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Presentation in the office

Stop spoon-feeding staff and address the problem


If you find that you are spending too much time training new employees, Zoe Whitman explains how you can efficiently address staff issues that keep coming up again and again.

21st Oct 2019
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Two new people have joined our team in the past few weeks and when I spotted that Tickers was having some trouble training his team up in his post “When it comes to staff, is the problem me?”, I gave our induction process some thought to see how I might be able to help.

The AccountingWEB reader has described their frustrating hiring experience in a recent Any Answers post. “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.”

Stuck in a trainee rut, Tickers concluded: “Is it a case that I need to change and accept that people need to be spoon-fed and put in controls and procedures around that?”

Running a business with a baby in tow (and sometimes a busy toddler as well), means I have to be pretty hands-off with the team.

Hiring the right people and making sure they can get the job done to a high standard without too much input from me is pretty important, but these are things the AccountingWEB reader really seems to be struggling with.

We’re by no means doing everything perfectly, but maybe I can share some tips.

Hiring the right people

I wrote all about how we get the right people in my How to hire the right people for your firm article last month, but to recap: we’re a bookkeeping practice staffed by a combination of trainee and qualified bookkeepers, and part qualified accountants.

I hire people who have the right skills and qualifications for the job, but above that, I’m looking for people who are excited about what we do, show initiative, and who I feel confident that I can put in front of my clients.

Should they be good to go from day one?

I think it’s quite reasonable to assume that with somebody with a particular qualification should be able to do a certain level of work without too much trouble, but I still make sure to check before I offer a job.

You may well have learnt something for an exam, but you might not be confident applying it in real life unless you’ve been doing that thing over and over ever since.

People also have different ways of working and need different levels of input from their managers. My first tip is to think about including tests at the interview, maybe a task with some instructions to follow to see how his new recruits might respond in real life.


I remember that overwhelming feeling you get when you start work somewhere new and you feel you need to know everything on day one.

I’m excited about what we do, my time is limited, and as somebody who speaks at 100 miles an hour, I know there’s a risk of me bombarding my new bookkeepers with information they’ll never be able to remember.

My goal when I’m training anybody is to make sure they have some background on what they’re doing and why, and then that they feel empowered to do their job. I want them to feel they don’t need to check in with me every step of the way, but I also want to ensure they know at which point they should stop and ask for more help. I have no doubt this is the balance the AccountingWEB member is looking for too.

I sit down and talk to my new starters about the clients they’ll be working with, who the contacts are, which systems they use, and the work we do for them each week or month.

I do give training in person for as much as I possibly can but I record videos of repetitive and more complex tasks that the team can refer back to. I really do feel this is the secret to not having to go over the same thing time and again, I’ve found videos save a lot of questions as well as being a great resource for new joiners.

So, my second tip for Tickers is to see whether there are ways of making training more efficient. Whether that’s training more than one person at the same time so they can ask questions to each other rather than always coming to them, putting some cheat sheets together (a list of clients and key dates for example), or whether recording some training videos might be worthwhile if the same questions are coming up all the time.

Ultimately, I think that if you hire people with the right qualifications and who are able to work in the way you need them to, your staff shouldn’t need to be spoon-fed, but a bit of spoon-feeding never hurts as they find their feet and as you both learn to work together.

I think what’s important is identifying those issues which are coming up again and again and finding a way to efficiently address them.

Replies (3)

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By ColA
22nd Oct 2019 10:32

Training is an integral part of any new employee’s engagement, but at the least an identifiable, phased induction process should be followed.
Having recently finished approx a year in a new role my erstwhile mentor, fresh from a mature degree award in HR, seemed unaware that he should have conducted induction with me in late 2018.
Says much for those who rise up in the vat of leadership brewing who lack the basics of man-management!

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By Helen Piper
22nd Oct 2019 13:11

Training is not just showing someone what to do, its 1. Establishing existing knowledge, 2. Showing them what to do and 3. Allowing them to do the task/s under supervision whilst in a safe situation. These 3 steps avoid later mistakes, establish a relationship between trainer and 'trainee' and safeguard the firm from costly or embarrassing mistakes. All people in a training role should attend a formal On-Job Training Course which allows them to practice these skills away from the workplace. In my current role I offer a service to Small & Medium sized businesses whereby I test applicants for Accounting positions on their knowledge of Sage Accounting. Those people who have only used Sage during the AAT Course often have a very limited knowledge of Sage and are sometimes unable to deal with complicated journal entries. They are often not aware of the huge variety of reports that are available for business owners to help control their finances on a daily basis. Testing is the first step, training is the second, to fill in the knowledge gaps. They don't know what they don't know!

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By peterk
01st Nov 2019 16:54

I wholly agree with tests as part of an interview. I once interviewed an AAT 'qualified' accountant who failed to spot errors in a trial balance which didn't balance, showed debtors as a credit balance and sales as a debit balance! Oops; another candidate got the job.

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