Talent must be developed even on a tight budget

EVERYONE’S TALKING about how the economy is recovering rapidly but, this growth and, potential, end to the recession is bringing about a more immediate challenge; how to retain and keep your best talent.

What most good members of staff are looking for from their firm is interesting work and timely, personalised development to help them achieve their career goals. The question is how to actually do this in practice – particularly when non-essential spend is still fairly rare on the ground.

1. Commit to a strategy for your firm
If your training budget is limited, then development needs to be prioritised. However, in order to prioritise, you need to know the important skills your fee earners need to develop. Without a clear strategy for the firm in the short, medium or long term, it makes it very difficult to prioritise – and any development is often gets given to the partner’s pet project or the fee earner who shouts the loudest. Always plan ahead and allocate training in your budget at the start of the year.

2. Identify your top talent
It is imperative that you ensure the right people get developed. The right people are typically the top performers and/or strategically important to the long-term future of your firm. (You could say, these are almost definitely going to be your pipeline of future partners).

3. Move your staff into roles that play to their strengths
When a person is in a role that plays to their strengths their productivity will soar. How many times do you see the exact opposite taking place? Succession planning often involves trying to force fit a person into a role, often regardless of their particular strengths. After all, we often rationalise, that if they are a good performer, they will always be able to develop the new skills and mindset required to excel in their new role. When development budgets are tight, the aim is to fit square pegs into square holes and round pegs into round holes. The more the ‘fit’ is forced, the more likely there will be a need to spend more training on getting staff members fully trained.

4. Look at ways to develop staff on the job rather than training courses
What pops into your mind when I mentioned “training” or “development”. I would guess many think about someone sitting in a training course with other people. Very often, when it comes to helping someone develop a new skill we don’t think further than “do we have a training course for this”. Not only are training courses expensive in terms of time away from the job, but often ineffective ways of developing staff. People only tend to develop well as a result of attending a workshop when they have active support back in the workplace to develop and hone their new skills. As we all know, this “active support” is often missing from accountancy practices. Therefore, learning on the job is often a very time effective and quicker way to develop talent in your firm.

5. Instigate implementing a mentoring scheme in your firm
Most firms are incredibly lucky that many senior members of the firm have the skills and knowledge internally to develop key members of staff. This is where a mentoring scheme can deliver value and knowledge transfer, for a minimal cost. High quality learning and development doesn’t need to involve a fancy training programme. Sometimes it is the benefit of a senior member of the team’s experience, which can prove so helpful to a younger member of the firm. Whilst you may not think twice now how you built-up your first ten clients, many of the newly qualifieds and managers in your firm would love to know how you did this.

6. Actively invest in good performance management processes and systems
The backbone of any cost effective training, learning and development plan is normally good quality performance management processes and systems. In other words the appraisal process needs to add value to the individual rather than work as a tick box exercise for HR. The appraisal process doesn’t need to be complicated or fancy to deliver value. Just making sure that staff sit down regularly with their line or counselling manager to discuss their performance against their goals and objectives, plus how things are going generally, would reap immediate benefits. It’s in these conversations that your line managers can actively help find opportunities for their staff members to develop their skills on the job.

7. Make sure all of your staff have a personalised development plan
Very often staff leave because they believe or perceive that their firm has not invested in them or their career. However most of us are developing on the job every day, in ways we just don’t realise. It is only when we take the time to reflect and extract the value from what we have been doing, that we see how much we are developing. By making sure each of your employees have a personalised development plan, they can track how they are developing and progressing.

Heather Townsend is the co-author of ‘The Go-To-Expert: How to build your reputation, differentiate yourself and win business

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