A twenty nine year old newly minted FP&A manager for an NYSE listed public company sat...
Strategies to Solve the Soft Skill Shortage in FP&A
Upon publication of this article, I invite you to cast your vote in the LinkedIn comments so we can start an active discussion.
Strong programming skills (R, SQL, Python, VBA) are coming up frequently as requirements to be successful in FP&A. Those who have not caught up with this yet need to do so. If you are not convinced you only need to do some simple research to find that the FP&A function is becoming a financial BI type of function; we wear many hats – having strong programming skills to provide key insights to decision-makers is one of those hats.
Strong financial modelling ability is needed, period.
What about strong people skills?
“No one knows exactly how much poor communication costs business, industry and government each year, but estimates suggest billions” ***
It is paramount that as FP&A professionals, we have the ability to communicate a coherent message and ensure that it is not lost in translation by our recipient.
So, what are some strategies we can use to ensure we are good communicators (regardless of if we are talking about FP&A or any other role for that matter).
1. The question “Is that clear?”
- An open-ended question that encourages others to also think openly about the problem
- Literally asking if something is “clear” makes us dive deeper. This serves as an opportunity to provide clarity if needed
2. Learning styles
- Use the learning style of the customer; visual/auditory/kinaesthetic – humans are usually a mix of all 3 but are drawn more to one. Once you know their preferred learning style combo, use it to communicate
- If the customer prefers visuals, don’t be afraid to send an email with a process flow diagram. Your goal is to communicate a message, don’t lose sight of that
3. Layman terms
- Speak in terms that are relative to the recipients understanding of the topic
- A really cool explanation of the importance of this is a Youtube series called “5 Levels” by WIRED – don’t speak in level 5 terms to someone who has not even been exposed to level 3…build them up to that point otherwise you will lose them
4. Feedback Loop
- Perfectionism is the ultimate thief of peace and joy. Literally no one is going to focus on the weather you feel what you have created for your customer is perfect; all they see is the result of your efforts. So, to ensure the customer receives what they believed they wanted, do not wait for the final deadline to review with the customer, check in at regular intervals to give the customer a chance to check progress. This does a few things
- Gives the customer a chance to revise their original request if the current view is not as expected
- Feedback to you for anything you may have missed
- Reinforces the intended vision
These are 4 high-level strategies that I encourage myself to use on a daily basis, by no means the best and there are sure to be many more. The Goal is to pick ones that work for you in the context you need them in
Another strategy that would deserve an article in itself is contextual learning vs standard learning (In fact, if the interest is high enough, I will do this as a complete article on its own)
What is the difference?
Standard – Give some a list of 30 acronyms that are widely used, but provide no background on their deep meaning. Sure – you will learn those 30 acronyms and be able to list their definitions but can you then apply them? - Maybe, and with little applicative understanding
Contextual – No lists, no memorisation of terms. Instead, use the acronyms in the context they are intended to be applied in. Stephen Krashen termed this style of learning as comprehensible input but in the context of learning new languages. It takes the same approach as to how we learn languages as a baby...we don’t learn the mother tongue; we “input” it through comprehensible interactions. This approach lets the brain do its job by creating neural connections over time that are stronger than just memorising definitions without the context of the application (side note - I am using this very approach to learn French in 6 months)
I believe that as long as we are all constantly focussing on transcending our current state of emotional intelligence, we will become better communicators both in and outside of the office.