Grace Guo, ACMA, CGMA
Grace Guo, ACMA, CGMA

Developing talent strategically

Coaching, experience management, and an emphasis on technical skills are among the elements of EY’s strategy to overcome talent development challenges in emerging markets.

By Sabine Vollmer

Talent development in emerging markets can involve unique challenges — cultural distinctions, language barriers, education system differences, and regulatory structure complexity are but a few.

EY, which employs more than 212,000 professionals worldwide, takes a strategic approach to developing talent in each market. It’s a strategy many companies could adapt for their own use.

The strategy rests on a global framework, called “EYU”, whose pillars are 10% learning, 70% experience, and 20% coaching. “The framework is the same across the global EY organisation, but we have to make sure the learning, experience, and coaching are relevant to the local market,” said Grace Guo, ACMA, CGMA, EY’s director of learning and development for Greater China.

EY’s global framework calls for a structured learning curriculum that starts with technical competency building. Junior staff, for example, start out gaining technical knowledge related to the specific professional service offerings of their service lines. When they move on to senior staff, then managers, senior managers, and partners, their learning curriculum will be enriched by content related to other skills such as problem-solving, data analytics, project management, communication, team leadership, business development, and risk management.

Experience management plays a significant part in EY’s talent development, through which EY guides its talent to apply what they absorbed in learning programmes to client engagements so they can accumulate knowledge and industry expertise in a structured manner.

Coaching, ranging from informal on-the-job discussions to formal career conversations, brings together the learning and experiential elements of the EYU framework. It helps to enhance the effectiveness of learning and make the engagement experiences meaningful in developing skillsets.

The emphasis on technical know-how shifts to the development of soft skills once assistant auditors move up from junior to senior staff, then manager, senior manager, and partner. Soft skills include questioning techniques, because auditors need to interview their clients to get and analyse information. As team leaders, they need delegation and project management skills, and as managers they need communications skills to interact with and understand people with different styles and needs.

Ensuring that accounting professionals are well-rounded and are capable of providing high-quality services is important in any economy but particularly in emerging markets such as China, where along with the country’s historical economic reform and opening-up policies, the accountancy profession was revitalised and reconstructed in the past 30 years.

To set up a talent development programme that applies global best practices and addresses challenges specific to emerging markets, Guo suggested the following:

Incorporate emerging market insights in the design phase

Involve subject-matter experts from emerging markets in the design of global solutions to ensure learning and development programmes focus not just on mature markets. Make their participation, feedback, insights, and ideas count in designing solutions — for example, the way learning is offered, such as instructor-led or other formats — as well as in what type of technical and industry sector knowledge is being taught.

To get talent ready for the job, staff should be exposed to course content that is relevant to a particular market. For example, technical lessons for EY auditors in mainland China address Chinese accounting standards in addition to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). “We analyse GAAP differences along the way of their convergence journey, and we help our talent understand different companies operating in China. What will be the market dynamics, and how will they impact operations. What business risks will be reflected in the financial statements so they can do the necessary analysis to identify the risk areas,” Guo said.

Customise on-the-job experiences

Know-how develops as people apply their knowledge. To manage any challenges, coordinate on-the-job experiences with global learning and development goals in ways that benefit emerging markets. In China, for example, the challenge is hands-on problem-solving. Soft skills development aims to manage that challenge. EY employees in China are encouraged to speak up, have confidence in sharing ideas, and allow themselves to be creative.

The coaching sessions are meant to help guide talent through day-to-day job activities and in their daily behaviour, including how to make presentations, delegate, ask questions, and manage projects.

Establish monitoring mechanisms and track talent development

Monitoring indicators for talent development are set based on discussions between the business and talent development team and are reviewed annually. Customised technical and soft skills learning and structured on-the-job experiences that are part of the global talent development framework support the monitoring indicators, which target diversification as well as expertise.

For example, young auditors in China should work with at least three managers to gain diversified experiences, have engagement experiences with at least two accounting standards to broaden their exposure, deepen their relevant knowledge with clients of at least two sizes, and work with their coaches about 200 hours per year. EY audit employees in China should be able to, for example, handle most of the tasks in a typical audit cycle within their first three years to prepare them to lead an audit engagement independently as the manager in charge within five years. With their further promotion, EY employees can choose to become industry experts or shape their careers. Guo was an auditor and a technical trainer delivering auditing and accounting courses before she transitioned to learning and development full time.

Each of those agreed talent development indicators has a target attached, and progress is measured by how many employees have fulfilled the requirements of each type of experience. This process allows the business to react quickly and effectively to support the advancement of its talent.

Also, coaching experiences are critical, as talent will be guided by their coaches to discuss and establish development plans.

Incorporate clients’ feedback in talent development

Asking clients about their experience with employees is part of EY’s structured talent learning and development. One of the development programmes requires senior managers to assess client satisfaction in various ways. Senior managers may conduct a formal survey or have informal conversations with client personnel, Guo said.

Clients may be asked whether they are satisfied that EY understood their expectations; whether the EY team assigned to the engagement had the appropriate skills and expertise and worked well in a client’s environment; whether EY sets, communicates, and meets targets and deadlines; how likely the client is to recommend EY; and how EY can improve.

“All we do here is develop our people to develop our business,” Guo said. “We see it as a ‘win-win’ for both EY’s talent as individuals and EY as an organisation pursuing its business goals and ‘building a better working world’ purpose.”