Culture Corner: Learning new skills – still important?

Each month, we interview a Richter partner to gain insight into how our leadership finds balance and focus in a demanding job, and what soft skills contribute to career success.

When it comes to learning new skills, many people have no idea where to begin, given the myriad training and topics available. This month, we spoke with partner Audrey Mercier: not only does she have her CPA auditor, CA, she has also earned a CFE, CFF and a CBV. Join us to learn from her experience in developing a balanced learning plan, and to put her advice into practice to support sustainable learning.

In today’s business world, how important is it for professionals to keep learning new skills? Is it more important for a junior professional?

Given the speed of evolution and the globalization, it is key for any professional—seasoned or junior—to keep learning new skills. If you don’t continue to expand your skills and keep them up to date, your expertise quickly becomes obsolete. The need to learn new things doesn’t change based on the stage of your career, it’s more the topics that evolve and change. Continuous learning is key to being able to meet the challenges we face in our day-to-day work. What’s more, learning is a great way to bring happiness to your life.

How do you determine what skills you will learn next? Do you have a learning plan set for the years ahead?

Yes and no. I don’t have a specific learning plan set in stone at this point in my career. I adjust my learning plan based on Richter’s needs, the needs of my practice, the profession’s regulatory changes, and my own personal interests. But my recommendation to young professionals would be to establish a short- and medium-term learning plan. In the Audit division, we’ve created a five-year roadmap for our team members, allowing them to acquire all the skills and knowledge they need to achieve their learning objectives by the time they become managers. In our firm, a good learning plan should provide a balance between the different internal accountability pillars, between technical skills and human skills and between different topics to ensure well-rounded professional development.

“The need to learn new things doesn’t change based on the stage of your career, it’s more the topics that evolve and change.”

Should the focus be on technical skills or human skills?

It would be a mistake to focus on one more than the other since both are essential. Technical skills allow a business professional to carry out their mandates and projects. Early in your career, technical skills take up a large part of your learning. But when advising clients, human skills are indispensable. For instance, with well-honed communication skills and the ability to explain information in simple terms, a business professional can more easily leverage their technical skills for their clients’ benefit. Managers who develop their human skills can more effectively share their expertise with team members, which in turn helps boost the group’s overall performance. So it’s in the business professional’s best interest to vary their learning activities based on their career phase and objectives.

What are a business professional’s must-have skills in order to succeed?

These days, it is crucial to develop one’s technology skills, since technology is central to the opportunities and challenges faced by our practice and our clients. With artificial intelligence and data analysis, we’ll be able to expand our service offering and, for example, provide our clients with more accurate and up-to-date information. Data automation, blockchain and cryptocurrencies are other examples of technologies that we need to understand because they are already impacting the accounting and financial sectors. As for human skills, I think it’s important to develop your communication skills and your ability to adapt to change, and to hone your business acumen.

You are a CPA auditor and CA, and you also have your CFE, CFF and CBV designations. What are your tips for making it easier to learn new skills?

It’s important to cultivate your curiosity, which is a valuable asset in acquiring skills: it’s what motivates you to learn new things! I think my curiosity has been the driving force behind my desire and passion for learning new skills.

Another key element is diligence: you have to be able to set time aside to learn. My skills development has always been based on the premise of “consistent work.” I study on a regular basis throughout the semester, working at it consistently. Studying for an exam at the last minute does not result in long-term, value-added learning. I was lucky to learn this at a young age from my mother, who displayed extraordinary discipline, and it was reinforced at my high school, Collège Saint-Hilaire, where teaching us to work consistently was a priority.

I also sit on committees that work on new regulations and emerging issues, and I lead learning sessions to force myself to learn new skills. I know that when I get involved and make commitments to others, it’s easier to stay disciplined.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received had to do with life in general (not just business). It came from my father, who did not have the opportunity to go to university and who learned on the job. He told me to take one thing that I liked from each person I worked with and try to incorporate it into my own management style. Another piece of advice that stuck with me was from my high school principal. In his opinion, a principal has to “walk the floor” to get the true pulse of the school on a daily basis. That’s the only way to really know how things are going and to react in a timely fashion. To this day, I make sure I walk my floor every day without exception!


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