One of your members of staff is a technically brilliant accountant who can crunch numbers and recall complex tax laws with their eyes closed. Yet for some reason, they are not achieving the results you expect. Does this sound familiar?
If it does, it is likely that they are lacking vital soft skills that are essential to perform well in a modern accounting firm. An accountant can be as technically capable as anyone, but if they are unable to communicate effectively with clients, think on their feet, juggle tasks, or come up with a solution to a client’s complex problem, they will not have the same impact as a less technical, but more rounded accountant.
So what soft skills do you need your team to possess? Karbon surveyed more than 200 accountants from around the globe to find out what they believe the most important soft skills are for modern accountants to have. These are the top five.
As accounting practices focus more on advisory services and your clients experience increasingly complex and unique problems, all accountants must be equipped to navigate unexpected challenges.
When something goes wrong, which staff members are the ones who complain and who are the ones that take action? It is the accountants that can think and act on their feet that will be of most benefit to your clients, and who will become indispensable to your firm.
Developing problem-solving amongst your staff
Whenever one of your staff members come across a problem, make it a requirement that they always come to you with a potential solution, never just the problem on its own. Even if their solution is ineffective and you don’t put into action, making this a requirement will give them no choice but to begin thinking critically and on their feet.
Endless lists of tasks, strict deadlines, commitments with clients, and never enough time. This is just a normal day for an accountant, so if one of your staff members are unable to manage their time effectively, their output will be poor. It is that simple.
For an accountant, time management is about more than simply being on time. It refers to having the awareness of how long common processes will take, planning for this amongst your overall workload, and ensuring that no deadline will be missed and no task slips through the cracks.
Developing time management amongst your staff
Everyone is different when it comes to managing their time. This skill takes time to develop and each individual needs to find what works best for them. For those members of your team who struggle most with managing their time, encourage them to list and prioritize their tasks each day. Itemize and set due dates for each granular action, and use reminders if they need to.
The way you communicate sets the tone with how everyone around you perceives you. With email still being the most common way accountants speak with their clients, it should come as no surprise that written communication is seen as an integral skill.
Every member of your team must be able to clearly convey technical information in writing to their clients, in a friendly and personable tone that makes the client feel valued.
Tip to develop written communication amongst your staff
There is no better way to improve writing skills than by doing, so encourage your team to write as much as possible. If your firm’s website has a blog, share the duty of drafting articles across your team. If you have visibility over your team’s emails, keep an eye on those who need to improve in this area and give them extra help or training.
Just as important as the way they write, everyone on your team should be able to express information and ideas verbally. Mastering what to say and how to say it is one of the biggest steps an accountant can take toward ensuring their client relationship is successful. Furthermore, teams that can effectively communicate together will always be more productive and achieve more.
Developing oral communication amongst your staff
Just like written communication, better verbal communication will only come through practice. Give every member of your team the chance to speak to their peers at internal meetings—if you hold staff meetings, rotate who chairs them, or who reports on the latest developments in their department. You should also bring along junior staff to client meetings regularly, exposing them to important discussions and giving them the chance to share their voice.
An accounting firm’s success is rarely dependent on one team member doing something all by themselves. Success is the result of your entire team working toward a common goal—whether it is a process such as payroll that relies on input from multiple staff members; or increasing your monthly recurring revenue, which relies on each and every team member doing their part.
Those accountants who are able to work well with others around them by collaborating and helping others out when needed are highly sought after. And that is before taking into account the positive effect team players will have on your firm’s culture.
Developing teamwork amongst your staff
Do not let signs of great teamwork go unnoticed. If you see a member of staff lend a hand to a co-worker who is snowed under or cover for someone who is on vacation, remember to recognize them. It may sound obvious, but positive reinforcement still goes a long way—for accountants of all ages and levels of experience.
When you are recruiting for your next staff member, you must look for candidates who possess the most important of these soft skills—not only candidates who are great at the technical skills.
As for your firm’s existing staff, despite what many believe, soft skills can be learned. Just as your team once learned to read a financial statement or lodge a tax return, they can also learn these other skills that are critical if they, and your firm, are to grow. So it’s important that you invest the time in developing soft skills as well as technical skills.
If you can build your team to include accountants who are well-versed in each of these areas, your accounting practice will grow from strength to strength.
To compare the challenges your firm is facing acquiring, training and retaining staff with accounting practices from around the world, download The talent challenge: insights from Karbon’s 2017 talent survey.