Practice Management Small Business

Training the Accounting Leaders of the Future

Written by Mathew Heggem

No matter what you think of technology, you have to admit that it keeps accounting interesting. OneAccounting Leaders example is Integrative platforms, which are transforming the way accountants serve small businesses. Having the right tools can dramatically improve the quality of service by enabling firms to spend more time with clients and their own teams — and less on tedious tasks. And the bot takeover is literally transforming the way we do bookkeeping!

Of course, new systems require training — and training requires time. At the 2016 Accountex conference, we explored the considerable training challenges that lie ahead for accounting practices. Finding the time to address these training needs of the present and future is critical, but such training will demand a significant time investment from senior leaders.

Keeping up with the latest platforms can often feel like a losing game. If you open Xero’s app ecosystem you’ll find 23 applications under the Inventory section alone. That’s one section of one platform, and it offers “only” 23 out of 500 possible products. But no matter how daunting it may seem, tech is critical to growth and sustainability. Technology presents opportunities in myriad areas, including communication, leadership skills, CFO consulting, training the next generation of accounting leaders, and more.

Automation to the Rescue

I hear the same complaints over and over again when meeting with accounting leaders: “I want to train my team on new technologies, but we just don’t have the time.” My response is often the same, as well: “You don’t have time for training because you’re wasting hours on easily automated tasks.”

Imagine how much time and money your organization would save if you automated data entry alone. Then, multiply those numbers by all of the other areas you could streamline through tech, whether it’s as simple as an automated reminder to a client whose paperwork is due or welcoming new clients to your business through a standardized email template.

There will always be the few who don’t want to acknowledge technology’s value. Perhaps they’re preparing for retirement and don’t see a need for developing new skills or implementing new processes. Rather than spending all your time convincing them of tech’s importance, nurture young emerging leaders who are enthusiastic about the ways in which tech can transform your business.

But the question of time still reigns supreme. Accountants work long, full days, and firms are reluctant to stretch them even longer with extensive training. You certainly don’t want to burn out eager young employees before they’ve had a chance to develop professionally. How will you provide the necessary training without working them around the clock?

Here’s where digital plumbing takes center stage. In previous articles, I emphasized freeing accountants from tedious tasks so they can provide better customer experiences and offer premium services. In light of my experience at Accountex 2016, however, I also see digital plumbing’s role as a method to give senior leaders more time to mentor, train, and coach promising employees. Instead of investing time back into clients, firms can devote more resources toward developing leaders.

Meeting the Challenge of a Shifting Workforce

Today we’re at a critical juncture for accounting businesses. Your firm must be prepared for the shifting workforce if you hope to recruit and retain top-tier candidates. Whether you’re looking outside your firm to find expertise or you believe that it’s possible to train your current managers and leaders, these are the areas you should focus on:

  1. Communication: Good communication skills are honed over time, and they require regular sharpening through training and workshops. Provide emerging leaders with the appropriate communications coaching as they grow into their evolving roles. Train new recruits on how to effectively collaborate and share ideas — as well as how to demonstrate their expertise. Above all, emphasize the importance of a consultative approach to deep listening when engaging with colleagues and clients.
  1. Culture: The accounting profession needs to shake its reputation for being all cubicles, suits, and ties. That’s not to say you should turn your office into a frat boy’s hangout space (or its female equivalent), but rather that you should find ways to incorporate play and creativity into the work environment. Perhaps you encourage employees to play board games every day from 3-3:30 p.m. or allow them to work on flexible schedules a few times a month. Invite young managers to give input on the evolution of your firm’s culture, and promote work-life balance within your firm. Current leaders must develop creative, engaging cultures that stand apart from traditional CPA practices to attract the talent needed to serve future clients.
  1. Purpose: A company’s purpose significantly impacts young professionals’ employment decisions. Seventy-three percent of students surveyed in a McGraw-Hill Education study say they care more about finding a job they love than about salary, and 45 percent desire opportunities with companies providing benefits to society. Prepare your leadership team to showcase your firm’s purpose in meaningful ways. “Our purpose is to meet the obligations of a tax agency” isn’t going to inspire many people. “We help nonprofits improve their operational processes so they can focus on their social good missions” sounds a lot more compelling. Better yet, aligning yourself with practices like conscious capitalism and developing relationships with nonprofits that your teammates care about can help you take your purpose one step further and translate it into community action.
  1. Talent discovery: The best leaders assess where team members will be most effective, even if that means transitioning them to different roles in the organization. Just because someone was hired for one spot doesn’t mean you need to keep her there forever. If you think she might excel in another position, suggest that she make a change. Old-school accountants often get hung up on trying the same things again and again, even when those approaches are not working. But adaptability is crucial to good management, so train up-and-coming leaders on how to spot opportunities for improvement within their teams. And give team members a diverse set of projects that not only leverage their current skill sets but also challenge them to acquire new skills.
  1. Retention: This is a challenging area, especially among Millennial workers. A Deloitte study on young professionals reveals that 66 percent of respondents expect to have left their current jobs by 2020. Many CPA firms hire fresh-faced recent graduates knowing that they have end dates in mind when they sign their contracts. Prepare your firm to address this either by boosting retention through a different approach or developing strategies to gracefully handle and fully acknowledge the revolving door of young employees. There’s no point in pretending that you’ll be their one and only employer. So design their exit to benefit you by creating brand advocates. And if you really, really want to retain emerging leaders, you need to ask them what they want and be willing to say “yes!” Which leads us to the final point.
  1. Ownership: If you want to engage young leaders, let them take ownership of their positions. Don’t micromanage as they take on new responsibilities. Instead, train them to the best of your ability, provide them with appropriate resources, and offer to mentor them along the way. The future of the company is in their hands, so they need to gain confidence and feel empowered to lead sooner rather than later.

Training the next generation of leaders requires time — and assistance from integrative technologies can buy you the time needed to make this investment. Digital plumbing services streamline tasks so that you can train rising stars in the firm to excel in leadership roles. But embracing new leaders and platforms doesn’t mean abandoning legacies.

Partner your tech-savvy associates with senior professionals so they can exchange information on the practice’s internal operations and institutional insights. These team members have much to teach each other, and they can support the firm as you navigate the workforce of the 21st Century.


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About the author

Mathew Heggem

Dancer-turned-accountant Mathew Heggem is the CEO and co-founder of SUM Innovation, a New York-based accounting management and consulting firm that assesses, designs, implements, and manages accounting solutions for fast-growth startups, international businesses, established and growing businesses, and nonprofits across the U.S. Mathew is also the founder of the #SUMTech Summit and the #AccTech Cooperative meetup group in New York City, which explores the intersection between accounting, technology, and entrepreneurship. In the spirit of entrepreneurial success, Mathew also recently co-founded Neuland Alliance, a transatlantic consortium of specialists dedicated to serving global entrepreneurs in their U.S. expansion. When he’s not in the office or on the road, he’s in the studio as a choreographer for Left Side Labs. But business doesn’t stop in the boardroom, as Mathew’s dance company is currently building ARTSLAB, a six-month Arts Entrepreneurship Incubator Program focused on educating creative entrepreneurs and bridging the gap between business and the arts.

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