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

September 25th, 2014 by

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.

The BRICK Method of Business Development

July 27th, 2014 by

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

Consider Credible and Collaborative Communication Choices

May 14th, 2013 by

In today’s world, communication modes run the gamut from “in person” to social media. In between, we can communicate via phone, email, texting, and snail mail. The question we want to answer is what method is most effective to achieve our objectives. Purposeful communication can ensure that all parties are on the same page, and communication touch points may thwart opportunities for unethical behavior.

“In person” interaction is a preferred method of communication overall. You can discern non-verbal signals from other people that complement or do not match what they are telling you verbally. We establish more meaningful connections “in person”, and we are able to better observe that what people are telling us is true. This “in person” communication is especially essential for growing a business, when meeting new clients and vendors.

Phone calls are excellent, too, because you can hear whether a person is sincere for the result that you are trying to achieve. When setting a date to meet, phone calls may be the most efficient method instead of back and forth emails or text messages. Phone calls are also smart for follow ups to interviews. Additionally, we may not know if an email or text has been received by the other party, and we can receive confirmation with a phone call. It is important to think about what information you want to convey in a voice mail before you call. For example, you should leave (1) your name, (2) phone number, and (3) a concise message, in that order. Have you ever listened to a lengthy voice mail and missed the quick phone number at the end? Did you really want to listen to the entire voice mail again?

Emails tend to be the most utilized method of communication in business. All email programs should have a confirmation message that asks senders if they really want to send emails that they have written. That is, “Warning! Warning! Are you sure that you want to send this? Think about the consequences.” When replying to an email with multiple recipients, consider who should be receiving your response. Do not just hit REPLY TO ALL.

Usually, most snail mail communications can be more efficiently sent via email. However, snail mail may be more appropriate to send an original signed document and to add a more personal touch to a thank-you note, birthday communication, or invitation.

Texting is popular for personal communications, and it also may be efficient in a business setting. For example, if you are meeting someone, you can confirm an appointment time or receive a quick clarification. You should not use texting, twitter or any other social media for play-by-play accounts of your life (i.e. what you are eating for lunch while you are actually eating it, how many traffic lights you sat through this morning, etc.). It is also not appropriate, especially in a business setting, to be on a mobile device during meetings or when gathered with other people in conversation. Additionally, refrain from using your mobile device while driving, walking, or where you could be disturbing others.

The point of choosing the right communication method is to be more effective and efficient with the time and resources belonging to you and others. It is important to find a safe place when using mobile devices. Self-defense classes teach us to be aware of our surroundings, and mobile devices impair our abilities to respond to any situation. This warning also applies to business meetings. You may miss an important and even fraudulent detail if you are paying attention elsewhere.

About the Authors:

George is an instructor for the AuditSense team, specializing in providing ethics and core-level staff training. Since 1976, George has worked in many areas of accounting, focusing on Auditing and Accounting Education. In 1976, he participated in the Internal Auditor Intern Program at the Clark Equipment Company. While working for the public accounting firm of Deloitte, Haskins, and Sells, George served as a Senior Assistant Auditor and a Comprehensive Business Services Consultant.
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Elizabeth Pittelkow is an Accounting Manager at ArrowStream, and she works in the areas of accounting, taxes, and financial reporting. Elizabeth previously worked in Finance at Motorola and in Assurance at PricewaterhouseCoopers. While at PricewaterhouseCoopers, she audited large public-accelerated GAAP filers, IFRS filers, private equity-owned companies, and non-profit businesses.
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Ethics and Decision Making, Part 4

March 4th, 2013 by

In the book, I Robot, three rules of robotics are key. We can dissect these rules and apply them to our role as ethical accountants.

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
     
    In accounting, we are concerned with omission and commission. It is harmful for accountants to allow omission in financial statements and tax returns, and it is equally harmful for accountants to include misleading information in financial statements and tax returns. For example, when completing taxes, it is important to let clients know the impact of taking an aggressive tax position. Materiality can be defined as the point at which the decision-making process may be altered. If an accountant omits a fact or includes misleading information that would have changed the decision, a user would have violated this first law.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
     
