Your firm’s reputation rests squarely on the shoulders of your employees and how they interact with your clients. Is your employee training program effective in preparing them for that responsibility? Designing a training program for employees works best when you consider the specific needs of your employees individually and your firm as a whole, and offer ongoing learning opportunities to keep all of your employees sharp.
What Are Benefits of Training Employees Well?
Effective employee training programs take time, effort and money. That might lead you to wonder if it’s worth the investment to train an employee who may leave your firm anyway. But an even better question may be, “Can you afford not to train employees, if they do stick around long-term?”
It’s rare to hire an employee that comes to you trained perfectly with the skills, knowledge and talent you want. You might find someone who has a strong knowledge of accounting principles but who lacks the people skills to connect well with clients. Or maybe your top pick needs a little more experience working with integrated accounting software. Whatever the area, most candidates need some training to make them ideal employees.
Training and shaping your employees can work to your advantage. Sure, you’re putting money toward employee training, but you can use that training to instill the skills, processes and values you want in all your employees. Instead of working on breaking habits that go against your processes, you start right away with the “how to” of what it takes to work at your firm. Regular training also supports employee development. You can use it to expand your staff’s areas of expertise, and to help everyone brush up on accounting skills, so your entire team operates accurately and efficiently.
Evaluate Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Assessing the specific needs of your accounting firm helps develop a customized, effective employee training program. Your analysis might look at all aspects of your firm, including hard skills, soft skills, technology and productivity. In finding your weaknesses, you might examine tasks that take longer than they should. Maybe your staff lacks time management skills, or you have accountants assigned to clients with needs outside their area of expertise. Ineffective management issues or outdated processes may slow down your staff. Try taking an objective view of your firm to hone in on areas needing improvement.
Your strengths also help you know where to continue placing emphasis. It’s tempting to skip training employees on things you’re doing well, but relaxing your emphasis on those things can cause them to slip. Say your employees excel at providing a top-notch customer experience. Continuing to train and focus on those soft skills helps you keep that high level of customer service.
Develop an Integrated Training Strategy
Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, consider looking at your overall objectives and goals to see how those two align. Maybe one of your goals is to provide a forward-thinking, high-tech solution for small business owners, but part of your staff lacks a solid foundation in advanced accounting technology. Or maybe you focus on delivering accurate accounting services quickly, but your efficiency comes up short. Perhaps, you’re not meeting customer satisfaction goals. Looking at your company goals, objectives and vision statements can help you identify training focus areas that enable you to achieve better outcomes.
When designing a training program for employees, consider capturing the important processes in your firm to create one cohesive framework. By incorporating those processes, you support a consistent, high-quality service for your clients, no matter who serves them. When you look at your overall objectives, you may want to document the specific processes you use in each role. For example, your accountants might have a standard procedure when they onboard new clients to ensure you get a complete client file with the necessary information to provide relevant services.
Survey Your Employees
Looking at your individual employees helps you target specific skills and topics for training. You can do your own assessment of each employee, but you may also want to talk with your staff to get their feedback. What skills do they feel they need, but lack? Are there areas of accounting or certain technology they want to explore? Creating an employee development plan as part of your employee performance reviews can help you track the skills and topics employees want or need to learn from year to year. Asking their opinions on your current training offerings can give you insight as you create your training plan.
Determine the Best Delivery Method for Employee Training
Effective employee training programs often use different types of learning from various sources. You can build your own in-house training program to customize what your employees learn. This option works well for your firm-specific procedures to encourage everyone to follow the same processes.
Another option is to hire an outside trainer to work with your employees. This can be helpful if you don’t have the time or desire to train your own trainer. Say you want an expert in a particular aspect of accounting to train your staff, you might hire an experienced auditor to train your accounting staff in audit support for your clients. A slight variation is to hire your own in-house trainer who creates, coordinates and puts on all of your employee training sessions.
When it comes to the software and technology you use, contacting the vendor can be the best solution. Many vendors offer technology training options to improve understanding and usage of the technology. Consider this option, if one of your goals is to improve use of the technology you have in place.
Less formal options can also help your employees improve specific accounting skills. An employee book club gives your staff the chance to guide their own learning with books related to accounting. Consider expanding to other topics, such as leadership, sales, time management and communication based on the types of improvement you want to see in your staff. Online training options give employees a chance to work on their own through various topics.
No matter what type of training you choose, making it relevant and interesting to your employees increases effectiveness. You can make training engaging by choosing relevant content and presenting it in a concise way. Interactive training also tends to be more enjoyable and meaningful to employees than just sitting and listening to a lecture.
Create a Training Plan
A defined training plan for all your employees ensures that everyone gets the knowledge they need on a regular basis. When scheduling training, you may need to look at what employees need at each stage. New employees need a full on-boarding experience to train them on firm procedures and other key introductory topics. But your established employees also need ongoing training to keep up with accounting topics and your firm procedures.
Things to consider when creating your training plan include:
- What information employees need at each stage
- How often employees need specific training topics
- How much time away from work each training takes
You might want to ensure your training plan has specific goals and metrics tied to each training. Defining what you want each employee to get out of the training helps you decide if the training is effective. It’s not always easy to quantify training results, but if you connect the goals to overall company metrics, such as increasing revenue or gaining more clients, you can create metrics for your training more effectively.
Develop an Onboarding Process
The onboarding process sets expectations early for new hires, which is a pivotal part of the employee training development process. Onboarding often goes beyond the initial paperwork and orientation, and may last weeks or months into a new hire’s time with your company. During that transition period while your employees become familiar with your firm, you might want to incorporate various training opportunities to help them settle in faster and reach maximum productivity sooner.
Topics you might want to cover in training during the onboarding process include:
- Company culture and values
- Expectations for performance and behaviour
- Company benefits and perks
- Job-specific skills
- Company procedures for specific tasks
- Technology you use in the office
- Security and confidentiality processes
You don’t need to pack everything into the first day. Deciding what your new employees need to get started, and scheduling those training sessions early on in the onboarding process is a practical idea. Spacing out the rest of the training topics gives your new hires time to settle in without feeling overwhelmed with a large amount of information thrown at them all at once.
Assess Your Training Plan
Training and employee needs evolve over time, so evaluating your program regularly helps you make changes when needed. Calculating employee training statistics, such as the number of training hours and how many employees meet the metrics you set, can help you evaluate the effectiveness of your program. Getting feedback after each training also provides program evaluation guidance. A quick survey, after each session, lets your employees tell you whether they find the training valuable, interesting, and applicable to their job.
Training keeps your accounting firm team fresh and on top of their skills. From soft skills to accounting technology, relevant topics for your training sessions make them effective and worth your employees’ time. QuickBooks Online Accountant helps you manage projects, tasks and clients together. Sign up for free.