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Training the MAS practitioner.


Acquiring new clients and, more important, retaining current ones are critical to the success of all CPAs - from sole practitioners to the largest firms. Competition for clients is fierce and everyone is looking for an edge. One edge that's often overlooked is training for the CPA in consulting skills.

Most firms provide training to their consulting staff, either in internally developed programs or ones purchased from outside sources. However, most of this training is industry- or function-driven to support the practitioner's current proficiencies or future goals.

The new consultants (including internal company consultants as well as those with CPA firms) usually are able to obtain technical training, but what about general consulting skills training? What about project management, business development and human resource issues? Some firms provide such training, but are they providing what's needed when it's needed? Both experienced CPAs and those new to consulting need more than on-the-job training to become proficient.


A new consultant should be aware of all aspects of an MAS engagement. As a consulting professional advances in his or her MAS career, this awareness should lead to mastery. On-the-job training and previous experience and education contribute to achieving mastery, but the process may be accelerated and skills improved with appropriate and timely training.

New full-time consultants usually receive some general and basic MAS training during the first year of practice. This is sometimes referred to as core training. Within about three to five years, they become managers, at which time they receive management training.

Professionals have been and will continue to be successful using this method, but it makes more sense to fill the gap between initial and management MAS training. Technical training alone does not achieve this goal. The following is an example of the kind of strategically planned MAS core training program that should be offered.


A typical approach provides initial MAS training that may last a day or two - and may even be a self-study program - within the first few weeks on the job. This initial training addresses the more routine issues in the firm's consulting practice, including the following:

* The history and structure of the firm.

* The MAS provided.

* The professional consulting environment.

* Policies and procedures.

* Career planning.

* Available in-house resources and how they are used in practice.

This training also presents any ethical or legal issues that pertain to the consultant's new firm and the accounting profession. Although these topics aren't directly related to MAS, they provide useful background information.

Some of these initial training programs also offer an overview of an MAS engagement cycle and other activities directly related to the client engagement process.


The next level of core training usually occurs three to six months after the employee is hired, allowing him or her time to have become familiar with the basics of a client engagement. The detailed training for engagement-related activities is usually reserved for a more intense, instructor-led session lasting from one to two weeks. The MAS engagement-related skills provided in this core training may include

* Engagement planning and control.

* Problem definition.

* Preproposal - proposal overview.

* Objectives, scope and approach.

* Fact-finding and problem analysis.

* Diagnostic interviewing.

* Problem solving.

* Selecting and selling recommendations.

These topics are illustrated with actual client examples or case studies. The training may go beyond daytime class hours, using the evening hours for work on the examples and case studies and to stimulate the intensity and time demands of an actual engagement.

Often this phase of training includes review and further development of some of the issues covered in the employee's early training. Subjects such as group dynamics, business and practice development, performance appraisal, professional conduct and development also may be covered. The purpose is to assist the novice consultant in developing a practical, hands-on understanding of the engagement process that is broader in scope than any specific industry- or function-related problems he will be asked to solve.

Many firms rely on in-house instructors, tapping into their successful and unsuccessful experiences, while others use external trainers to provide expertise in specific areas. Good examples are found in the national MAS training programs at Ohio State University, Columbus. These programs, cosponsored by the AICPA and Ohio State, include a course on developing MAS skills for new consultants and an advanced MAS skills course for the experienced practitioner.

Often the best courses combine internal and external instructors. Firms choose different instructors to fit their specific needs.


Some of the topics covered in management training are very similar to the basic initial MAS core training, but they are given from a management perspective. The subjects in this training might include

* Issues in engagement management.

* General management problems.

* Performance appraisals.

* Practice development basics.

* Decision making.

* Group dynamics and team development.

* Active problem solving.

* Billing issues.

Some larger firms surveyed their new managers and discovered, not too surprisingly, that many of them felt very comfortable with their technical backgrounds and industry orientations but were very apprehensive about their new managerial and leadership roles. The topics below help a staff member become a good manager who is able to market and sell. Too often, individuals promoted to manager are expected suddenly to become super salespersons, adept managers of staff and clients, proficient communicators and exceptional leaders.

Topics introduced for new managers may include

* Management roles and responsibilities.

* Conflict management.

* Developing a leadership approach.

* Effective delegation.

* Motivating professionals.

* Effective communication styles.

* Client service.

* Managing professional relationships.

* Negotiation basics.


The three- to five-year lapse between initial core training and management training is too long to work without proper guidance. There's a lot to be said for on-the-job training, but the process can be improved greatly if additional guidance is provided along the way. Effective training should complement the new consultant's work experience and focus on developing the following skills on the job:


1. Self-motivation.

2. Validation.

3. Self-confidence.

4. Recognizing opportunities.

Communications skills

1. Identifying perceptions and misperceptions.

2. Good listening.

3. Persuasion.

4. Understanding feedback.

Relationship management

1. Consultant roles.

2. Client motivation.

3. Client concerns.

4. Assertiveness.

5. Conflict resolution.

Handling change

1. Concepts and key roles.

2. Dealing with positive and negative reactions.

3. Dealing with transition.

4. Resistance.

Selling and marketing

1. The right sales attitude.

2. Business development hierarchy.

3. The buying process.

4. Prospecting.

5. Cultivating.

6. Personal selling skills.

A number of these subjects resemble those already presented because this phase of training bridges the gap between initial and management training. The point is to provide this training just when consultants are beginning to experience challenging and demanding situations, not when they are already managers or partners in the firm.

Much of this training is well suited to simulation and role playing and even greater benefit is derived when staff members use their training during a conflict or while working with prospective clients. This creates a lasting impression and allows the new consultant to relate the training to real-life situations.


It's important for any training program to have a planned approach that is relevant and timely. For MAS practitioners, this is even more important because the training reinforces the most important components of a successful MAS engagement. And that translates into quality client service!

John Zitelli, senior manager-professional development, KPMG Peat Marwick, executive office, and John M. Tucker, partner, KPMG Peat Marwick, Cleveland, describe ways to improve the MAS training that some firms provide their full-time consultants. Their insights are helpful to any practitioner who is aiming to increase his or her consulting expertise.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Institute of CPA's
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:management advisory services
Author:Tucker, John M.
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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