In the ever-evolving landscape of business, accountants have often been confined to the stereotype of being solely data-driven professionals obsessed with numbers. However, as the demands of the profession shift, so does the accountant's role. Today, they are indispensable advisors, requiring a comprehensive skill set that transcends numerical expertise to include vital human (soft) skills. Bridging this gap mandates a commitment to ongoing education and development.  

Within our Firm's Knowledge Management Group (KMG), I have the privilege of spearheading initiatives aimed at enriching our accountants and colleagues with essential human skills. Through meticulously crafted programs that marry technical proficiency with crucial human proficiencies such as communication and collaboration, our goal is to foster a culture of adaptability and excellence, populated by professionals adept in multiple dimensions of expertise.  

Crafting Well-Rounded Professionals  

Despite the misconception that certain skills are intangible or innate, I passionately believe that honing human skills requires deliberate practice. The challenge lies in translating this belief into action, particularly within a corporate context like an accounting firm.  

Recently, I had the opportunity to engage in a seminar hosted by the National Association of Certified Public Accountants in Education (NACPAE), centered on Outcome-Based Education (OBE). The principles discussed resonated deeply with our firm's ethos. OBE underscores the significance of clearly defined learning objectives, dovetailing seamlessly with our aim of bridging the gap between technical and human skills in a measurable manner. Embracing OBE allows us to establish clear objectives and tailor our programs accordingly from inception.  

In a thought-provoking Forbes article titled “Fixing Skills Gaps and Revamping the Six Stages of The Training Cycle,” author Samir Hassan examined the following stages of the training process: 

  • Building and Mapping Competencies  
  • Assigning Courses  
  • Skills Benchmarking  
  • Results Evaluation  
  • Matching Outcomes to Competencies  
  • Return on Investment (ROI) Assessment  

While these stages traditionally emphasize technical skills, integrating human skills into each stage remains an ongoing challenge. For instance, assessing intangible values like empathy in benchmarking or determining the ROI on such attributes can be intricate. Hence, a holistic application of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) is indispensable. Incorporating OBE into performance management systems, training programs, and client evaluations enables a comprehensive assessment and ensures the holistic development of human skills.  

Our people development approach is anchored in the learning domains of Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes (KSA), translated into competencies resulting in excellent job performance. This is alongside the utilization of experiential, social, and formal learning. We ensure that we nurture not only proficient accountants but also well-rounded professionals.  

Fostering Communication, Collaboration, and Continuous Learning  

In today's interconnected work environment, modern accountants frequently encounter scenarios that demand robust human skills. Mere expertise in accounting principles is insufficient; their effectiveness hinges on their ability to communicate seamlessly with clients and colleagues whilst collaborating effectively within teams.  

Employees are instrumental in embodying a firm's mission and vision. As someone entrusted with their training and development, aligning the skills we impart with our firm's values is paramount.  

It is imperative to acknowledge that each organization prioritizes different facets. Thus, tailoring training to align with your organization's vision is imperative. The skills valued by each organization are not static. For instance, our firm's vision, "To be the preferred business advisor of dynamic organizations," underscores our emphasis on not only accounting proficiency but also human skills such as leadership, relationship-building, gravitas, empathy, and professionalism among our accountants.  

Equipping the Next Generation  

As the accounting profession undergoes transformation, our approach to grooming the next generation of accountants evolves in tandem. While recent graduates may possess theoretical accounting knowledge, they often lack the practical experience crucial for application. Moreover, essential human skills, such as adept client relationship management and effective communication, are frequently underdeveloped.  

A vital initiative for organizations is immersing these new hires in an environment conducive to experimentation and learning from mistakes. Cultivating a culture of growth and continual learning is paramount.  

In our Firm, we operationalize this philosophy through various methods, including:  

  • Professional Development Programs: These programs aim to foster personal growth, improve job performance, and support career advancement. These programs encompass a wide range of activities tailored to meet the needs of employees at various stages of their careers and across different functional areas. 
  • Brownbag Sessions: These gatherings during lunchtime encompass diverse topics presented by both internal and external experts. From industry updates and technological advancements to practical human skills development, pop culture discussions, sustainability insights, DEIB, and trending topics. These sessions offer employees a platform to broaden their knowledge, gain insights, and engage with professionals in a relaxed atmosphere.  
  • Coaching and Mentoring: Our coaching and mentoring program pairs seasoned with novice employees, fostering a mutually enriching learning dynamic. Coaches helps coachees uncover their untapped potential. Mentors guide mentees in navigating the firm's culture, offer practical advice on professional interactions, and exemplify effective communication and collaboration. This structured system accelerates the learning curve for employees while bolstering their confidence and skill set. This serves as one of the backbones of the firm’s performance management. 
  • Scenario-Based Learning: The Knowledge Management Group frequently employs scenario-based learning and simulations to provide a secure space for new hires to experiment with various communication styles, collaboration strategies, and problem-solving techniques. Encouraging risk-taking and facilitating learning from both successes and setbacks, new hires cultivate collaboration, leadership, excellence, agility, respect, responsibility, and the human skills indispensable for flourishing as accountants.  

The Power of Human Skills  

In today's fast-paced landscape, thriving demands more than just technical expertise. Alongside a solid grasp of the technical facets of our professions, cultivating human skills is imperative for excelling in the dynamic environments we encounter. While formal training and effective knowledge management play pivotal roles in bridging this gap, I urge you to embrace the ethos of continual self-improvement. Learning has never been more accessible, with a wealth of information readily available, but the impetus for growth must originate from within the learner. Keep in mind that your most potent asset is your own curiosity and dedication to personal development. 


As published in The Manila Times, dated 15 May 2024