Tax & Accounting Blog

Getting Everyone on Board

Accounting Firms, Business Strategy & Development, CS Professional Suite, Onvio, Professional Development May 23, 2016

Whether you’re replacing a staff member, bringing on seasonal help or expanding your practice, it’s important to make sure every new employee has all the necessary skills to succeed.

Unfortunately, not every firm appreciates the value of a strategic onboarding plan or how critical it is to provide ongoing training to team members.

“The vast majority of new hires make their stay-go decision in the first 60 days,” says Will Hill, a manager in the training, consulting and implementation services department at Thomson Reuters. “During the interview process, they sold the firm on themselves. Now the firm has a short window in which to sell itself to new employees.”

In the first 60 to 90 days, he says, firms need to earn employee loyalty. One of the best ways to do that is to demonstrate a commitment to continuous learning.

“You want to tell people early on, ‘There are paths for you if you do well here,’ ” says Jean Rakich, director of training, consulting and implementation services at Thomson Reuters. “Young people especially want to know what’s next and how they can get there. It’s up to you to make sure they know.”

Set the Course

Making a great first impression requires a documented onboarding plan. A great strategy for jump-starting new hires—a topic Hill teaches a class on at the SYNERGY Users’ Conference—is to give them a visual plan that includes specific targets. For example, make sure new hires have a list of items they need to learn, along with a deadline and a timeline, Rakich says.

Setting expectations is just as important for employees who have been promoted to a new position. After all, new responsibilities often require new training, too.

“I personally experienced this at one job, where I was promoted to management,” Hill says. “The first time I had to approve an expense report I said, ‘How do you do that?’ and everyone just stared at me. I simply didn’t know what I was supposed to do.”

Having a clear plan of everything employees-in-training should know is equally helpful to the current staff that is helping them. There should be expectations set for the employees who are providing training, along with appropriate compensation. Especially if your firm works in billable hours, there should be an incentive for employees who are helping a new employee get up to speed.

Full Steam Ahead

Training can be time-consuming, so make the most of everyone’s resources. Consider self-service tools for employees, such as the On-Demand product training offered by Thomson Reuters. This not only reduces the time investment of other staff members, it also creates more time to focus on firm-specific training.

Rakich is a firm believer in the power of professional development. In fact, she says if she had to choose, she would err on the side of more professional development and less tactical development.

“If you teach me all the tactical, technical stuff, but I don’t know how to leverage it properly in a good relationship, then you haven’t taught me much,” Hill adds. “If you develop me professionally, I’ll know how to get the training I need if I identify a technical gap.”

One important area of professional development many firms overlook is client interactions. At some firms, newer employees in particular are made to feel they aren’t allowed to talk to clients. Instead of putting up barriers, give them the training they need to know how to interact with clients in line with firm principles.

“If employees don’t feel trusted, they’re going to go somewhere else,” Rakich says.

Stay on the Right Track

Want to make sure your onboarding and ongoing training plan is working? Ask your two most recent hires what went well and what didn’t. Talk to the employees who helped train them, too, and it won’t be long before you see areas for improvement.

Plus, having every employee engaged in the onboarding and training process creates a culture of openness and cooperation.

“A lot of ongoing training is really driven by existing staff who want to be able to share what they’ve learned,” Hill says. He suggests putting out a “bounty” for ideas about a particular challenge and offering a small reward for the employee who comes up with one.

Some firms worry that they will run out of things to train their employees on, but the trick is to provide training incrementally. Make sure employees understand the context for the knowledge they’re gaining over time, let them master skills one by one and keep them moving forward. That way, you can satisfy the desire for continuous learning that a lot of employees, especially millennials, may have, Rakich says.

And always remember one important point, Hill adds: “Employees are still new until they’ve been at your firm for a full year and they’ve gone through a tax season with you.”

For more insights, visit Jean Rakich’s blog at Tax.TR.com/author/jrakich. You can read Will Hill’s blog at Tax.TR.com/author/willhill.