A New Era in Talent Development and Learning

By Alexandra DeFelice, Senior Manager of Communication and Program Development, Moore Stephens North America
The days of listening to stodgy diatribes about technical accounting standards are over, or at least they should be, according to one industry pundit.
A "shift change" is taking place in the profession in which technology, different generations working together in the same office, and leadership styles are all affecting learning, according to a session on "AccountingWEB Live!" (AWEB Live) presented by Tom Hood, executive director and CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs and the Business Learning Institute
Accounting firms must adopt a new approach to learning and talent development designed to get positive business results and engaged employees who are willing to give their discretionary efforts, instead of leaving to join a competitor or start their own firms, according to Hood. Transitioning to a more engaged, collaborative work environment with virtual, on-demand, and face-to-face learning is necessary to stay ahead of the competition and to ensure the rate of learning by the firm's staff as a whole is greater than the rate of change, Hood said.
This transition doesn't require a great deal of monetary investment or even tech savviness, but more of a mind-set change to embrace new ways of taking in information, as opposed to listening to the "sage on the stage" for four or even eight hours at a live CPE event. "Firms need to get disciplined around learning," Hood said.
He used a real-time example, creating an online poll for the AWEB Live event, asking viewers to respond to certain questions, including what their best learning experience was. One audience member responded that early in his career, he worked with someone who "taught me more about life than accounting," which is what continuous learning should be. Hood pointed out that often people will be sheepish about speaking up in large groups, and online polling such as this is an effective way to get feedback anonymously.
But not all feedback should be anonymous. Beyond group learning, when individuals attend conferences, webinars, or other events, they need to brush up on their note-taking skills, looking for emerging trends they didn't think about and what they mean to them, their career, or their firm. 
"We've been taught to passively learn," Hood said." We have to teach people to actively participate and think about their perspective on that learning. Do I agree with that? What should I share? Who should I share it with? Take the time to debrief. Make this learning personal."
One AWEB Live panelist questioned whether leaders are born or if leadership is a learned skill. Hood responded that what leaders do – influence people, etc., – has not changed, but how they lead is different. "We're moving from command and control to collaborate," he said.
Leaders need to learn facilitation techniques, especially how to ask people what they're thinking about, according to Hood. For example, if a firm's audit team is preparing for next year, a leader can get them in a room and ask them what they, as a firm/team, need to do to improve. Write ideas on sticky notes, move them around in order of priority, get agreement, and progress forward.
"In order to buy in, I have to weigh in" Hood said. "The four most important words in business are, 'What do you think?'"
Read more articles by Alexandra.
About the author:
Alexandra DeFelice is senior manager of communication and program development for Moore Stephens North America, and a regional member of Moore Stephens International Limited, a network of more than 360 accounting and consulting firms with nearly 650 offices in 100 countries. Alexandra can be reached at adefelice@msnainc.org.

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