Mentoring at CPA firms fosters strong leaders
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Mentoring at CPA firms fosters strong leaders

Mar 01, 2023 · 3 min read · AICPA Insights Blog

When mentees participate in a mentorship, they gain valuable exposure from their mentors’ positive leadership traits. An effective mentorship can motivate them to become leaders.

This exposure to leadership is something millennials and Gen Z want from their employers.

Millennials and Gen Z workers cite leadership development and advancement opportunities as the top reasons they chose to work for their organizations, according to the Deloitte 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey. Another reason why 23% of respondents chose their current employer is the draw of a positive working environment where staff members feel valued.

Mentorships can check those boxes.

With the increased focus on leadership learning, development opportunities and positive firm environments, mentorship programs meet these demands and benefit the mentee, the mentor and the firm. Mentorship programs and relationships come in many forms, and how they operate depends on a few factors. Four common kinds of effective mentorship within a public accounting (PA) firm are one-on-one, group, reverse and peer.

Great mentorships do more than ensure the mentee can do their job. They additionally focus on developing confidence, empathy, critical thinking and other key skills needed for successful leaders at PA firms.

Personalized and focused instruction

One-on-one mentorships are common and offer the mentee more personalized attention. When a senior staff member pairs with a more junior staff member, they help grow the mentee’s knowledge base and skill set while adding valuable experiences that support their career development.

However, one-on-one mentorships are not solely for junior employees. Employees at every level can benefit from senior staff or leadership guidance — there is always something new to learn. Working with a mentor also improves overall job satisfaction. According to a CNBC/SurveyMonkey poll, 91% of mentees are happy with their jobs.

While the formal program could pair the duo, some senior staff members take on this role naturally and are always available to answer questions or chat.

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Great minds nurture each other

While a mentee can learn a lot in a traditional mentorship, group mentoring is unique because it enables mentees to learn from each other and bond over shared experiences. In these mixed-group settings, junior staff members discuss projects, opportunities or other relevant topics.

There are numerous ways to set up group mentorships. Often, a senior staff member is assigned to work with a small group of junior staff members. The meetings’ frequency could vary from weekly to once per month, depending on schedules and workloads. The senior leader could choose meeting topics, or mentees could guide each session based on their needs. Group settings are great for open discourse and creative problem-solving. They also bolster community within PA firms and foster a sense of belonging.

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A seat at the table for junior accountants

Reverse mentoring shakes up the process: a junior staff member mentors a senior staff member. These partnerships foster a multi-generational workplace and enable junior staff to take the lead. The mentor can share their expertise on technology or emerging finance trends, and senior leaders can gain new skills, insights and perspectives.

Reverse mentorship opportunities give novice accountants a voice in conversations that could drive change at their firms. This fosters both self-empowerment and a connection to the firm. According to the Deloitte survey, firms will better attract and retain talent with increased involvement opportunities.

Have a little help from a friend

Sharing perspectives with a peer who has similar perspectives and life experiences can be incredibly helpful. Peer mentoring partnerships pair two staff members at the same career stage to support each other’s personal and professional growth. Peer mentoring fosters a culture of co-learning where there may not be a designated mentor or mentee but an open forum to discuss issues, projects and other apt topics.

If senior leaders or staff members can’t participate as mentors, peer mentoring is often more accessible.

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Mentorship fosters leadership development

Not all staff members will be interested in formal leadership roles within the PA firm. Mentorship programs, however, offer a unique form of leadership and enable mentors to educate and motivate emerging staff members, hone their leadership skills and ensure the longevity of their profession. This exposure to their mentors’ leadership traits can also foster positive leadership learning and development in mentees and inspire them to mentor later in their tenure or to seek a future leadership role. This helps solidify the leadership future of the firm, too. Enrollment in leadership training can help mentors engage with their mentorship role and be more effective. With AICPA® & CIMA® Learning & Development subscription plans, teams of different sizes can upskill through on-demand learning that covers a wide range of competencies — digital, people, technical, business and leadership skills — and helps cultivate the next generation of firm leadership.

Beth Roessner, M.A.

Beth Roessner is a senior content writer at AICPA & CIMA, together as the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

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