CFOs across the U.S. are more optimistic than ever. With a strong economy both at home and abroad, the future is bright indeed. And with that steady footing comes the opportunity to add depth and breadth to the finance department, at entry and mid- levels. Publicly, CFOs say there is an abundance of exciting new talent rising through the ranks – but data is telling a different story.
In 2014, the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) and the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC) surveyed 173 corporate finance executives and managers, and found an alarming gap between the skilled workers employers want – and what they’re actually getting. Many up-and-coming candidates for the finance department are strong in technical knowledge, but lack non-technical abilities like change management, strategic thinking and leadership.
In order to succeed, it is crucial for CFOs to have a competent team that is always working to build new skills. But what does that look like in today’s business landscape? Hint: it has a lot to do with knowledge that isn’t taught in a classroom. Here are two ways finance leaders can fill the skill gap, and build stronger, smarter, more agile teams.
Look beyond the diploma
As finance departments play an increasingly strategic role inside their organizations, it’s time to look past the traditional benchmark skills and achievements to find candidates who can think beyond the spreadsheet. “Eight out of ten organizations report they very much need people who can think strategically and execute a strategic plan,” says Mary Driscoll of the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC). “What organizations need is people they can bring in and train to be performance catalysts. That’s what they need, not what they’re getting. There’s a real gap.” Look for recruits both inside and outside the organization who have leadership qualities, critical thinking skills and an eagerness to learn more. It’s not enough to be technically skilled – and CFOs must be prepared to search for intangible qualities, as well as those that can be measured. Intuition, big-picture thinking and cultural awareness are just as important, if not more so, than being able to run accurate calculations.
Cultivate technical fluency in your teams
Automation is changing the way we work. Finance departments no longer have to rely on labor-intensive manual accounting to complete routine tasks. So many software systems help fulfill technical needs and CFOs must take advantage of them to get ahead. “I no longer want someone to tell me they can do debits and credits,” says Ben Mulling, CFO of Tente Casters. “My ERP system does 99% of that.”
- Invest in the right tools. Look for software that is specific to the finance industry, fits within your budget and integrates with your existing investments. If it takes an expensive overhaul of your entire system, it may not deliver the ROI you expect.
- Go for functional, not flashy. Make sure the tools you buy are something you’ll actually use. The market for accounting software is massive. To stand out, some developers add on bells and whistles that look exciting – but may not actually help you work more efficiently.
- Get the guidance you need. A robust support system is important as you train and educate your workers on how to use new software.
Like seamless expense reporting from Concur, the right solutions for your organization are out there. Do your homework and then make the plunge – it’s worth it.
The right people can deliver radical results
The time you spend finding the right candidates is an investment – but it’s well worth it. With the right team in place, you can help individuals develop skills and deepen their knowledge to create a strong finance department that contributes to your organization’s success.