Human resources experts in accounting have noted a drastic decrease in soft skills, especially communication skills, over the course of the past decade. A lack of strong communication skills impacts everything from client satisfaction to employee turnover. The largest accounting firms in the nation have a steep turnover rate of 17.2 percent per year, and one in five of those firms has a turnover rate hovering at 20 percent.
Finding a solution to high turnover is essential, and some accounting pros have pointed to the need to improve workplace communication skills in order to decrease turnover. Industry heavyweight Bill Sheridan noted at a recent conference that improving soft skills including communication, writing and critical thinking should be a top priority for accounting firms of all sizes.
For accounting firms, helping employees develop strong communication skills may sound like a tough challenge. Thankfully, mastering a few strategies can help increase communication skills significantly and may even be helpful in reducing employee turnover. Here are seven communication strategies that any business or firm can use.
Understand the Full Spectrum of Communication Skills
The ability to speak well is what most people think of when they hear the term communication skills. However, being a good communicator is about more than just speaking well. Experts point to eight essential communication skills that include
- verbal skills,
- listening skills,
- writing skills,
- technological communication skills,
- social graces,
- body language,
- emotional IQ, and
- grooming and dress.
Create a handout that covers these eight essential skills, or post them in a prominent place in the office. Letting employees know what communication skills actually encompass is a great first step to helping them master essential soft skills.
Talk in Person
Communicating via email has become increasingly popular in American business over the past two decades. Unfortunately, sitting behind a computer all day can lead to serious impairments in overall communication skills. Encourage employees to get up, move around and talk to their colleagues face to face on a daily basis. Short team meetings are a good way to encourage employees to speak with one another in person. It’s also great for firm leaders to visit employee work spaces to discuss tasks and projects whenever possible.
Encourage Participation in Speaking-Focused Organizations
Many Millenials have poor communication skills because they’ve never been given the opportunity to practice them. The Toastmasters group and similar organizations allow professionals to practice speaking while providing practical training on communications. Joining an organization such as Toastmasters is one of the best ways to improve communication skills, so it goes to follow that encouraging firm members to participate in a speaking organization is a great way to gain soft skills. Accounting firms can even create their own Toastmasters clubs or run meetings in a similar fashion in-house in order to provide opportunities for staff to improve their speaking skills.
Focus on Listening
There’s no doubt that listening is one of the most important communication skills of all. Unfortunately, it’s a skill that’s largely fallen by the wayside in modern business. Model the value of listening to what others are saying and asking questions to clarify what they mean. Encourage employees to listen actively to their colleagues and others with whom they work. This is a particularly important skill for employees who work with clients who may not know industry jargon or be able to articulate the services or help that they need.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
When employees and firm leaders only ask “yes or no” questions, they only get “yes or no” answers. That can have a negative impact on communications and can put a damper on creative solutions to workplace problems too. Instead of asking close-ended questions all the time, opt for open-ended questions. Asking what solutions do you think we can find to this problem? is much more inviting than simply asking do you want to use strategy A or strategy B to solve this problem? Modeling how to ask open-ended questions will help employees learn to do the same and can improve the overall workplace environment.
Pay Attention to Body Language and Tone of Voice
Speaking face to face with others is about more than what’s said. It’s about the messages that are being sent through body language and tone of voice too. Pay attention to how posture, demeanor and voice impact listeners. Model positive body language and always adopt a friendly, welcoming tone of voice.
Invest in Communications Training
It’s important to remember that employees who lack soft skills won’t develop them overnight. A strong training program is essential to empowering and guiding employees. Prioritize communications training, and encourage employees to get plenty of hands-on practice with the skills that they learn.
Remember that nothing is more important than asking firm or company leaders to model strong communication skills. Of course, it’s also important to focus on soft skills during the hiring process. Letting employees know what’s expected in terms of communication skills sets the stage for a positive work environment.