Most accountants build up their technical competence and experience over a number of years, often also while studying and taking exams.

In some professions the exams and studies endeavour to address related business and personal skills. These are invariably almost as important as the technical skills. There are some notable exceptions – such as the medical surgeon or consultant who has little in the way of bed-side manner. It’s a nice to have skill, but ultimately we simply want to be operated on by the best there is.

The specific personal and business related skills we each need to succeed in our chosen career will vary, by reference to your firm, your colleagues, your clients and your ambition. Some years back I set out a dozen key skill sets that most accountancy practices need to have if they are to grow and succeed. In some cases the skills will be spread across a number of people. In other cases, especially for accountants running their own small practice, this can be more of a challenge.

How does the firm in which you work help ambitious accountants to develop key business skills? This is especially important as promotion is likely to depend upon such skills just as much as on technical competence and ability.

There are essentially only four options available to an employer. They will either:

  • pray, hope or make a wish that you magically develop all the necessary skills so they can justify promoting you;
  • send you on a range of generic personal skills courses and pray, hope or make a wish(!) that you pick up and practice sufficient tips to make the time and effort worthwhile;
  • arrange for you to receive personal, tailored mentoring that overcomes the problems inherent in the “courses” approach;
  • recruit someone else who already has proven business skills across the board.

Some employers combine the last two options and arrange mentoring as an additional benefit to attract potential recruits. In such cases the mentor is usually an independent third party; this evidences the firm’s commitment to the new candidate and will be a positive supplement to the firm’s conventional induction process.

Senior experienced colleagues can provide mentoring support. Or this can be bought in from a suitably experienced external mentor.

Mentoring can be equally motivating for sole practitioners, senior managers, directors, junior and established partners where traditional ‘hopes’ and courses have not enabled them to yet achieve their potential or to be as profitable as might be ideal.