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Three Tips for Building a Learning Curriculum Plan
…and why you need one

September 25, 2014 |  by  |  Business Development  |  No Comments

Curriculum plans answer the question “what should we teach, to whom, how, and at what point in their careers?”  Traditionally CPA firms have adopted some combination of:

  • Rely on the CPE   The firm defines a broad need (e.g., “staff training”) and relies on the CPE provider to determine the contents and learning objectives of each course in the curriculum
  • Rely on the individual learner. This approach typically is reserved for partners and perhaps senior managers, who develop their own plan by choosing the courses they believe are most relevant to them

The problem with each of these two approaches is that the link between learning and the true needs of the business may not be as tight as it needs to be.  Individuals may be learning about topics that are not relevant to their careers or they might be failing to develop necessary competencies.  The firm closes learning gaps by providing one off training sessions, which adds unnecessary costs to the learning spend.  Many times, these one off trainings are too little and too late to make a real difference.

In an effort to grow, firms have begun to pursue more complex and nuanced business strategies.  This  trend coupled with an explosion of online CPE offerings requires firms to be much more disciplined than they have in the past to make sure they provide their professionals with the most relevant, cost-effecting learning events.

A well thought our firm wide curriculum plan addresses this issue.  A curriculum plan is much  more than a calalog or calendar of courses.  It is a comprehensive, multi-year, multi-level strategy for building the competencies necessary to support firm growth goals.  This plan serves as the basis for creating annual course calendars and individual learning plans.  When creating the plan be sure to address how the training will be delivered, e.g., live in-class, on-line, group webcast, conference, etc.  Each mode of delivery has its pros and cons and some modes are better suited than others to achieve certain learning objectives.

Tip #1 Start with Firm Business Strategies

Learning has to support firm over all business strategies, and the way to link the two is to start with the firm’s strategies and identify the competencies required to support them.  Core competencies are “no brainers” that have been around since the dawn of the profession.  Changes in technical subject matters (e.g., tax court rulings, new accounting and auditing standards) will always drive changes to curriculum plans.  But be alert for changes to foundational competencies that are driven by change to the firm’s business model.

Emerging competencies that firms are adding to their curriculums include:

  • Business development
  • Project management
  • Business valuation/business modeling
  • Advanced Excel Skills
  • Data Analysis Skills
  • Leadership
  • Coaching
  • Mentoring

Tip #2 Building Competencies Takes Time

Even the most talented professionals can’t master complex competencies with a single training course–competency building takes multiple learning events over a period of many years.  For example, intensive business development and leadership programs usually are reserved for managers and partners because so much of their job performance depends on their skills in these areas.  But the seeds for leadership and business development can and should be planted early on in one’s professional career.   The same holds true for many of the “soft skills” that some firms understand the importance of and some do not.

At some point in  life you took an algebra class.  The seeds for your mastery (we can use that term loosely if you like) of algebra were sown over a number of years, long before you actually took the course.

Tip #3 Use the Curriculum Plan to Create Learning Ladders

Where the curriculum plan is firm-focused, the learning ladder is centric to individual learners.  The learning ladder provides each professional with a customizable, multi-year professional development path that allows the individual to realize his or her potential and deliver maximum value to the firm.

Learning ladders are derived from well thought out curriculum plans Individual learning ladders allow the firm to work with each professional to develop an individual learning path that serves as a cornerstone for career development.

Managing the firm’s learning function can be challenging and messy.  Bring some order to the chaos by developing a sound curriculum plan.

Michael Ramos is a guest blogger for Audit Sense.  He is the Principal of Michael Ramos and Associates, a learning consultancy firm that works with CPA firms to increase the ROI on their learning investment through the development and deployment of high-impact learning programs.  He can be reached at michaeljramos@mac.com.

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The BRICK Method of Business Development

July 27, 2014 |  by  |  Business Development  |  No Comments

Building Your Network BRICK by BRICK

Successful accountants distinguish themselves with their technical skills by complying with processes and solving problems. Developing these skills through superior learning often pave the way to better careers. Ironically, progressive accounting firms also flourish by complying with processes and solving problems.  Specifically, the firm’s process and problem solving focus results in business development success.

Firms benefit from business development growth, but individual CPAs that embrace winning more clients are the real drivers. If you find an accountant experiencing business development success, you will see a professional with winning processes. Furthermore, an important element of the winning processes feature developing a strong network that yields additional, quality clients. Developing a strong professional network is similar to constructing a strongly built house.  Consequently, growth-oriented CPAs must build their professional networks BRICK by BRICK.

In this case BRICK is an acronym that highlights five key traits of developing a successful business network.

