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When it comes to staff, is the problem me?

Staff training

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Something I've been really struggling with in the past four years is getting good staff. My first ever hire worked out very well, he was late twenties and couldn't get a start anywhere because he was considered too old for a trainee and had come from working as a manger in retail. He worked well, got the work done and flew through the exams and left shortly after. 

My experience with hiring staff since has been extremely frustrating. I just cannot seem to get the balance right, maybe the problem is me or I make too many assumptions but I find that any staff that I have hired since are missing a large amount of general common sense or "cop on". For example, I have one trainee that I've shown how to do a VAT return for a client four times and each time it's like they've done it for the first time. Then I get constant questions from others about things which they don't need to ask me like tax deadlines, or "when does this have to be filed in companies house?".

I've tried hiring trainees thinking that I could train them up (education is better than re-education), I've hired qualified accountants who turn out to be glorified bookkeepers who can't turn out a set of statutory accounts. Again, maybe I'm making assumptions but there seems to be an expecation now that you need to provide training for everything. For example, we use confirmation.com for some bank confirmations. I have a trainee who after one year and several bank requests later keeps asking "what do I do with this again?". Again, maybe the problem is me but in my opinion a bank confirmation is a very basic task, how many times do you need to do this before you get the hang of it? Name, account number, year end, sign, send. Where is the difficulty? 

When I was training, we were given a job to do and effectively told to go off and get it done. Now, I give jobs to qualifieds and they can't reconcile the reserves brought forward because of the audit adjustments last year even though they have the journals so the questions are piling up before they've even started. 

Is it me, is it a case that I need to change and accept that people need to be spoonfed and put in controls and procedures around that? But then if I'm hiring and paying for qualified accountants, do I not have a legitimate expectation that there is a minimum standard that an accountant should be able to work to without their hand held through the whole process?

 

 

Replies (16)

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By paul.benny
17th Sep 2019 15:05

There is a common factor to the woes you describe.

You.

You may be a great accountant. But that doesn't make you great at selecting staff or at training them. They're skills that don't form part of professional qualifications, nor do we consider them part of our CPD.

Maybe you should think about how you can improve your selection processes - for example delve more into the experience of qualifieds. "Tell me about how you went about doing x", for example. If you need someone with experience of Y, make sure it's in the job spec.

How do you go about training people? Are there any training materials or procedure notes? I forget stuff that I don't do every day without notes to refer to.

Is training something you can delegate to colleagues?

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Replying to paul.benny:
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By Tickers
17th Sep 2019 15:36

I create training videos by recording my screen as I'm ding something, the issue with that is if there is any variable from the task I'm doing on the screen (which there always is) the staff fall to pieces. I've made 59 videos on various tasks (the most repetitive ones) in addition to actually sitting down and doing it with the staff and still I get questions about the same thing, to which I reply there's a training video on that and then I get the gazelle face.

The qualified accountants aren't much better, I have accountants who have worked here that the last time they looked at a FRS was when they sat their exams which is why I refer to many qualified accountants as glorified bookkeepers.

I think part of the problem is to with people's expectations in general, i.e. that we are so used to instant gratification now rather than trying to figure things out for ourselves. It's easier for staff to ask the question in the expectation that they will be spoon fed the answer every time or even with clients, it's easier to email the accountant and ask for a copy of the accounts rather than find the version they sent me previously.

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Replying to Tickers:
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By SWAccountant
18th Sep 2019 08:56

It sounds like you're maybe teaching people to copy rather than understand.

It isn't until you know why you're doing the various steps in a task that you can understand how to adapt the process for the many variables that inevitably occur.

I don't think that I personally would get that from watching a screen recording.

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Replying to SWAccountant:
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By ohwhatnow
18th Sep 2019 11:17

I've also seen this before, sometimes just expecting people to "understand" by getting them to complete a process parrot fashion doesn't always work. i think it sometimes back fires and the only thing they learn is not to think for themselves - and believe me some bosses actually seem to only want staff to act like programmed robots.
by all means use videos, etc...but the best way is to engage with staff during the training process.....let them ask questions, encourage note taking and let them explore options that they see could be an issue.

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Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
17th Sep 2019 15:32

In my experience (mid 1980s) there was always a chain- partner, manager, assistant manager, senior, year 3, year 2 and year 1 trainee etc so questions did get asked but you maybe did not observe them all and trainees had of course a larger number of possible people to ask in larger firms, which possibly you lack.

I mainly worked for a really good senior, Alison, who had trained with T Mc, she was patience personified explaining the how and the why to fill in my ignorance, but I could ask others including fellow trainees.

I accept asking the same thing over and over would have possibly have tried even her patience but up here with ICAS we were all either relevant accountancy graduates or conversion course accountancy graduates (I was the latter), so at least we were all reasonably quick at learning (you did not pass the PG conversion unless you were as it crammed the essence of a degree into one year)

You may just have my issue- I cannot train,I either pitch over their heads or way below the level the trainee actually needs, when I did work as a senior (unqualified) for a firm that was a training office our exam/staff progress record was not very good so console yourself that your first one worked out well.

