Why you should hire a training professional

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Boomer Consulting is dedicated to providing visionary leadership and consulting services to accounting firms that are seeking to make more money, grow their business, and attract quality people. This article, written by Scott Morrill of Boomer Consulting, describes the author's position on how accounting firms can benefit from having a full-time training professional on staff.

I recently had to ask my 8-year-old son for the correct answer to a question about dinosaurs. Although forty years my junior, he's already legitimately much more knowledgeable than I am about certain subjects. I attribute that to entrusting much of his education to a Training and Learning Professional.

Many accounting firms still struggle with decisions about training and learning programs. The Boomer Strategic Advantage(TM) Guide to Training & Learning, published in 2004 by Boomer Consulting, Inc. (BCI), suggests that firms with 25 or more full-time-equivalent employees will benefit from employing a full-time Training & Learning Professional. Independent firms can endorse that advice.

McKonly & Asbury LLP, headquartered in Camp Hill Pennsylvania, was named a 2006 All-Star by Inside Public Accounting, ranking it as one of the ten fastest growing accounting firms in the nation. The firm knew it needed to invest time and energy developing its people, so it acted on a recommendation from Boomer Consulting, Inc. and hired a full-time training manager in 2005.

“A lot of professional service firms are good at practice development and client service, but they forget the part of staff development,” said Scott Heintzelman, Partner-in-Charge of McKonly & Asbury's consulting segment. “I think to really make your firm grow and continue on in the future, you really have to focus on that area.”

Why go Pro?

Often firms begin researching training programs just to remain competitive in the recruiting and retention wars. However, in order to commit to hiring a full-time professional, there has to be a buy-in from the top.

“Ultimately, it came down to all five of us (partners) at the time, seeing the importance of the position and realizing that if we wanted to get to where our goals were set, we needed to focus more heavily on learning and training,” said Steve McDonald, Managing Partner of Abdo, Eick & Meyers, LLP.

Abdo, Eick & Meyers, LLP, located in the Twin Cities Minnesota metropolis, had 35 employees when they acted on a recommendation from BCI and hired a full-time Learning Director. They have now grown to employ more than 60 employees.

“We look at it with a career perspective,” said Peter Henley, IT Director of Clark Nuber, a CPA and consulting firm located in the Seattle, Washington area. “Everybody wants to advance. Everybody wants to see themselves as better this year than they were last year. It's pretty clear to us that they're making the firm a lot stronger by being stronger individuals.”

Clark Nuber is recognized as one of the “50 Best Small & Medium Companies to Work for in America” by the Great Place to Work Institute. Washington CEO magazine ranks the firm first in the medium-sized company category of its “Washington's 100 Best Companies to Work For” list. The firm now employs around 150 people.

So why hire a professional? Because the job demands a unique set of skills. There is an administrative component of planning and executing training. There is an expertise required in developing a curriculum that balances the needs of first and second year employees, complies with the requirements of licensing and certification and improves the “soft skills” of the entire firm. Finally, someone must have the technical knowledge to deliver the training.

“It's a lot of things we never would have thought of if the partners were running the process,” said McDonald. “I just think it's so important to have somebody that has that as a number one priority – and when they do it well, it benefits the firm greatly.”

So what are the benefits?

The great thing is, a professional can develop a curriculum to fix whatever ails you. For example, your Generation Y employees may not understand the expectations of Baby Boomer clients. If you're experiencing that problem, have your training director develop a solution. In reality, there are as many benefits as there are problems.

Other specific benefits that have been reported include:

Improved client satisfaction. Your clients value continuity, and a training curriculum is the tool that spreads continuity throughout the firm.

Better employees. A curriculum provides consistency in training, so that every employee understands what the company wants to deliver.

Maximized billable hours. The responsibilities of developing and administering the curriculum are handled by a professional learning director rather than a partner whose first concern is his or her own book of business.

Efficient training. A professional understands the motivations that maximize learning potential. Boomer's Guide to Training and Learning suggests that a background in adult education and an interest in entertaining are two common characteristics of successful learning professionals.

Recruiting advantages. The firm demonstrates a commitment to the continued development and success of its employees. This is the exact opposite of the image left by many corporate buy-outs and down-sizings widely circulated by the media.

Adaptability. A learning culture develops employees who are capable of learning new tasks and technologies.

A succession pipeline. Leaders develop and emerge at every level of the firm, so you'll always have a pool of qualified successors from within.

Improved retention. Incentives that help the firm attract a potential recruit can be even more effective at helping you retain an existing employee. Learning programs are terrific moral builders. Continued development of an employee leads to loyalty. And, if you train great managers, you've eliminated the number one reason employees leave firms.

What steps do you take?

As with many new policies, the most difficult step in implementing a learning culture may be convincing yourself that it's needed. Conduct an honest assessment. Do you recognize the need for a professional learning director?

For example, a recent article on Discover Magazine's web site disputes my long-held belief that playing video games would negatively affect my son's development. According to the article, playing video games is not only “mentally enriching”, there is evidence that “the gaming population” is “consistently more social, more confident, and more comfortable solving problems”. The article convinced me that I need to continue outsourcing my child's education to professionals.

Of course, our family employs professionals for a number of tasks that we once completed ourselves. Changing the oil in our car, cleaning some of our laundry, and even preparing some of our meals – all are tasks that I used to do exclusively on my own. However, I've found that professionals complete these tasks with superior results – and allow me to spend more time on what I do best and what I prefer to do.

The point is that you also know that professionals deliver superior results. You know there are benefits to employing one, and you know that other firms endorse the practice. If you can believe that your firm could benefit from a training and learning culture, then you are ready for the next step – study the best practices of others within the industry.

The Boomer Strategic Advantage(TM) Guide to Training & Learning contains tools and practical advice about creating a learning environment, understanding assessment techniques and developing curriculum. It's available for less than thirty dollars.

Training is one of the most crucial aspects of your firm's overall strategy. Develop a Training and Learning culture to ensure your continued success.

By Scott Morrill, Boomer Consulting, Inc.

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