We are, by all accounts, in the middle of a digital revolution and not only is it changing the way we interact and do business, but it is also shaping how a finance function operates.
This is the third of three blogs. The first assessed some of the predictions that are being made about the future role of finance, highlighting amongst other things the role of technology in automating tasks and processing and analysing data.
The second blog discussed the importance of improving your digital IQ, a term used by PWC for corporates but something that I believe should also be applied to individuals.
This last blog focuses on identifying the soft skills needed to complement your technical, planning and analytical skills, together with your digital knowledge. It also suggests who in the organisation is best placed to share their top tips.
Nothing new, but still important
One of the conclusions from a study over 20 years ago from KPMG (Future of Finance: a guide for business users, 1998) was that Finance professionals would need to improve their soft skills, specifically:
- "effective interpersonal skills
- a consultative approach; and
- an excellent coaching ability”.
I think this is still relevant today particularly for Commercial Finance/ FP&A professionals. It was also echoed in a similar study 10 years ago by the same company. Today, a recommendation to pursue similar skills can be found in any of the publications from the big four accountancy firms or professional accountancy bodies.
I like the slightly different take from CIMA that amongst other things covers questioning as a skillset in its own right. It describes the value of questioning as follows:
“The curiosity of a question is worth a million answers. It has the ability to inspire and compel people to think and act.”
Before embarking on a course, leverage the knowledge within your organisation
There are lots of excellent training courses available for Commercial Finance/ FP&A professionals who want to improve their soft skills and hopefully your HR teams will have in-house resources available.
Another option is to “kill two birds with one stone”. I believe that Commercial Finance/ FP&A will become more integrated with the rest of the business (covered in a previous blog). In connecting with various departments and trying to understand the business, you can also pick their brains in terms of how to improve certain soft skills. The following examples are illustrative only (I know that a lot depends on the quality of the individual), but hopefully this should get you thinking about the strengths of various departments and what you can learn from them.
To a greater or lesser extent, all Sales teams focus on influencing their customers to buy their products or services. There will almost certainly be best practices deployed by this team that can be transposed to basic influencing skills in any environment.
b. Communicating / Storytelling
You probably don’t need to go any further than your Corporate Communications team to get some tips on how to package basic facts into core messages and a compelling message or story. E.g. explaining monthly performance and variances. If such a team does not exist, then your Marketing team will also likely possess this skill set.
c. Stakeholder Management / Collaboration
Whilst all teams have stakeholders to manage, in my experience Product (or New Product) teams have the most diverse stakeholders to manage – having to ensure all areas of the business have contributed and are on board when managing a product or deploying the latest innovation. E.g. they may have some helpful insights in managing all the stakeholders involved during a planning process.
d. Organisation / Prioritisation
In balancing time, cost and quality, Project (or Programme) Managers need to have sight of all the moving parts. As with all these suggestions I’m not saying project managers are the sole experts at being organised, however there will almost certainly be lots of discrete examples they can draw upon to illustrate the successful use of this skillset.
Any support/ control function is likely to be adept at questioning in order to deliver on their objectives e.g. Compliance or risk will use questioning as part of their toolkit to identify areas of concern. Your colleagues in Finance will also be doing this during most month ends!
Concluding takeaway – keep improving your softer side, other teams can help
Studies about the future of finance from the big four accountancy firms (as far back as 20 years ago) have regularly highlighted the importance of soft skills such as stakeholder management, collaboration and communication.
Today and in the future, I believe it will be no different. In fact, with the rate of business & technological change increasing, the need for finance professionals to learn, adapt & interpret new things will be critical. As well as utilising training courses and in-house programmes, I’d recommend looking to other teams within your organisation who may well have relevant best practises and tips to share with you.
The article was first published in Unit 4 Prevero Blog