Creating a Culture of Learning
Training and development are some of the most crucial aspects of your firm’s strategy. They help you attract and retain the best employees, improve their productivity and turn them into future leaders. In a learning culture, everyone teaches, everyone learns and everyone enhances their exceptional abilities. This doesn’t come about by accident. Here are four attributes of a culture of learning that your firm should be working toward.
Too often, firms view learning and development as an afterthought, hoping that they’ll have the necessary talent for their firm to succeed. With the accounting profession shifting from a focus on compliance to one that is more reliant on nontechnical skills, it’s more important than ever to develop firm-wide curriculum plans to ensure that professionals not only meet CPE requirements but also possess the skills necessary to succeed in the future.
Learning isn’t just a process in your firm, it must be a visible process that leads to recognition of its importance. One way to ensure learning remains visible is having a full-time professional on staff strictly dedicated to helping coordinate the educational process, from assessing requirements to developing curriculum, schedules, etc. This is too large an undertaking for a busy partner or manager to add to their list of responsibilities. If dedicating internal resources to learning isn’t in the budget, consider working with an outsourced learning consultant. Some organizations offer “training as a service” for small and mid-sized firms.
As with any firm initiative, leadership is the key ingredient to developing a culture of learning. Engaged partners understand the importance of learning and participate in the development of their teams at every level (not just the next partners). They lead by example and often take significant time and find tremendous value in mentoring and developing the next generation.
Firm leaders need to communicate the importance of learning in the organization, starting during the hiring process and continuing throughout an employee’s tenure with the firm. When employees know how the knowledge and skills they’re working on today will help the firm achieve their strategic goals, they’ll be more invested in their own development and firm vision.
Culture of Growth
There is more to learning and development than simply achieving a numerical goal to renew a CPA license. The goal of CPE is to help staff grow and develop their knowledge, skills, competencies, confidence and character. Therefore, learning is not just for tax and audit professionals, but for all staff.
Start with a learning assessment – what skills are needed at what levels? Take an inventory of current skills and determine where the gaps are. Once the curriculum is drawn up for each person, their skills and performance can be tied to compensation, further reinforcing the value firm leaders place on learning and development.
A culture of learning also supports taking risks and “failing forward.” Part of a learning culture is an understanding that there are going to be bumps along the way. Processes won’t work perfectly. People will make mistakes. But your people will also learn tremendously from those mistakes when you have a culture that accepts risk-taking and values providing constructive feedback.
Employees today have complicated lives. They also have the tools to think through how to use flexibility to take control of their work and life and do it in a way that meets their needs and the needs of the firm.
Countless studies have shown that flexible workplaces have a significant impact on employee engagement. Not only do employees feel more empowered to take care of their non-work lives (family, home, hobbies, exercise, sleep, doctor’s appointments, etc.) but they’re also better able to take opportunities to improve their skills and knowledge. They may go back to school, attend soft-skills training or serve on the board of a non-profit organization. Tremendous value can come from learning experiences that don’t come with CPE hours.
Fostering a culture of learning is not an easy task. It requires vision, resources, and the support of firm leaders. Those who have made the investment say it is critical to their existence. Employees can view their job through the lens of new information and ideas, spurring new and creative ways to complete their work and deliver better service to clients. That’s a real differentiator among firms.
As a Project Manager for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Jacqueline plans, executes and manages the people, resources and scope of many of our firm’s projects, programs and events. Jackie supports multiple phases of our business by providing assistance and constant communication with clients and sponsors, and by serving as an event liaison for programs and consulting engagements. Her primary roles include overseeing Lean Six Sigma Consulting and The Boomer Technology Circles™ Partnering Sponsor Program. Jackie thrives at the opportunities to build new relationships.