5 steps to developing an in-house training program

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CPE season is upon us. With a whole staff to keep trained, including even non-CPAs, what’s the best way to make sure that everyone’s development needs are met without breaking the bank?

Below are five steps to building an in-house training program that will help allow your practice to maximize the benefits of outside CPE hours while also personalizing development for your team members:

Step No. 1 — Assess Your Needs

We recommend going straight to the source and asking your team for input on what they would like more training on. After the busy season is a great time to survey team members as challenges from both tax season and year-end audit work will be fresh in their minds.

Ask them to share their areas of biggest struggles or resource other leaders in the practice to summarize where they wrote the most review notes. This will help focus training efforts on the areas where staff need the biggest boost.

In addition to struggles though, make sure you ask what they would like to learn. If they could pick any area of interest, where would they love to acquire new knowledge? Identifying where team members may most enjoy their concentrated growth will help with the steps below.

Step No. 2 — Identify Resources

Do you already have the resources in-house to meet these needs? Chances are the answer is “probably not,” and some outside perspective is always healthy. Try to use the summary of information from step one to identify common themes, such as specific technical or soft skills that need to be developed by a whole group of individuals, or a particular industry area that might be of interest to multiple team members.

If you have an industry expert in-house for example who primarily works in the construction industry and you also have three team members looking to develop their skills in that area, you can pair this group up to be mentored by your expert. Make sure you consider the additional steps below for developing a plan so as not to overwhelm your mentors. Identify outside CPE courses and/or conferences that can contribute to the knowledge bases you’re looking for and build them into your overall plan.

Step No. 3 — Share the Wealth

Identify one or two people only to attend a CPE course or conference. At previous firms I have worked for, a requirement to get approval for attendance at a conference was to provide at least an hour of CPE training to the rest of the team on key learning points once we were back. This helps to cut down costs, but also time.

Instead of having all your team members at the same conference, or following the same learning tracks as a conference, you can divide both time and financial resources to conquer your learning goals. This also helps to widen your learning net by ensuring that everyone is coming back to the table with a different knowledge topic to share with the group.

As CPAs, our time is exceptionally precious, and having a plan to get everyone the most important nuggets of learning from key sources helps to be the most efficient in the development of your team.

Step No. 4 — Write the Plan

Once you have identified your areas of need, identified mentors, and then assigned conference and learning schedules, write a calendar of learning. From experience, I highly recommend requiring everyone to write down their current CPE for the year and their required hours before their license renewal dates so you can help to identify immediate needs before key dates.

Schedule conferences and courses accordingly so the whole team is not out of the office at the same time. You can make in-house training meetings fun by hosting things like “Pizza Friday Lunch & Learns” so those returning from conference summaries can share with the team.

Step No. 5 — Get Feedback

More than just the basic surveys we complete at the end of CPE classes, ask your team if their learning is effective. Not everyone learns the same way, so for some classroom styles will be easier while others would prefer webinars or reading.

Don’t forget that time spent developing a class and teaching can count toward CPE hours as well and if you have natural-born teachers on your team encourage them to leverage their talents in that way. I highly recommend you help your team members to develop individual learning plans and tie them to their growth trajectories within the firm.

For example, if you are looking for Tom to perform at X new level this year, identify the new skills he needs to get to that level and incorporate them into his learning plan. Then, schedule periodic check-ins to ensure everyone’s needs are being met. This also will allow you to check in on your mentors to make sure their mentee ratio is one they can handle with their workload.

Identifying what is working and not working in the development of your training plan quickly and often will help you pivot for greater success as the plan unfolds.

By incorporating these five steps (or others), you will be on your way to developing an in-house training program that fits your team’s needs.