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How firm leaders successfully share knowledge in the firm

Will Hill, MBA  Product Manager — Tax Professionals Advisory, Thomson Reuters

Will Hill, MBA  Product Manager — Tax Professionals Advisory, Thomson Reuters

To share knowledge in the firm refers to the way internal information is transferred more freely to staff. Often, if you are a leader or a senior level accountant who has worked at a firm for a long time and are trying to leave, retire, or just offload some clients to other firm employees, you may be concerned that they can't do the same work as you in the same way. But there are ways to transfer knowledge successfully.

When you look to improve how you share knowledge in your firm, it may be time to try new ways of managing knowledge transfer methods. In this episode of the Pulse of the Practice podcast, ”Sharing Knowledge in the Firm”, we talk about ways to successfully transfer information internally in the firm as well as some of the issues that can arise if there is a lack of sharing knowledge in the firm. Do you have a strategy to ensure that internal knowledge transfer happens successfully when senior level accountants need to impart their wisdom to junior staff members or others in the firm?

Share knowledge in the firm to strengthen your teams

The trend in the past might have gone something like this: information would come to the firm leader from the client and they would tell a junior staff member what to do for that particular situation. If the less experienced staff assigned to the client became stuck they’d come back to you and ask more questions and you would fix that, then relay that information back to the client. After managing information for a period of time in this awkward way, it becomes obvious pretty fast that a stronger knowledge transfer strategy is needed.

So many firms don’t have a process defined for sharing knowledge in the firm, and this can be problematic. Often when talking to a firm in relation to knowledge transfer,  they might vaguely say,” yes we kind of have those processes”. But is it documented? This can be a scary proposition, and leaders might feel that they are bound by their expertise if they don’t develop a methodology for sharing knowledge in the firm.

If you think knowledge transfer is important within your firm, take into consideration the following questions to put a develop a plan.

  • How do you transfer that knowledge?
  • What processes can you duplicate?
  • What are the steps you take?
  • What processes can you systematize?
  • Is the knowledge transfer process documented?

There’s often not a lot of internal structure around sharing knowledge in the firm and that’s where everything fails. Firms may like the idea of knowledge transfer as a buzzword, but there’s a lot more to it because you’re going to need to be committed to an infrastructure that leaves space for that process to be implemented. What is the key to your success from an infrastructure setup perspective? One of the things that might be difficult to swallow is you’ve got to be willing to let less experienced staff make mistakes while training them.

Become more knowledge-based than task-based in your firm

Often when working on a project, there are warning signs that come up when client information isn’t shared freely. If your staff is only focused on the end result for the client and on the tasks at hand, they can miss the warning signs. When junior firm employees aren’t clued into the entire client’s story, issues can escalate, and then you have a problem. It’s important to slow down to allow for teachable moments with your staff. Where are those warning signs and how do you handle this client relationship? You can guide junior staff in the right direction by shifting responsibility from the beginning of the client relationship instead of waiting until problems arise.

If your firm is struggling internally with what to do on when you’re trying to transfer knowledge around and get the right workflow in motion, it could be because you’re not reallocating your time well. A firm leader or senior level accountant may assume they are the person that’s giving up their own valuable time, so that they can coach the people who are taking on their workload. But that time, though valuable, has to be considered an investment in newer staff.  You may be filling your plate so much that you don’t have time to help train others, which can feel like an eternity. It’s important to be patient as it takes a few months to get new staff onboarded, but you have to be willing to pay a short-term price to get the long-term benefit.

Bring junior staff along for the entire client journey

Let’s say you are having a client meet your firm for the first time. They talk and you learn about their story, but where does that client story go? If you have had two or three meetings with a client as a leader of your firm and try to just turn over the work to a junior staff member who hasn’t been clued in on those early meeting, what happens? There can be confusion because the knowledge transfer didn’t start at the start of the client relationship.

One solution is to let your junior staff sit in on those initial meetings from the first meeting with the client. If junior staff can learn the context of the client’s story, by being there at the beginning of the client journey, they can be taking in vital pieces of information, then senior and junior staff can debrief together afterwards. Involving junior staff in the early stages of the process can help them learn how to handle relationships. This also allows for a coaching opportunity to avoid any problems and tackle them ahead of the game. Bringing new staff under your wing  at the start of the client relationship can also help you train and retain them in your firm because they feel a part of the process from the start of the client journey.

When you think more proactively with your staff on a repetitive basis, it becomes woven into the fabric of your firm’s culture and what you do and the types of client relationships you develop. This kind of thought process may not be instinctive to your firm, so you have to continue to pursue it. But soon it can become muscle memory and your staff starts getting into a rhythm to successfully transfer knowledge in the firm.

Cultivating communication is the key to knowledge transfer

To successfully transfer knowledge, you have to be client relationship and results focused more than task focused. It could be that there’s some creativity or individuality from less experienced staff that comes through that makes the process better. Communication is the key to knowledge transfer, not just with the client, but among the senior and junior staff as well. It’s better to allow that staff members to become a better version of themselves versus mirroring you. You’ve got to trust that your firm has enough collateral with a client that one silly mistake or one wrong-worded email isn’t going to collapse the relationship. If your client relationship is so thinly collateralized that one mix-up, or one miscommunication and the client blows up and is gone, then you have different problems.

It’s important to give less experienced staff the space to try an to solve problems on their own and give yourself the room to coach and help them through from the beginning, not just fill junior staff’s plates up as other staff move on. You have to let staff, especially new employees, learn and find their own way to an extent. The process of successfully transferring knowledge will also keep junior staff happier and more likely to stay with your firm.  It’s a process of passing on the torch of information via knowledge transfer and then letting it go. That’s the tricky part, but it can be done.

Listen to the “Sharing Knowledge in the Firm” episode of the Pulse of the Practice podcast on your preferred platform (Google PlayAppleSpotifyStitcher) or here.

 

 

 

Want to learn more about how to share knowledge in the firm and boost your advisory services? Join us on 1/15/20.

 

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This event is chock-full of informative, actionable content that you will be able to walk away with and implement at your firm for maximum impact – all while earning up to 6 CPE credits.

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