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.
In a Robert Half Management Resources survey, 31 percent of CFOs said that their companies planned to increase spending on professional development this year. It’s not difficult to understand the reason behind these budget boosts: Employees with solid technical skills typically work more efficiently — and are less likely to make mistakes on the job. Solid soft skills — written and verbal communication, leadership, collaboration, and more — are important to team success, as well.
Spending additional resources on staff training and skills enhancement can lead to invaluable ROI for your business. Strategies can often be easy to implement, and in many cases, cost little or nothing to put in motion. Here are six ideas:
1. Have employees rotate jobs
One of the best ways to add to an employee’s skill set is through job rotation. Not only can such arrangements help workers to learn other roles, but it 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. Assign cross-departmental teams
Create project task forces that span two or more divisions so accounting and finance employees can get to know their colleagues from other parts of the business. Cross-departmental collaboration can boost both technical and interpersonal skills, as staff will have a better appreciation for the roles and workflow of coworkers across the company. Also, when a technological or marketing issue arises, for example, your team will know right away which colleagues to contact for help.
4. Bring in guest speakers
Consider hosting monthly lunch sessions led by industry experts. This is a quick, easy and cost-effective way to provide your staff with continuing education.
To ensure these events create value, present current topics that would interest staff from entry-level accountants to veteran budget analysts. Some ideas include the benefits of cloud technology, 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 provide additional knowledge, but also can introduce new ideas and spark innovation.
5. Encourage volunteering
Support employees' efforts to donate their time and service to a worthy cause. While pro bono work may not seem like professional development, activities such as tutoring high school students in math or helping a nonprofit with year-end reporting are excellent opportunities to hone soft skills like communication, diversity and problem-solving — all while making a positive impact.
Volunteering can be good for your business, too. Sixty-one percent of U.S. workers interviewed for a Robert Half survey said that taking part in philanthropic activities outside of the office enhances their wellness. And a healthy staff will be a more productive staff.
Make sure employees have time for 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. That is, unless you encourage them to make room in their schedule for these pursuits and help them find that time.
One way to ease the burden on your core staff, especially during intense work periods, is to hire consultants. These professionals complement your full-time team by providing skills, knowledge and support when, and for as long as, they are needed. Working with consultants helps to ensure your employees 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 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.