Author: Jessica Sacchetti | Date: January 25, 2023
Accounting firms have long been known for somewhat siloed cultures within their practice areas. Those who are hired into a certain practice either excel and advance—or struggle and eventually leave for a position at another firm or an in-house job. Today, the employment market for accounting, tax and consulting talent has become much more competitive. Firms can’t afford to invest three to five years in onboarding and growing people only to have them take their institutional knowledge elsewhere because they can’t figure out how they fit into the functional hierarchy where they were hired. To solve recruiting and retention challenges, firms should invest in training and knowledge growth for employees that will get them into the positions that will be most successful and fulfilling for them—and for the firm.
The key to broadening career opportunities and tapping into the full potential of all hires is to create and support a learning culture that shows everyone the firm’s commitment to helping each staff person identify their best fit and utilize both internal and external resources to empower them to excel in a new role.
Does Your Learning Culture Help or Hinder Retention?
A recent study, Culture Clash: The Employee Experience Problem and How to Fix It, showed that one in five professional services employees quit in 2021 and the top two reasons they cited were frustration with leadership and a desire for a better culture. The learning culture that 20-20 Services works with firms to create is a critical step toward building an improved environment to support retention.
When we speak with new clients for the first time and ask about their firm’s support for a learning culture, we frequently get the typical accountant’s answer: “Absolutely we support learning. Look at the budget we’ve committed to training for employees.” But in real-world application, those same firms will often schedule a learning session only to have superiors call staffers out of the event to complete a report that “must” be done immediately. A learning culture isn’t a function of how many trainings a firm schedules. It’s about the commitment at all levels to prioritize measured growth and make sure that individuals are receiving:
- The right training to help them grow toward their goals,
- The support they need to set aside the time necessary to participate in that training, and
- Reinforcement of learning objectives in the day-to-day work.
The Cost of Retention Failures
HR professionals know better than most that when an employee with three to five years of experience in a firm leaves and is replaced by an external hire with comparable experience, it will still take years to train the experienced hire on all the ins and outs of institutional knowledge that helps a person be most effective in their job. These costs can be mitigated by asking some simple questions that help to retain your in-house teams, like:
- Where would you like your career to go next?
- What type of learning excites you (both topics/subjects and formats)?
- What did you learn from the last training you attended?
- What value did you get out of it?
- How could you apply this knowledge at our firm?
Key Components of a Learning Culture
Some of the most important indicators of a learning culture can be boiled down to a few bullet points:
- Show don’t tell—Don’t budget and schedule expensive learning sessions, then constantly interrupt them to pull staff out for “must-do” client tasks.
- Reward continuous learning—Get people engaged in driving their own learning and help them take individual accountability for growing their skillset. Employees should understand that all learning opportunities are encouraged, not just meeting annual continuing education requirements.
- Lead by example—How much are your firm’s HR leaders and service line partners investing in their learning? How are they growing as managers and improving their leadership skills?
- Find and celebrate curious people—Don’t punish people who do things a little differently. Treat their psychological diversity as an asset.
A Learning Culture Provides a Better Foundation for Retention
Today’s accounting and advisory firms offer such a wide variety of career options that leaders can’t afford to overlook the possibility that a new hire in one group might fit better into a different function. A learning culture that makes clear to everyone that leadership is committed to finding the right fit regardless of an employee’s initial landing spot is a key component of developing and retaining a mentally diverse staff of talented professionals.