Date posted: 2/05/2017 2 min read

Bolster your team with a soft skills approach

How a focus on soft skills can foster a creative, collaborative work environment that will help young CAs find their voice.

In brief

  • Business leaders need a soft skills approach that is collaborative and aligns with core values.
  • Knowing your team and understanding the communication styles they respond best to is key.
  • A creative environment will build strong foundations to house good ideas.

Accounting firms, and the chartered accountants who work for them, are experiencing a revolution as generational change, diversity, and digitisation combine to impose new business models on the firm, team, and clients.  

Firms large and small are responding to these challenges in a manner that reinvigorates them as attractive places to work.  

The response is based not on technical skills, or remuneration, but on soft skills. Skills designed to align the hopes and dreams of young CAs, middle management, and partners, with those of the firm – and that’s a two-way street.  

Russell Windsor CA, Partner and People & Culture Leader at PwC Auckland, says technological advances have ushered in new staff training methodologies and ways to interact with clients.  

“Fully aware of the challenges ahead, our partners have been embarking on their own coaching and soft skills training,” Windsor says.  

“We have an upwards feedback programme, and embed our values into all we do.  

The response is based not on technical skills, or remuneration, but on soft skills. Skills designed to align the hopes and dreams of young CAs.

“It’s not just soft skills, but leadership abilities and how the partners role-model desired behaviours. They need to engender creativity, problem solving, and adaptability in their teams – to nurture and allow young people to bring their contributions forward. It’s about how to lead and create the right environment.”  

Windsor makes the point that those same skill sets are needed on the client side too.  

“When we take solutions to clients, we do so on a one firm basis [and] bring forward a range of solutions from across the firm. Therefore we need people who are able to collaborate, not only within their team, but across the firm, and multiple disciplines.  

“The other important skill, especially with the younger generation, is collaboration. It’s no longer, ‘I know it all’, but, ‘how do I collaborate with the young, tech-savvy, innovative, passionate team members?’ This requires an ability to step back from one’s own agenda, and to listen.”

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The importance of soft skills

Similar focus on the importance of soft skills can be found in smaller regional firms too. David Hutchings FCA, senior partner at AFS & Associates in Bendigo, Victoria, believes that engagement and relationships are key to a team’s success.  

“If employees have good working relationships with their bosses they will be more inclined to ask questions and seek clarification to ensure they are delivering what is required in the right way,” Hutchings says.  

“Engaging employees in the culture of the firm is very important. If team members can see that the firm’s leaders are role-modelling the culture and conduct expectations well, then the team is less inclined to feel pressure to act outside these boundaries. Walk the talk.”  

Knowing your team and understanding the communication styles they respond best to, is also key. Business leaders need to vary their communication style to suit. This will ensure that your team members are more comfortable and your message will be communicated in a way they understand. It will also help them feel comfortable enough to ask any questions they may have. Hutchings says it’s important to understand what motivates each of your team members.  

“If it’s purely to impress you, at whatever the cost, then this needs to be managed and expectations set,” he says.  

“Providing feedback to all team members in a way that they feel valued will show them that they do not need to cut corners to get feedback. Take time to communicate.”  

Command and control no more

The days of command and control have well and truly passed as a people management strategy are long gone, according to Raechel Ford, company director of ilume, a leading ICC accredited coaching organisation in Auckland. As a result, Ford says that senior partners in the top firms are now retraining with a “pull and ask” model of people management, which is essentially the opposite of “push and tell” management.  

“The great thing is that partners recognise straight away the benefits of this approach,” Ford says.  

“They engage, implement and reap the benefits. Senior partners tell us they used to expend a lot of personal energy always having the answers. Now they are much more comfortable leading collaborative and diverse teams in problem solving.  

“The pay-off is that the soft skills approach fundamentally increases engagement. We have seen quite substantial shifts in culture, leading to increased business and profits.”