How to Create a Talent Development Plan for Your Accounting Firm

March 22, 2017 Jillean Kearney

Great practitioners recognize that hiring the right people is an essential aspect of their firm’s growth and development. They also know that keeping the right people onboard is just as important as finding them. These practitioners create and follow through on plans to support the career advancement of their employees.

It’s important to note that before you can identify your firm’s current and long-term talent development needs, you must first determine what you want your firm to look like five years in the future. This means defining a vision for your practice. To help you out, we put together detailed steps for creating a business vision – read that here.

Secondly, you will also have to create an organization chart for your future firm. In it, you will document each role that you will need to fill in order to make your vision a reality – check that out here.

Side note:  we spoke to LiveCA's Chad Davis (Co-founder) and Chris Frame (Onboarding and Training Manager) about how their growing firm hires top talent and builds an awesome culture.

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Now that those two planning initiatives are out of the way, follow these four steps to build a scalable talent development plan that works.

The 4 Steps to Build a Talent Development Plan

To start building your talent development plan, consider which of the roles that exist in your future organization chart can be filled by your current staff. Examine:

  • Potential career progressions for current employees
  • How and which roles can be expanded to adopt new responsibilities
  • Which staff members can and want to graduate to entirely new roles

In each of the above scenarios, you will need a plan to help each employee succeed as they grow into their new position. Your plan will outline how each employee will progress, how quickly and how success will be measured.

To create your plan, work through the below steps for each employee. We’re using a real-life example of how a bookkeeper turned into a fully-fledged tech ops leader with the guidance and support of their firm’s advisor.

1. Identify Key Learning Objectives for Each Employee

For each of your employees, list out the skills and competencies that need to be nurtured and developed in order for their future role to be performed effectively – then, set an objective for each one.

For a bookkeeper/burgeoning tech ops leader, their objectives could look like this – all to be achieved by year-end:

Objective 1 – Be able to successfully and independently onboard new clients to a firm’s tech stack.

Objective 2 – Be the expert on all things related to the firm’s workflow, and comprehensively understand every step and aspect of it.

Objective 3 – Fully understand how technology integrates into the firm’s workflow and be able to identify new technology that will increase efficiency.

2. Identify Which Learning Activities Are Required

For each of the objectives that have been identified, list out the training activities that need to be completed to ensure that each one can be achieved. Consider industry conferences, online courses, networking events, vendor training and educational reading materials.

Using our example of bookkeeper > tech ops leader, learning activities may look like:

Objective 1 – Onboard new clients to firm’s tech stack

  • Complete training/certification courses with each of the software vendors that make up the firm’s tech stack
  • Master the six-stage workflow adoption curve to ensure that the bookkeeper fully understands the onboarding process that firms and clients go through when new tech is introduced

Objective 2 – Become the firm’s workflow expert

  • Interview the firm’s accountants, bookkeepers and clients to fully understand all steps in the workflow from all stakeholder perspectives
  • Create a workflow diagram to identify strengths and weaknesses in firm's current workflow

Objective 3 – Understand how technology integrates within firm’s workflow

  • Attend a cloud accounting conference to take part in sessions specifically about about new apps and workflow trends
  • Test the capabilities of each app that is part of the firm's workflow

3. Map Out Timing and Cost of Talent Development

Your talent development plan should include deadlines for when each of your outlined objectives should be completed. It should also include an estimation of what each learning activity will cost.

To estimate the total amount of time involved for each learning activity, identify when courses, webinars, etc. are scheduled to occur. For activities that are not event-oriented and do not need to be penciled into a calendar (like reading or doing research), estimate how long the activity should take and when it can reasonably be completed by, while also considering the other demands on the bookkeeper’s time.

To determine costs, use the actual price of each learning activity (conferences, online courses). Factor in travel, accommodation and any purchases, like software or training materials, that are needed. You may also want to track the total time spent on learning activities against hourly salary wages to get a full picture of development costs.

Here are a couple examples from our bookkeeper > tech ops leader use case:

Training/certification courses with tech stack vendors

  • Time: half day/vendor x 5 vendors 
  • End date = Jan 31
  • Cost = hourly wage for 2.5 days

Interview firm’s accountants, bookkeepers and clients    

  • Time: 1 hour/person – let’s say x 12 people
  • End date = March 7
  • Cost = hourly wage for 1.5 days

Adding up the the costs – in both time and financial expense – for each activity provides you with both a solid plan of action for growing your firm and a talent development budget that can be scaled and iterated as your business evolves.

Pro tip: A good rule of thumb for allocating budget to talent development is investing three percent of an employee’s salary on training. It’s important to ensure that talent development budget is being spent in the right places to ensure that all stakeholders benefit.

Before committing to specific activities, ensure that the total amount spent will be less than the expected return to the business once, for example, the bookkeeper has transitioned to the tech ops leader role. If the total cost of development for one role is $7,000 over the course of one year, the advisor needs to make sure that the resulting efficiencies in their firm will save more than that cost going forward.

4. Define Goals for Each Objective

Establishing quantifiable goals for each one of your objectives will provide you and your employees with a clear path to success. A quantifiable goal serves as validation that each objective has been completed as best as it could have been. A certain test score for an educational course, for example, is a great example of the kind of goal that will strengthen your talent development plan.

Examples of bookkeeper > tech ops goals:

Objective 1 – Onboard new clients to firm’s tech stack

Goal: By August 31, the bookkeeper will have onboarded a new client to the firm's tech stack, and the client has fully adopted firm's workflow.

Objective 2 – Become the firm’s workflow expert

Goal: By June 1, the bookkeeper will have created a comprehensive diagram of the firm’s workflow and iterated based on internal feedback.

Objective 3 – Understand how technology integrates within firm’s workflow

Goal: By November 31, the bookkeeper will have identified one new piece of technology that will increase the efficiency of the firm’s workflow – and they will have researched and chosen a vendor.

Estimate how long it will take to demonstrate proficiency in a skill after the learning is complete. Make sure to build in more time then you think might be necessary. 

Putting it All Together

Your completed talent development plan will guide you as you develop your growing team and firm. Track your progress against the plan that you have created on a regular basis. Make adjustments as needed.

Keep in mind that people learn best when training is integrated with their work. Look for opportunities to put what they are learning into action. Encourage discussion amongst staff about what they are discovering. Get them talking about how best to implement new skills within your firm. The more you make the learning hands-on, the better it will stick.

Remember that development is a process, not an event. It is flexible and adjusts to changing needs. Most importantly, don’t forget your role as an advisor in the execution. Schedule regular coaching sessions to check-in on progress. Ask what they need and work to remove roadblocks.


LiveCA, a cloud accounting firm +  Xero Platinum Partner, joined us for a deep dive session on tactical hiring strategies and building an awesome culture.

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