed calendars and long to-do lists often feel like they don’t have the time to learn new skills. So thinking small can be the key to meeting these employees where they are.

Some strategies include:

  • Monthly “lunch and learns” taught by partners in the firm – these should be in success skills like rainmaking, client communications, consultative conversations, etc., not just technical skills and technology
  • Coaching and mentoring programs – this can be internal, or with outside mentors and coaches
  • Microlearning – short, online lessons designed to meet a narrow learning objective. Microlearning modules can be just three to six minutes long.
  • First 15 – Encourage people to spend the first fifteen minutes of their workday reading a professional development book.

Make upskilling a team effort

Today, learning and development isn’t just the responsibility of your firm’s HR department. It’s a responsibility that needs to be shared throughout the firm, so encourage people to forge their own learning paths.

Incentivize self-training initiatives by allocating paid training time (beyond CPE requirements) during slow periods and rewarding employees who upskill on their own time. When people are allowed to forge their own learning paths, they stay curious and you’ll have more opportunities for succession planning at all levels of the firm.

Play to strengths

Some firms focus on trying to improve weaknesses in people rather than maximizing strengths. While many skills can be learned, and people should always be encouraged to stretch outside of their comfort zones, trying to force a square peg into a round hole usually results in frustration all around.

A better approach is to find out what individuals are best at and provide training that will make them better at what they enjoy doing – not forcing them to concentrate on things they hate.

Many people aren’t even aware of their own strengths or have an inaccurate perception of them. But it’s up to leaders to know the strengths and positive attributes of employees to maximize them and identify opportunities for growth. Conduct skills assessments and act upon the results.

The idea of upskilling your entire team may sound overwhelming, but you don’t need to upskill everyone in every area at the same time. Start by identifying a need and someone in your firm who is already doing this well and can champion the initiative. Start small and build upon your success!