Until We Perfect Cloning, How Do You Train Accounting Staff?

In a perfect world, business owners can simply clone their best staff and have a never-ending supply of great employees. But, we are far from a perfect cloning solution.

Rather, we must focus on ways to leverage the skills perfected by our best employees. Having a great employee who knows the inner workings of our business sounds ideal. But, what happens should such an indispensable employee quit or take extended leave? Would your business suffer?

I will not debate the ins and outs of managing staff, as that is far from my area of expertise. However, I will focus on tools that you can use in order to improve your chances of duplicating excellence in your business.

Importance of Systems and Processes

Believe it or not, I first learned the importance of systems and processes while working at a McDonald’s franchise in high school. McDonald’s has systems and processes for every aspect of running the restaurant, including a clearly defined process for training their staff. My manager at the time assured me that my training was the best business training that I would get in my career. I was very skeptical at the time, as I did not see what flipping burgers and cleaning tables had to do with business. My hope was to escape the life of McDonald’s and find my way to success in business.

I hate to admit it, but despite having worked for large organizations, the best training I have received in my career came from McDonald’s. It was not until I read Michael Gerber’s book, The E-Myth Revisited:  Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, that I finally connected my success to the training I had received.

Each task at a McDonald’s franchise is broken down into core components, with step-by-step instructions and a clear training process. In my experience, very few accounting firms have a deliberate training process. Despite the importance of knowledge to our profession, knowledge is often shared randomly and haphazardly.

A systematic approach to creating systems and processes allows us to ensure that each task is completed to the same standard, regardless of which employee performs the task.

Creating Systems and Processes

To be effective, your systems and processes have to be complete and accessible. I have worked with many firms that have thick employee manuals that they distribute to new employees on their first day in a new job. In the excitement, the employee manual usually gets set aside to be read at some future date. The employee manual is often returned and unopened when the employee leaves the job.

I believe that while a written manual is a great concept, it’s also highly ineffective in our modern age. Instead, I recommend a combination of written, audio and video as tools to capture your systems and processes.

To create systems and processes, give some thought to how clients experience your firm, from the first marketing contact through to annual renewal of the relationship. Be specific and break your processes down into the functional aspects in your workflow.

I start by creating a mind map to lay out the workflow in a visual way. The mind map should document the key areas of your business. My tool of choice for creating visual diagrams and mind maps is XMind. They have a fully functioning free version and a more advanced paid version.

Once I have a plan in place, I have my best employees record their work using screencasting software. Screencasting software will allow your staff to record audio and video as they do their work. You can readily capture your workflow with video. New staff can then replicate the workflow seen in the videos. If a picture is worth a thousand words, video is worth ten thousand. Your best employees can document what they do, exactly as they do it and when they do it, giving you have something for future employees. I personally use BB FlashBack Express as my screencasting software of choice, while several of my contacts use Camtasia. Both are great products – choose the one that works best for your needs.

As a final thought, you can have clearly documented systems and processes, but they are completely useless if your staff does not follow them. Include compliance and regular testing in your training process to ensure that you realize the maximum benefit from systems and processes.

About the Author

Jeff Borschowa

Jeff Borschowa

Jeff Borschowa is an author, educator, and curator of all things related to accounting efficiency and technology. Jeff first joined the accounting world in 1991 and has spent the bulk of his career working with and advising small to medium-sized enterprises. Jeff has experience working in all sizes of accounting firms, from sole proprietorship to international firm. The focus in Jeff's career has been to find new and better ways to integrate innovation and technology to enhance the customer experience and improve efficiency in the accounting process.

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