Many companies want accountants and finance professionals who are strategic thinkers. But that’s not happening at most companies.
A study by Robert Half Management Resources (roberthalfmr.com) in 2016 indicates 86 percent of CFOs value strategic thinking.
Thirty percent consider strategic thinking invaluable. But only 46 percent provide appropriate training.
Indeed, another study by advisory firm CEB (CEBglobal.com) of 2,200 finance professionals at dozens of international companies value strategic thinking but they’re not doing enough about it.
The CEB report says finance professionals vary in skills and there are five competency categories:
Doer. These behaviors included strong functional expertise and ability to break down problems into manageable tasks.
Learner. These behaviors included seeking feedback for own performance, looking for opportunities to improve, and asking for help when appropriate.
Strategist. These behaviors included strong understanding of business operations and discussing financial performance in terms of key value drivers.
Persuader. These behaviors included articulating views clearly, challenging business assumptions, and adapting and tailoring communication style.
Builder. These behaviors included creating vision and fostering buy-in, developing people and talent pools, and setting business-aligned goals for the team.
Unfortunately, while builder, strategist, and persuader professionals deliver more value for effective decision-making, such skills aren’t prevalent. Most companies, instead, only have doer and learner competencies.
So how can finance professionals meet needs of their employers in dynamic marketplaces?
CEB suggests six strategies:
1. Screen applicants differently
In interviewing job candidates, ask them to give a demonstration that go beyond their awareness of traditional accounting and finance practices.
Give them a set of data and information, and ask them to make a presentation that will give you an idea about how they assimilate the information, develop strategies and communicate their ideas.
2. Evaluate the candidates’ communication skills
Develop communication metrics that will help you assess the applicants’ abilities. Then, ask the candidates to make a presentation to your team for evaluation purposes.
3. Coordinate with the human resources department
CEB reports 63 percent of finance professionals aren’t confident that HR people don’t fully understand the goals of finance. Fifty-seven percent of HR professionals say their counterparts in finance don’t grasp how recruiting works.
Both departments must make a greater effort to communicate and coordinate their activities.
4. Launch leadership training as early as possible
Don’t wait until a finance person is promoted. Provide early training in leadership competencies.
5. Use a coaching approaching in favor of classroom training
Forget classroom training. Use a dignified approach. Each individual is unique and will respond better to personalized coaching. Include soft skill insights.
Sooner than later you’ll have business partners in finance.
6. Work on building the entire team
Encourage a well-rounded teamwork and collaboration including all necessary competencies. They’ll function better with such communication and learn from each other.
Meantime, for ambitious professionals, Robert Half offers eight career tips:
1. Speak up
If your employer hasn’t offered training in this area, ask for it. Look for additional professional development options, too, such as working with a mentor.
2. Participate in external events
Attend industry conferences, and take advantage of programs offered by professional and business organizations. Your employer may even reimburse you for the costs.
3. Collaborate across functions
Working with colleagues in other departments will broaden your organizational view and provide new approaches for addressing problems.
4. Volunteer to lead a project team
Your viewpoint and interactions with colleagues will enhance your business acumen and help you identify additional ways to support the firm.
5. Move into a new role
Job rotation provides exposure to different challenges, processes and business units. Along the way, you can learn new best practices and problem-solving techniques.
6. Build big data expertise
Knowing how to work with business intelligence will enable you to identify strategic recommendations for the organization. Big data skills gaps are severe within accounting and finance, giving you the chance to jump ahead in the field.
7. Pursue consulting opportunities
By working as a consultant, you see best practices at a range of firms. You’ll also be able to share your insights with and learn from others.
8. Don’t neglect soft skills
Coming up with ideas is just one part of the equation. You’ll need to be able to communicate them with effectively and cultivate influence to secure buy-in.
From the Coach’s Corner, related career tips:
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Spelling Tips to Enhance Your Communication Skills — Good communication skills start with using proper grammar and spelling. They’re central for your career growth. People who communicate stand head and shoulders above their peers.
Acting, Speaking Coach: How to Improve Communication with Others — If you’re having communication problems with someone important in your career or life, chances are one or both of you will profit from tips in honest communication.
5 Traits of People Who Deliver Bad News Well — Are you nervous about giving bad news to others? Do you wish you were good at it? If you answer yes to either question, here are five traits of good messengers.
How to Grow Your EI for Leadership Success — Emotional intelligence (EI) is important for communication and leadership. A person who has EI is able to evaluate, understand, and control emotions.
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”