Accountants are missing vital opportunities by misusing their CPD time. Professional development coach Carol McLachlan offers her seven top tips for making the most of your CPD activity.
Two and a half years ago I wrote a piece for AccountingWEB entitled The other P in CPD. Valiantly heralding a new era of learning for accountants, I prophesied a future where ‘P for personal' would seriously rival its domineering sibling, 'P for professional'. By 2008, with all CCAB¹ members compliant, IES7² was all set to usher in a brave new world - the end of 'all for one and one for all CPD', the dawn of role and person specific CPD, much more than mere technical prowess.
Here we are trudging towards the end of a grim 2010. Times being hard with more to come, I’m wondering how well are we playing this new game of 21st Century CPD?
Some of the concerns presented by my clients and AccountingWEB members suggest we're simply not getting it:
- 'What course would you recommend for me to fulfil my CPD obligations?'
- 'I never have time for technical reading'
- 'CPD always gets left until the last minute'
- 'I'll just go on a course at the end of the year'
- 'Does this count as CPD?'
These might be anecdotal but they're not untypical and unfortunately they present an outdated view of CPD.
Smart CPD, integrated into our professional roles, planned and executed thoughtfully, adds value, helps us do our jobs better and makes our careers and indeed, our lives, easier, more fulfilling, more agreeable. Sceptical? Read on. It's not too late to embrace the full glory of CPD.
- Change your mindset
CPD is not a necessary evil. It is not an add-on to our already busy professional lives. CPD should certainly not be seen as a robber-of-time, deflecting us from the frontline of 'proper' work. Until you promote CPD to the status of core activity, accept that it will make life easier rather than presenting yet another burden, and truly appreciate its benefits, you're perpetually stuck in the old ways of doing things.
- Believe in the benefits
Your technical toolkit is, more than likely, just fine; a collection of well-honed tools, employed regularly, buffed-up as part of your ongoing routine. However, if you are carrying around these precision tools in a tatty old carpet bag, are they really working smart for you? Think holistically about the skills, competencies and behaviours supporting the technical toolkit. What else do you need to work those tools at their best? Finer communication to get across your point first time? Sharper negotiation to support your case? Tighter time management to deliver best value for money? Think beyond the tools themselves and you'll be more effective, support clients better, make a positive impact on your business, be better positioned for the future - and do more in less time.
- Work on the job
Smarter CPD means investing time in working 'on' the job as opposed to 'in' the job. It means standing back from the day-to-day 'busyness' of doing and instead, reflecting frankly on how best to equip yourself to meet your career or business objectives, both now and in the future.
Smarter CPD means making a plan in advance to take advantage of all potential development opportunities, blending and weaving learning and development with 'the day job', strategically, over a tranche of time.
Smarter CPD means ongoing reflection and assessment. Is my development on track? Is it meeting my objectives? Is it meeting my needs? How have my needs changed? Is there a better way to do this?
- 'Put your job at the centre of your CPD activity'³
If CPD is role and person specific, no two CPD plans will ever be the same. Even in the same roles, each of us is, thankfully, different. We'll all have differing starting points, development rates, different personalities, attributes and characteristics, and that's only the person-specific piece.
Role-specific means digging deep to uncover the broader competencies that are essential to delivery of your service. Technical competency goes without saying, but what about broader business skills – leadership, problem solving, sales and marketing?
Sounds overwhelming? Well the good news is that the ICAEW reminds us that "there is no need to keep up to date with areas of accountancy which are not directly relevant to your role". Don't tell me you've never sat through a course thinking 'I'm never going to need this'.
- Feel the leverage
So called 'softer' skills, whether of the business or personal development variety, make technical prowess even stronger. This is truly a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Think about communication again; your PowerPoint presentation may be awesome in the technical terms, but if you can't get the pertinent points to stick, then what's the point?
- Is there a better way?
So far we've majored on CPD content, but equally important is how you get your CPD. Back in the day, we used to call it CPE – Continuing Professional Education – is that because we were used to receiving it in a classroom?
In the 21st century, not only have we the virtual world as a 24/7 CPD provider, but our professional bodies are keen to point out that many on-the-job activities are CPD - from focused discussion with colleagues to studying regulations and standards.
This huge flexibility offers us even more leverage. Not only can we choose approaches that suit our personal learning style (from activist to visual to reflector) making our learning more effective, we can also take account of lifestyle needs, personal productivity patterns, and even consider what gives us most pleasure.
- Leaving it all up to you
"You are the best judge" the ICAEW tells us. That means, you, and only you, are responsible for getting the best out of your CPD. So think hard, think laterally, take account of the bigger picture and the future and finish the CPD year in style.
Carol McLachlan FCA helps accountants solve problems, at home and at work. From work/life balance and time management, to assertiveness, communication skills and career planning, she draws on her long career in practice and training as a coach and NLP practitioner. For information, visit her website, theaccountantscoach.com.
¹ Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies or CCAB members comprise: ICAEW, ICAS, ICAI, ACCA, CIMA and CIPFA
² International Education Standard 7 (IES7) - Continuing Professional Development: A Program of Lifelong Learning and Continuing Development of Professional Competence
³ ACCA 'Setting your CPD objectives'