"Learning and feedback are challenging for accounting firms"

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Culture meter for accountancy organizations

The learning ability of accounting firms and attention to professional development are insufficient, according to employees of the firms themselves. This is evident from the first report on the Cultuurmeter of the Dutch Association of Accountants (NBA). The Cultuurmeter is a questionnaire that should further help accountancy organizations to develop a quality-oriented culture within the organization.

The NBA started this questionnaire two years ago. The first analysis was published last month, based on 7,274 questionnaires completed by employees of 90 audit firms, without the Big Four. The conclusion: When it comes to quality, the culture in audit firms is not yet at the necessary level.

Striking outcomes

Of the eight culture themes in the questionnaire, 'the learning capacity in the organization and in the team' and the 'dialogue on professional development' score lowest in the eyes of our own employees.

Notable results are:

  • There is insufficient dialogue about quality;
  • The employee's opinion about quality is often not asked;
  • The functioning of the team is not always discussed;
  • Assignments are not always evaluated;
  • 360 degrees feedback is rarely used, managers are often not evaluated by employees;
  • Tensions in the team are often not discussed;
  • Employees often dare not indicate that their knowledge is inadequate;
  • Giving compliments is often not yet part of the culture.

The appeal of the accountant profession is declining and the pressure on quality is high, as is the workload. Where compliments and appreciation often fall behind and people do not always experience the reward as in balance with the work done, there is still a lot of work to be done.

What should be done then?

The learning capacity must increase: (self) reflection, vulnerability and feedback - and feedforward - must become much more part of the culture (feedforward emphasizes desirable and positive behavior in the future).

However, “culture” in itself does nothing, it is much more productive to look at behavior (patterns). I then arrive at the question:

Are employees allowed, able, and willing to contribute to a quality-oriented culture?

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"I can"

Employees must have the feeling that discussing their own knowledge and quality, and that of the team, managers, colleagues and the organization as a whole, is part of the culture. That even that is expected of them. That it is not actually accepted. That “I may” is actually “I must”.

Tone at the top

Just like a lot of behavior in organizations, this starts with the management or the board, the well-known “Tone at the top”.

They must indicate, in word and image, that they want to. And they must of course - without exception - also behave themselves: “practice what you preach”. So also ask for feedback yourself, also show that they change behavior if feedback gives cause to do so. That it is good with their own learning ability. Give compliments when things are going well. Discuss tensions. Be very attentive to any discrepancies between word and behavior within the organization, and intervene immediately if that occurs. And leave no opportunity unused to tell and emphasize that again and again.

This can be done, for example, by describing the desired behavior in a common language (or a code) and by highlighting good examples (role models) within the organization. Incidentally, a lot of research has been done into the conditions for such a code to work properly. Writing such a code alone is pointless, the creation process and implementation are crucial. See, for example, Ten Have.

If a board structurally lives and directs this, it creates a culture of space, trust, support and protection, a culture of learning and quality.

"I can"

If you know that you can (no: must), you should be able to. The organization must facilitate everyone in this. Many organizations still have an HR policy (and associated processes, systems and procedures) in this regard that leaves insufficient room for the employee to get started with feedback and learning. In addition, “I can” also means that employees have learned to give and receive feedback in a good and respectful manner. This is of course especially true for partners and managers. There is still profit to be made. That learning cannot only take place in practice. Precisely because we find this so difficult for all kinds of understandable reasons, people need to be trained in it.

"I want"

May and may be important conditions, but it is not enough. The employee must also want and dare. That is a question of attitude, of the right incentives and incentives. For example, an organization can encourage giving feedback and entering into conversations about quality by rewarding that behavior. By explicitly inviting people who (naturally or otherwise) do not or dare to do so, and by setting concrete goals on this point together with the employees. But also by confronting individuals and teams who have made mistakes with (giving feedback on!) A possible lack of feedback and learning culture. Systems guide behavior: assessing, rewarding and sanctioning have an effect on employee behavior.

In conclusion

Organizations need to do more than just report the importance of giving and receiving feedback, continuous learning, and engaging in conversations about quality. That is not enough to improve the dike. There is only a learning organization if it is allowed, must, able and willing to deliver quality, if individual, team and organization are anchored in this way in culture, (example) behavior, communication, dialogue and systems. Stock Photo - Stock Photo - Stock Photos

I hope that accountancy organizations, but also the NBA Public Interest Steering Group, which recently published the Audit Change Agenda, can use this approach in the further development of a quality-oriented culture.

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