Breadth – A business network needs breadth, or in other words diverse sets of individuals and skills. Breadth opens doors to benefit from connections in different professional communities. A good business network offers access across business disciplines, industries and professions.

Reciprocity – The professionals within a network must understand that the purpose is to give and receive introductions and opportunities. Reciprocity does not necessarily mean that I give you one introduction, then you give me one introduction. It does mean that over time, we should equally benefit from introductions and opportunities between each other.

Investment – To benefit from the rewards of a successful business network, investing time and energy must be a priority. The investment includes actively identifying professionals that can help your business building efforts.  It also means cultivating the relationships by investing time in creating trust and credibility.

Communication – To maintain trust, credibility and relevance among your top networking contacts, professionals must consistently communicate with each other. Communication can take place by meeting, telephone, written notes, email, or social media. The successful networking professional wants to remain top of mind with key contacts.  That is accomplished by regular communication.

Knowledge – A successful network consists of professionals with superior knowledge. Not simply knowledgeable regarding their industry or discipline, but knowledgeable concerning networking. Each key member of the network must understand the importance and value in their best connections. Knowing the value of the relationships’ resources and how to treat them with respect makes it easier to continue to strengthen the network.

Firms that accomplish their growth goals are developing their firms with professionals who build their networks with The BRICK Method. The firm grows because the professionals grow. The professionals grow because they intentionally build relationships that lead to stronger practices. The results are better performing CPA firms with quality clients and well-respected business professionals.

About the Author:  Glenn W Hunter is an AuditSense instructor focusing on Business Development Training  and Consulting. As Principal of Hunter and Beyond, Glenn consults with entrepreneurs and professionals looking to grow their revenue. Additionally, he delivers workshops for college students and recent graduates in developing communication and networking skills

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Nothing in Return?

March 21, 2010 |  by  |  Business Development  |  No Comments

I have many vivid memories of when I began my professional life, but one event in particular stands out in my mind. One of the speakers at a training session I attended talked about the concept of networking with others and why it is so important. He spoke about the many benefits of networking and a concept that he shared with us was that you should carefully choose who you network with.

The speaker went on to say that you should only network with people who could refer business back to you. He stated it was a good idea to keep track of how much business someone refers to you and how much you refer to them. As a young professional, not really having many contacts, I found myself somewhat intimidated by his advice.

The big question many business owners and professionals have today is “What does it take to be successful in business?” With that question in mind, I would like to share what I think is one of the most important, if not the most important aspect to succeeding in business – networking. However, I promise you will not have to develop a complicated tracking system.

To this day, I have remembered his comments about networking, but I never could adapt to the mindset he shared. Essentially his concept was to only assist others if they were able to help you in return.

Instead, I use a much more simpler approach that you may want to try out. This approach has nothing to do with trying to determine if the other person can help you nor does it have anything to do with keeping score, but rather it is simply identifying what can you do to help others, while expecting nothing in return.

This approach, which I am absolutely convinced has tremendously increased not only my bottom line, but has also greatly influenced those individuals with whom I have come in contact. Everyone in business knows the concept of cash capital, the amount of cash you have in the bank. However, there is another type of capital that is even more important than the amount of money you have in the bank; it is social capital. Social capital is the value of various relationships that you establish during the lifetime of your career.
The quantity of your social capital is not nearly as important as the quality of the individual relationships you develop. Basically, what we are talking about is how deep are your relationships are with the people you interact with.

A quick question is to ask yourself, “In the past month, how many people have proactively helped out without expecting anything in return? For example, if you are talking with someone and in the course of the conversation you discover they have a problem that needs to be solved – you view it as an opportunity to help them and spring into action and offer your assistance.. A very important point is that you should not have the expectation that you will be receiving anything in return.

A very interesting thing happens when you adopt this mindset – you become a better listener because you are always on the lookout to help others.

Too many times people will only help others if they believe their assistance will provide them a direct benefit. I do not agree with this way of thinking as it will damage the quality of your social capital. In other words, do you want to be labeled professionally or personally, as someone who will only help if they get something in return or would you rather to be viewed as someone who will just help?

Most people are impatient and as a result, they can only visualize being ‘paid back’ in the short-term. These individuals lose sight of the bigger picture and will be less inclined to put any effort in providing assistance or they will provide quick responses without any real substance or helpful information. Get rid of the mindset of “What’s in it for Me” and adopt the mindset “What’s in it for Them”.

I firmly believe in some cases when you help others it does come back full circle. The one thing you should keep in perspective is that you do not know when or if it will benefit you. One of the critical concepts is that when you help someone you have to do it in a sincere manner and without the expectation that they will return the favor.

If you are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with traditional networking, then you should give this approach a try. Make it a point of helping someone once a week without looking for anything in return. You will be amazed at the results.

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