Often treated as the panacea for whatever ails us, some firms consume continuing education like taking a pill from a bottle! Hoping to cure a headache with the minimum investment of time and money, we search for the least expensive CPE programs to satisfy AICPA and/or state requirements and expect all our practice ills to be cured. Unfortunately, many firms take this “pill” and don’t get better!
Maximizing the return on an investment in training must be a holistic undertaking. In other words, staff training and development is a process, not an event! How well the parts of the process are integrated determines the long-range success of a CPA firm. In the next few blogs, I’ll discuss the components of an integrated training process. Today I’ll focus on the value of orientation training.
After arriving for my first day of work at a CPA firm years ago, a partner asked me to go with him to a client's office. At the client's office the partner directed me to be seated in the conference room while he gathered client records for me to use in my work. He returned shortly with bank statements and reconciliations, cash receipts and disbursements journals and a general ledger. "Prepare a proof of cash for the year," he said as he moved towards the door. "I'll be back around noon," were his last words as he left. I did have an auditing class my senior year of college, and I had at least seen one or two real sets of accounting records, but to save my life I couldn't find a proof of cash in the records he had given me! When the partner returned at noon, I was still looking for it!
Perhaps you've had similar experiences. How clear it is now that our wasted time could have been prevented by good orientation training during the first few months after reporting to work. My experience is, however, very few firms invest in quality orientation training. This is quite surprising since the returns in later time savings from such training can be enormous.
The benefits of orientation training include:
• Staff persons have less anxiety and more peace of mind. New staff persons know what is expected of them and where they are positioned in the firm structure.
• Staff persons are indoctrinated in firm quality control standards and specific engagement policies before being assigned to engagements. When assigned to engagements, little time is wasted on the basics (working paper indexing, tickmarks, how to research, etc.).
• New staff persons become familiar with working paper preparation policies, including software applications. Engagement supervision and review can take much less time because of this advance preparation.
• During this in-office time, new staff persons can meet other staff persons, learn a few names and begin to develop some relationships. I hesitate to call this bonding time but many of the long-range benefits are similar. The staff person can begin to form some "roots" that will provide stability in the days and weeks to come.
The subjects for orientation training will likely be unique to each firm. Some skill and information needs are, however, common to most firms:
1. Understanding firm quality control standards.
2. Learning firm working paper preparation policies.
3. Becoming familiar with firm library materials and research practices.
4. Learning staff personnel policies and how a CPA firm operates.
5. Practicing the use of the firm computer software packages.
A six-webcast series entitled Entry-Level Skills Training, developed by this author, provides orientation training for staff personnel with less than six month’s experience. You can receive notification of the presentations of this series by registering for my free email newsletter at www.cpafirmsupport.com.