Are you giving your staff the training they need to best serve your clients? Sure, you’ll pay for the tax courses, but are you giving them the people skills—like problem solving, customer service and supervisory skills—that they need to make your firm the best it can be?
You may be surprised to learn that your accounting staff hungers for more training. Consider some findings from a recent CPA Trendlines Career Outlook survey:
- Less than a quarter of respondents agree that their firm always pays for the courses they want, not just what they need.
- Fewer than 20 percent of respondents say their firms pay for soft skills learning. Offering your staff an expanded menu of training that includes soft skills and other education can improve client relationships and staff retention, as well as develop future leaders.
“Solid communication and interpersonal abilities are becoming just as important to accounting professionals in addressing client needs” as traditional training, writes Paul McDonald, senior executive director with Robert Half in a recent CPA Practice Advisor article. “Your team members also need business acumen that extends beyond accounting to understanding clients’ bigger-picture business goals and concerns.” McDonald identifies desirable soft skills: diplomacy, customer service, problem solving, adaptability, and communication.
These important skills are also the ones that staff wants to learn. For instance, problem solving gives accounting and finance professionals the most career satisfaction, according to recent a Robert Half survey. In fact, problem solving outranked number crunching in the results, which is pretty amazing given the importance of numbers for accountants!
Soft skills learning can help accountants at any stage of their careers, says Kathy Ryan, CEO, CFO and co-founder of RoseRyan, a CPA firm serving the San Francisco Bay area, in an Accounting Today article. “I challenge anyone who feels they are being held back in their career but is not sure why, to get a reality check on their soft-skill set and do some fine tuning. I also encourage those in leadership positions to consider ways they can cultivate the ‘softer’ side of their teams’ abilities (and their own).” It isn’t a surprise to learn that Ryan’s firm regularly teaches soft skills.
Asking staff about the courses they would like is now a trend at accounting firms, the AICPA says in its white paper, The Evolution of CPA Firm Learning:
- Staff can learn better when they have a say in their learning plans. The white paper cites an American Society for Training & Development article, “The Amazing Era of Self-Service Learning,” that suggests your firm may see as much as a 500 percent increase in learning benefits when staff manage their own training.
- Real knowledge rather than “getting training hours in” is becoming the focus. More experience-related, simulation, and “mock” programs build real-life skills.
- Succession needs require staff to learn more than technical topics. Firms are including more leadership, management and other personal development courses, and they’re introducing them earlier in their staff members’ careers.
Staff who are hungry to learn about running the firm, interacting more efficiently with clients, managing support staff, and the other ingredients of a successful CPA firm should be consuming the appropriate soft-skills training. Serve staff what they want, and your firm will have a banquet of talented professionals to build your firm.
Soft skills training is critical for both your staff accountants and your firm. Merit Career Development offers leadership and communication courses specifically designed for accountants plus the opportunity to earn CPEs. For more information, please contact Jim Wynne at email@example.com.
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