Keeping up with the pace of change is challenging 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—training and developing talent to expand their skillsets—creates a competitive advantage in our increasingly technology-driven profession. It will allow you to serve clients better and retain talent because motivated and driven professionals won’t feel like they need to leave your firm to continue growing and advancing in their careers.
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 the pandemic and the economy, many firms put learning and development initiatives on hold. But now is an excellent opportunity to identify opportunities to develop your people and make them more valuable for the future.
What your people need to learn now might differ from what you’d planned a couple of years ago. However, it’s still a huge opportunity to upskill your high performers. These initiatives must 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 barrier to upskilling is capacity—in people’s 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. 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 aren’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 improving people’s weaknesses rather than maximizing strengths. While many skills can be learned, and people should always be encouraged to stretch outside their comfort zones, forcing 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, not forcing them to concentrate on things they hate.
Many people aren’t even aware of their strengths or have an inaccurate perception of them. But it’s up to leaders to know employees' strengths and positive attributes 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 simultaneously. 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!
Are you ready to upskill your team and transform your firm?
The Boomer Learning & Development Circle is a peer group of learning and development professionals in the accounting profession who share tools and resources to support their firms’ learning and development goals properly. Apply now to ensure you’re focusing on the right skills, engaging learners and demonstrating value to other firm leaders.
Sandra Wiley, Shareholder, President of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is a leader in the accounting profession with a passion for helping firms grow, adapt and thrive. She is regularly recognized by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her expertise in leadership, management, collaboration, culture building, talent and training.
Sandra’s role at Boomer Consulting, Inc. includes serving as co-director of the Boomer Leadership Academy as well as the Boomer Managing Partner Circle, the Boomer Talent Circle and the Boomer Learning & Development Circle. Her years of experience and influence as a management and strategic planning consultant make her a sought-after resource among the best and brightest firms in the country.