    As accountants, we must follow the rules set forth by the AICPA, IRS, and other governing bodies unless the rules do not adequately portray the nature of the transaction(s) that we mean to describe. We cannot purposely mislead financial statement or tax return users, even if the rules allow us to take a deceptive position or are silent on how to report the transactions. Professional judgment can be defined as being prudent and skeptical. We must not blindly follow rules; we must be sure to question their applications. Knowing the rules does not make someone ethical. It is how we apply the rules that is important. If we take a position that is not well defined by the rules, it is crucial that we explain our reason for the position or can defend it if questioned. Transparency and well-documented support are key to understanding a position.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
     
    As accountants, we balance our self-interest with the interest of others. We introduced this concept of self-interest and interest of others in the first ethics blog post on this site. Our self-interest may be to make our clients happy instead of representing the financial statements and tax forms in the most truthful and transparent way possible. We must remember that our service is for the benefit of the users of financial data.

Remember that if you are wondering if a position is ethical or not, it is definitely worth a reexamination of the facts of the transaction and rules applying to the transaction. You should also consider a consultation with someone in your company or in the accounting industry that you trust to give you honest feedback. The AICPA even has an ethics hotline and e-mail that is free for members to access: 888-777-7077 and ethics@aicpa.org.

About the Authors:

George is an instructor for the AuditSense team, specializing in providing ethics and core-level staff training. Since 1976, George has worked in many areas of accounting, focusing on Auditing and Accounting Education. In 1976, he participated in the Internal Auditor Intern Program at the Clark Equipment Company. While working for the public accounting firm of Deloitte, Haskins, and Sells, George served as a Senior Assistant Auditor and a Comprehensive Business Services Consultant.
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Elizabeth Pittelkow is an Accounting Manager at ArrowStream, and she works in the areas of accounting, taxes, and financial reporting. Elizabeth previously worked in Finance at Motorola and in Assurance at PricewaterhouseCoopers. While at PricewaterhouseCoopers, she audited large public-accelerated GAAP filers, IFRS filers, private equity-owned companies, and non-profit businesses.
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Rules vs. Principle Ethics

December 10th, 2012 by

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” Voltaire

Are we asking the right questions of ourselves, of our employees, and of our clients? What is the economic substance of what we are recording and presenting? What is our intent? All of these questions lead us to the idea of principle-based guidelines in accounting and business rather than setting bright-line rules to follow. Intent is the starting point.

Ethical considerations are important for creating an environment in which people will look forward to coming to work. Ethics are unenforceable and are generally based on normative or “should” statements. We can also view ethical principles as guidelines for making good decisions.

We need to create an environment in which employees will ask the right questions about their choices and not rationalize their answers. On one side of the spectrum, we can establish rules without regard to consequences. On the other side of the spectrum, we can look at the consequences of following the rules and then ask ourselves how we can make rational decisions behind what John Rawls calls the “veil of ignorance.” The “veil of ignorance” concept means that we make the most ethical decisions with objectivity based on the merits of good decision making. We should consider the consequences of established rules and foster an environment that encourages employees to challenge rules when they do not feel that they are ethical for a specific circumstance.

Instead of insisting that a client change something about the presentation of a financial statement item, we should consider working though these types of issues with our clients. Management may know that the company will dispose a significant asset, but it does not want to announce the intention yet to the public. When challenged with whether the specific classification of that asset is appropriate based on the business circumstances, Management may reconsider its decision in more of a principled-based framework. Regardless of what is allowed under accounting rules, would users of the financial statements make different decisions if they knew that a significant asset was held for disposal?

When we feel comfortable talking about ethical decision making with our employees and clients, we make ethics a habit and a way of how our clients and we conduct everyday business.

About the Authors:

George is an instructor for the AuditSense team, specializing in providing ethics and core-level staff training. Since 1976, George has worked in many areas of accounting, focusing on Auditing and Accounting Education. In 1976, he participated in the Internal Auditor Intern Program at the Clark Equipment Company. While working for the public accounting firm of Deloitte, Haskins, and Sells, George served as a Senior Assistant Auditor and a Comprehensive Business Services Consultant.
Read More

 

Elizabeth Pittelkow is an Accounting Manager at ArrowStream, and she works in the areas of accounting, taxes, and financial reporting. Elizabeth previously worked in Finance at Motorola and in Assurance at PricewaterhouseCoopers. While at PricewaterhouseCoopers, she audited large public-accelerated GAAP filers, IFRS filers, private equity-owned companies, and non-profit businesses.
Read More

 
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