5 Professional Development Options for Financial Staff

By Robert Half on October 16, 2020 at 4:05pm

An accounting and finance department is only as productive and effective as the staff who comprise it. Good leaders understand this and therefore encourage their employees to continually develop new skills and knowledge — and polish the abilities they already possess.

Many businesses that pulled back on professional development activities at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic are reinvigorating these programs— even redesigning them in many cases to accommodate remote teams. These employers recognize that professional development opportunities remain an important way to engage and motivate their employees, as well as expand and strengthen the collective knowledge and overall capabilities of their workforce.

Devoting resources to staff training and skills enhancement, even when budgets are constrained, can lead to invaluable ROI for your business. Employees with solid technical skills typically work more efficiently and are less likely to make mistakes on the job. Solid soft skills — including problem-solving, adaptability and empathy — are important to team success, as well. And if teams are working remotely, outstanding communication abilities are an absolute must.

Even at a time when businesses are trying to manage through disruption, professional development opportunities can be quick and easy to implement. In many cases, they cost little or nothing to put in motion. If you’re looking for professional development ideas for your accounting and finance staff, including options for remote teams, considering trying one or more of the following:

1. Have employees rotate jobs

A highly effective way to add to an employee’s skill set is through job rotation. Not only can such arrangements help workers learn other roles, but they also can increase their business acumen — an essential ingredient for problem-solving and big-picture thinking on the job.

Rotating positions can also keep accounting and finance employees from becoming bored with their duties, which helps to improve job satisfaction and retention rates.

2. Make mentorship a priority

Maximize the strength of your multigenerational workforce by asking senior-level employees to serve as mentors and guides to their junior colleagues. Keep in mind that mentoring relationships can work both ways: Those just starting their accounting careers also have unique knowledge and skill sets that more experienced accountants and auditors may not, such as creative ways to reach millennial clients.

More than likely, you’ll find that every employee in your organization could benefit from taking part in a mentoring or coaching program.

3. Create cross-departmental teams

Create project task forces that span two or more divisions so that accounting and finance employees can get to know their colleagues from other parts of the business. Yes, this is possible even in a remote work environment — in fact, it can be an effective strategy for keeping a distributed team feeling connected.

Cross-departmental collaboration can boost both technical and interpersonal skills, as staff will have a better appreciation for the roles, responsibilities and workflow of coworkers across the organization. Also, when a technological, marketing or other non-financial business issue arises, your team will know right away which colleagues to contact for help and what skills and expertise they can bring to the table to help solve problems.

4. Arrange for virtual guest speakers

Consider hosting monthly lunch and learn sessions, held virtually and led by industry experts. These sessions are a quick, easy and cost-effective way to provide your staff with continuing education.

To ensure these events create value, feature current topics that would likely interest all staff, from entry-level accountants to veteran budget analysts. Some ideas include the benefits of accounting automation or cloud computing, changing tax legislation, year-end audits, and the latest U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) developments.

Outside specialists not only can provide additional knowledge, but also introduce new ideas and help spark innovative thinking in your finance department.

5. Offer upskilling and reskilling opportunities

Upskilling and reskilling can help employees prepare for the future of work and make the most of their talents. Some ideas for budget- and schedule-friendly tactics include:

  • Virtual training. Offer hands-on training via an online platform that workers can access remotely on their own time.
  • Microlearning. Upskilling and reskilling can be done gradually through microlearning, which can be delivered through online videos, podcasts, mobile applications and other formats.
  • P2P learning. Peer-to-peer (P2P) learning is informal, and also takes many forms, including employee-led virtual workshops and team projects.

Also, don’t overlook the value of financial aid. If you know your accounting and finance staff will eventually require certification or in-depth study of a new subject, consider offering tuition reimbursement or assistance, if your budget allows.

See this post to learn more about why now is the right time to step up accounting professional development.

Help employees make room for professional development

When your team members constantly face the challenge of lengthy to-do lists, they’ll be inclined to push professional development to the back burner — even if they’d like nothing more than to do something new that helps to advance their career. And right now, many employees are trying to manage overlapping personal and professional demands due to working remotely.

So, it’s important to encourage your team members to make room in their schedule for professional development and help them find that time.

One way to ease the burden on your core staff is to hire interim staff. These professionals complement your full-time team by providing skills, knowledge and support when, and for as long as, they are needed. Many of these professionals can work remotely, too. Engaging temporary employees helps your workers can stay on top of their current responsibilities, while also building the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the future.

The initial time and effort to implement the professional development ideas listed above can lead to an increase in your staff’s knowledge base and their overall abilities. Participation in meaningful opportunities also can positively influence employees’ job satisfaction — and, in turn, boost your firm’s retention rates. That’s just one way that a thoughtful and proactive approach to professional development can translate to a win-win for your employees and your business.

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