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Creating a Framework for Professional Development Planning

In the last blog post, I defined the Knowledge Domain Map for Accounting Professionals (see Diagram) and provided examples of the types of training that would fall into various domains.  Now I want to look at some case studies of how the knowledge domain map can be used as a planning tool for a firm’s practice development and its staff’s professional development.

Knowledge Domain Map for Accounting Professionals

Knowledge Domain Map for Accounting Professionals

Professional Development Case #1: The Low-Functional Senior Manager

A common scenario both when hiring new staff and when hiring experienced staff is that they staff person may not have expertise in a particular area where the firm has a lot of clients or work.  This is especially prevalent when working with a new industry or technical specialization, where the person knows the general Methodology and can see how the firm manages its practice, but they lack the base Functional knowledge to effectively do the work.

I was coaching a director-level person who has a strong internal audit background, including IT controls auditing.  However, their real weakness was that they didn’t understand the multiple layers of the technology stack and how they interacted, and they didn’t know how the technical controls they were recommending were implemented as system configurations.  Thus sometimes there recommendations didn’t make technical sense and couldn’t be implemented.

My recommendation to this person was that they needed more “Functional” training—go learn to configure the security settings on a server and create policies on a firewall.  Did I think they would be doing this for clients? No. But if they learned what could—and couldn’t—be done, and what other information the various devices provided, they would have a better basis for determining the feasibility of their recommendations.

Professional Development Case #2: The Industry Convert

As firms are called upon to provide higher value to their clients, they are often meeting that need by hiring other accountants back from industry.  Having been gone from public accounting for so long, these “industry converts” after often very good at knowing what needs to be done (“Methodology”) and how to do it (“Functional”), but the Practice Management mechanisms are unfamiliar and they need to be reoriented to providing accounting as a service provider rather than as an internal department.

I’ve worked with several industry converts and the biggest complaints I hear from them is related to having to keep timesheets, needing to establish engagement letters for everything done for a clients, and the firm politics associated with sales and profits.  All practice management related.  And few firms have good programs in place to help an experienced hire readjust to “life in a firm”, when really that’s what’s needed: Practice Management training.

Applying the Framework to Accounting Departments

Both of the examples above are public accounting examples, and the terms “practice management” and “firm” primarily used to refer to public accounting firm.  However, you can make the following substitutions:

  • “practice management” = “department operations”, how we manage ourselves and the department
  • “firm strategy” = “department strategy”, the strategy for delivering the services provided by the department
  • “service lines” = “accounting services” provided to other departments
  • “firm programs” = “department programs”

Then the model can also be applied to an accounting department or internal audit department and the services that it provides to the rest of the organization.

Use the Framework for Individual Development Plans

So when you’re preparing individual development plans for your staff, consider the areas of the framework and use the knowledge domains to help you isolate their areas of weakness and identify opportunity for training.  Consider mapping your organization’s training programs and classes to the knowledge domains to make it easy for you and other coaches in your organization to easily identify the classes that can help to fill a knowledge deficiency.  By doing this you can improve the effectiveness of the learning component of your individual development plans, and more quickly enhance the overall performance of your staff.

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