Throughout my career  it was the case that trainee accountants studied a wide range of technical topics. We were tested on what we had learned and on how we would apply our accumulated knowledge in practice.

Then, typically after qualifying, we found out from our managers and partners that we needed to develop a range of ‘soft’ skills. I have long hated that word ‘soft’ in this context.  It implies something in contrast with the hard technical exams. And it has long meant that accountants undervalue the importance of developing what I prefer to reference as Key Business Skills.

To this day I regularly encounter accountants who undervalue the importance of ensuring that they have all the business skills they require to be profitable in the short-term and successful in the longer-term.

What’s your position?

Are you one of those accountants who only pays lip-service to the idea of developing and enhancing your non-technical skills?
And yet, there are few accountants whose success is solely dependent upon their technical skills.

I know that my own career success owes more to the development of non-technical skills than it does to my knowledge and application of accounting and tax law.

How do we gain our technical skills? No one is born a great accountant.

Typically we learn by working alongside experienced colleagues, by studying to pass relevant exams and by our experiences in practice.
Why then should anyone imagine that the other key skills of a profitable accountant can just be left to ‘common sense’?

Some people assume that all of the important non-technical skills can be developed merely through trial and error. And to an extent they can. In time. If we are willing to recognise what works and what doesn’t work and to adapt our behaviour accordingly. This is great as it means that no formal training is necessary.
Anyway, we know that older practitioners didn’t have any such training. Either it wasn’t around or they didn’t need it. But life was simpler back then. Accountants didn’t have to market themselves. There was less competition and clients had less idea as to what they could realistically expect from their accountant.

The world has changed. Clients are far more choosy now and can easily find a new accountant whenever the idea takes them.
It won’t surprise regular readers of this blog that I do not agree with the idea that it’s best to just learn from your mistakes.

Some people mistakenly assume that you can be naturally ‘good’ at things as though their experiences, background and training were irrelevant. Thus no more formal training is necessary.

Older partners and long established sole practitioners didn’t have such training. Anyone who needs training or support in ‘soft’ skills is not worthy of progression – of running a successful practice or becoming a full equity partner.  Is this true actually?

Another view is that these skills develop over time so no support or assistance is required.  If this is your perception I hope you don’t also believe that ‘Practice makes perfect’. This is a very misleading old adage. ‘Practice’ alone doesn’t make ‘perfect’.‘Practice’ makes ‘permanent’. And this is not always a good thing.
If you develop bad driving habits and practice driving, you won’t become a better driver. You will merely reinforce your bad driving habits.

Equally we have probably all experienced at least one senior professional who is an unpleasant selfish bully. They practiced their approach and ‘perfected’ it. But no one would suggest that such an approach is ideal.

And I have certainly met many sole practitioner accountants who haven’t achieved the success they deserve.
Typically this seems to be because they have adopted the ‘practice makes perfect’ philosophy.

If you’re not naturally brilliant at something you need to be able to do well, do you give up or take more lessons?
The questions to consider are:

  • Could anything be better in your practice?
  • Are you as successful as you deserve to be?
  • Will things change by themselves or do YOU need to do something different to bring about that change? And
  • Can you do it all by yourself?

If so, why haven’t you done it already? Not enough time? Or is it not a sufficient priority? Or maybe you would benefit from some outside stimulus to support your endeavours.

I have long been a believer in the importance of accountants developing what I now call their Key Business Skills.

If you sense there are gaps in your skill set and you’d like some tips as to where you could go to learn how to close the gap, let’s have a chat and I’ll see what I can suggest.

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