Building a Learning Culture at a CPA Firm

How a learning culture will increase your firmís efficiency, range of services and ability to retain high-quality employees.

June 3, 2010
Sponsored by Checkpoint Learning

In today’s hectic environment, CPAs often find themselves running from one fire to the next. However, as we operate in fast forward, we often miss out on critical opportunities to build our practice and plan for the future. A critical consideration that’s often overlooked is how a firm culture supports the learning and growth of its employees.

What Is a Learning Culture?

The public accounting industry sells knowledge. Whether you are performing financial statement audits, filing personal tax returns, performing management advisory services or any other of the myriad of services CPAs provide today, your clients are hiring you to bring the knowledge and expertise they need from an independent and reliable source. In order to provide this service dependably, firms must create a “culture of learning” that promotes continuous gathering of information, skills, knowledge and understanding amongst employees and partners. The benefits of a strong learning culture include:

  • Providing exceptional service to clients
  • Increasing efficiency in services performed
  • Expanding the breadth of services provided
  • Attracting the highest quality employees
  • Retaining the best employees
  • Creating a positive and dynamic firm culture

A learning culture is centered on gathering the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve the overall business objectives. While firms’ overall business objectives vary, the same key steps apply when developing a learning culture:

  • Establish learning as a key component of firm culture
  • Align learning objectives with firm strategy
  • Use appropriate delivery channels
  • Measure results

Establish Learning As a Key Component of Firm Culture

Fostering a learning culture means acknowledging that learning is more than a single event or series of events. Learning comprises not only formal learning activities, but also encompasses life experiences, coaching, counseling and mentoring relationships and on-the-job experiences. Learning objectives must be supported both during formal training sessions as well as in everyday activities.

Align Learning With Firm Strategy

All learning activities must align with the firm’s overall business strategy. Providing personal and professional growth through learning is essential to attracting, developing and retaining the best people. It is also critical to driving industry expertise and developing a client-service mindset. People are the key to success in any firm. To be successful, the learning should be designed to help people develop the skills and confidence required to provide exceptional service to clients and to develop their careers at the firm.

Use Appropriate Delivery Channels

Multiple delivery channels are available to meet specific learning objectives, including:

  • In-house training
  • Off-site seminars and conferences
  • Live webcasts and webinars
  • Web and print-based self study

The appropriate delivery channel should be selected after careful consideration of the learning purpose, audience, environment, timing and desired outcome. In-house training with a live instructor is best used when the need for assimilation, networking, teambuilding and skill application is high. In-house training programs also help reduce travel costs for large groups. Off-site seminars and conferences allow opportunity for networking with peers in other regions as well as the ability to obtain specialized training for individuals requiring special training. Live webcasts and webinars are appropriate when there is high need to build awareness, develop skills, reach a large audience or disseminate time-sensitive information. Self-study or self-paced learning is more appropriate when there is a high need to develop and reinforce basic skills or to build awareness.

Thomson Reuters offers your firm a complete solution with training that meets your firm’s learning objectives and in the delivery method that best suits your firm’s needs. Find out more about the extensive training options we can provide at cl.thomsonreuters.com/H.

Measure Results

Ultimately, the value of the investment in developing people is demonstrated by the success of the firm in executing its business strategy. Other measures of value include retention, promotion, client satisfaction, work performance, business development, chargeable hours, compliance with CPE requirements, recruiting and job satisfaction. When firm leadership makes a commitment to developing and supporting a learning culture, the results will show in all aspects of the business.

- From the CPE & Training Solutions eNewsletter from the Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters, May 2010. To view current and past issues of the eNewsletter, click here.