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By NYB
18th Sep 2019 10:19

In my opinion its not just in the accountancy world. Staffing is an issue everywhere now. Common sense seems to be a rarity. A member of staff after 25 years still doesnt seem to recognise a long standing client. Dashes off on the dot leaving half a letter typed. Concentration - wrong things sent out - as though mind is not on the job. Another having to tell everyone each step of the way what he is doing thereby interrupting the rest.
Committment is another issue. When you do find a gem - like we have it is unbelievably exhilarating. Kowing you can actually "trust" some one to do the job. Knowing that if they dont know something they will try to find out the answer. And that type of person is well rewarded. Dont want them running off

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By raj1234
19th Sep 2019 13:44

Before you hire staff, get them to do some testing on accruals, prepayments, basic double entry, analytical review, FRS standards, VAT return concepts and anything else you require for the role. I created my own accounting tests before i took on anybody.

I think it is absolutely necessary to test potential candidates before hiring. Recruiters will mouth off that they can do everything under the sun, and sell you a short story. There are far too many 'cowboy' accountants out there with false CV's.

Experience is everything, so get them tested before you hire them.

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Replying to raj1234:
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By Brend201
20th Sep 2019 10:50

I agree 100%. I have done so too, having had the same experience. I test relevant items listed above and also ask about margin calculations to see if they are numerate in the first place.
Part of the problem is software. I was recruiting some years ago for a payroll person for a bureau. Most candidates were working in big organisations doing weekly payroll for 500 people etc. Almost all of them were unable to do a simple manual calculation of net pay (in Ireland). Standard answer: "I just rely on the software". Great CVs but no real knowledge.

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By Tickers
20th Sep 2019 00:41

When I look back on the “training” I got, the accountant I worked for came into the office and handed me the cd rom for viztopia or whatever the iteration of their accounts production software at the time was and told me “we’re using this now”. There was no training or staff meetings on how we implement it, I just got on with things like everyone else and we were more productive and happier in our jobs. But now everyone has stress or anxiety because they haven’t received sufficient training or the new thing is “I don’t like to be micro managed” but the the problem is you need to be micro managed because you’re not producing and jobs are hanging around your desk for weeks!

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Replying to Tickers:
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By paul.benny
20th Sep 2019 09:23

Mr/s Tickers - you are consistently 'blaming' the problem on your staff rather than acknowledging that you may need to change.

You may have had to get up at 4 in the morning and lick t'road clean (etc) and today's staff may be useless snowflakes. But in this situation, you're the grown up. You're the one with skill, expertise and experience and you may have forgotten what it's actually like to have little or none of those things.

And that probably means that you have to do things differently - starting with the way you select, train and supervise your staff.

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Replying to paul.benny:
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By Tickers
24th Sep 2019 10:42

Mr Benny, I suggest you read the title of the thread again. You remind me of some of our staff who I have to explain "to read the email before you ask the question" and low and behold you have done the exact same thing on a thread where we are talking about the exact same topic. Oh the irony.

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Replying to Tickers:
Lone Wolf
By Lone_Wolf
24th Sep 2019 13:58

I'm going to go for the problem being you. Just a hunch.

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By Colleenw
20th Sep 2019 10:32

I'm the same as you, quite happy to be given a task with the basic information and work my way through it, but sadly this age of instant gratification means most people do seem to want to be spoon fed for eternity.

Through much trial and error I've found the best way to train my new recruits is to explain the "why's" as much as the "how's".
I firmly believe that if someone understands why they are performing a process they are more likely to grasp the fundamentals of how to perform the process.
Of course though, as you say quite correctly, if someone is lacking basic common sense or the gumption to actually try and understand, it's much more of an uphill battle.
I've also sadly come across qualified accountants who cannot grasp the basics of simple things like depreciation or prepayments, and it really makes me wonder about the quality of education they received to "achieve" their qualification.

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By andrew55
20th Sep 2019 12:23

Everyone we consider employing gets a basic test on double entry. Its quite worrying how many don't pass!

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By SouthCoastAcc
20th Sep 2019 16:16

I had a scary boss, so I didnt have the easy option of asking all the time, had to figure it out myself.

It's hard choosing staff, I used to use "tests" which were very telling, gave you an idea of their problem solving ability, accountancy/tax knowledge etc.

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By Tickers
25th Sep 2019 11:50

As an addendum to this post. Another example this week where a staff member, who is with us over a year, has been working on a payroll that the client has outsourced to use. Long story short is that some of the employees were recruited outside the UK because it was for specialist IT positions and there was a whole rigmarole with the getting them setup, tax credits etc. I worked very closely with the staff member one to one during this time and they've been working on the same payroll ever since (1 year now).
Low and behold, they come into me today about a payroll issue and I swear it was as if we were speaking about this payroll for the first time. I actually got a knot in my stomach with the frustration and disappointment.

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