insight magazine

Practice Perspectives | Summer 2022

Accounting Is More Than Technical Ability

CPAs must reach beyond technical training to protect their relevance and position themselves for long-term career success as client and company demands change.
Art Kuesel President, Kuesel Consulting

It’s no secret that effective technical training is the basis for a CPA’s success. Most public accounting firms and public and private companies, regardless of size, invest in providing their accounting and finance professionals with a strong regimen of technical training, either internally or by outsourcing it to external providers. Beyond a CPA’s licensing requirement dictating continuing professional education, the justification for investing in professional development is simple: Employers want well-trained and capable associates serving their clients and stakeholders.

But technical training is just one of the many ingredients in the recipe for career success. Succeeding in business today requires more than technical expertise and knowledge—it requires effective communication, team building, leadership, relationship development, delegation, and performance management skills, and more. I like to call these non-technical competencies “success skills,” as they often directly tie to one’s advancement. As CPAs increasingly seek ways to move away from compliance tasks—and business leaders and clients demand more well-rounded, strategic advisors who add deeper value and can manage client relationships, build teams, and be excellent communicators with all stakeholders—these success skills are going to become increasingly important to master.

Unfortunately, considerably fewer employers offer a curriculum in success skills. In many cases, these skills are left to “learn on the job” by observation of others. Too often, I’ve seen the “role models” of this informal training being far from ideal sources of wisdom— not to mention that observation alone generally perpetuates a lack of knowledge, or worse, undesirable behaviors.

Here’s where every CPA’s initiative needs to kick in. In many cases, you’ll need to seek your own training and development in the success skills that you wish to develop. If you find yourself in this position, you may be lucky to identify a pre-built curriculum that’s already targeted at current and future leaders in the accounting and finance profession. Examples of this would be the Illinois CPA Society’s Strategy Academy, fellow Insight columnist Jon Lokhorst’s Mission-Critical Leadership Experience, or (shameless plug) my Ascend Roundtable. These programs are designed to move CPAs toward becoming more strategic advisors that bring enhanced value to the clients and companies they serve.

As you seek training that addresses the topics of interest to you that you hope will help advance your career, consider developing yourself in the following foundational success skills:

1. Communication: Becoming a better communicator often starts with understanding how you communicate and how others respond to your communication style. Consciously working on being a good listener will also enhance your ability to effectively communicate with others—and help you thoughtfully choose the right communication channels for your messages, which should help you avoid or minimize miscommunications and misunderstandings. The bottom line is that communication is a critical success skill and developing yourself in this area will be of great benefit to you and those around you.

2. Personal and Team Leadership: Leading today seems trickier than ever, as the push for increased collaboration often conflicts with our increasingly dispersed work environments. In many ways, it can seem like simply being a functioning team member feels as essential as being able to lead and develop a team around you. But truly understanding the vision and goals of your organization and the unique dynamics of your team, and tapping into the right team members for the right tasks, all add up to being a high-performing leader in today’s business environment.

3. Delegation and Performance Management: In so many cases today, efficiency is gained through delegation and leverage. But when purposeful delegation is absent, you and your team members are robbed of important learning and advancement opportunities. Improper delegation could be even worse than no delegation, as it can create an endless cycle of misfires. I believe it’s critical for every leader and aspiring leader to develop effective delegation skills and learn to manage the development and performance of others (whether they’re a team member, contemporary, or even a client).

4. Coaching: Coaching is, understandably, often confused with mentoring. A mentor willingly shares their knowledge, skills, and experiences. A coach provides guidance specific to an individual’s goals and helps them reach their full potential. The differences seem subtle but, to me, being a good coach distinctly means helping others answer their own questions and achieve their goals based on your guidance. I think effective coaching is a skill that has long-lasting effects on both those who coach and those being coached. Learning to be a better coach is going to be essential to you being able to effectively develop the talent around you throughout every stage of your career.

5. Relationship Building: Accountants are often stereotyped as being introverts who enjoy being tucked away to work on their numbers. Realistically, accountants are people-facing professionals, whether that be reporting quarterly financial performance to a board or presenting a tax return to a client. If you’re in a position that serves clients, you arguably need to continually work on your relationship-building skills. Looking beyond client service, relationship development is critical to bringing in new clients, meaning relationship-building skills should be highly coveted by those seeking a promotion to partner at their firm or CFO at their company. My tip: Being great at building relationships comes from discovering commonalities, which creates connection and builds trust between people.

Being a well-rounded CPA and accounting and finance professional today means reaching beyond the technical skills to build your success skills. If you’re lucky enough to be part of an organization that already supports your professional development in these areas, consider yourself ahead of the game. But if you’re not, there’s no time like the present to seek and build your own curriculum for success. The more that you embrace developing your skills beyond technical ability, the faster you’ll become a strategic advisor that accelerates through the ranks and takes our profession to the next level.

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