“The ABCs are attitude, behavior and communication skills.” — Gerald Chertavian

SAFiM Africa
May 22, 2018 · 6 min read

This week we focus our attention on skill sets which human beings can do better than machines, at least for the foreseeable future. Shiv Khera says “there are good leaders who actively guide and bad leaders who actively misguide. Hence, leadership is about persuasion, presentation and people skills.” These are all examples of soft skills.

Olga Gryygier-Siddons, CEO of PwC Central & Eastern Europe noted that “while technology speeds up and improves the gathering and analysis of data, judgment and decisions about what to do with the results of that analysis is a function that can only be provided by humans.” This has brought about an intensified search for talent which possesses the precise soft skills that business needs.

A 2018 LinkedIn Learning Report on Learning in the Workplace highlighted that the majority of Learning and Development practitioners and executives have identified soft skills as being the area of highest priority in skills development in this increasingly digitised era.

According to PwC’s CEO Survey titled ‘Managing Man and Machine’, 77% of CEOs shared the view that it is the soft skills they value most that are hardest to find in candidates for their teams.

The primary reason is that people with technical skills are plentiful in the market place. A recent report by iCIMS Hiring Insights found that 94% of recruiting professionals surveyed believe that an employee with stronger soft skills has a better chance of being promoted to a leadership position than an employee with more years of experience but weaker soft skills. Soft skills are now the distinguishing factor between the winners and the losers in the competitive business world.

As the digital revolution continues to alter how the finance functions operates, organisations are looking for more agile recruits in finance who can be able to increase the quantity of data that passes through the finance department as well as the ever increasing speed of processing.

And what exactly do we mean by soft skills? Investopedia defines soft skills as “character traits and interpersonal skills that characterise a person’s relationships with other people.” It further states that, “in the workplace, soft skills are considered a complement to technical skills.” Sociologists may use the term soft skills to describe a person’s “EQ” or “Emotional Intelligence Quotient”.

According to Robert Half, “these days, it isn’t enough to have watertight knowledge of systems and processes — it’s also essential to be able to tackle complex problems as they arise. Whether it’s addressing the financial implications of a complicated business structure or coming up with a personalised solution for a client’s tax dilemma, a record of solving problems will see your career grow in leaps and bounds.”

The increasing complexity of the business environment has meant that the finance function has to deal with number of in-department needs in addition to inter-department requests for business support on a daily basis. This calls for the finance function to be flexible since finance is central to all operations within the business. Some of the requests could be requiring finance to solve a glitch in an automated trading system or perhaps a troubled creditor in a different geographical location, which could result in a delay in the production flow. The ability to solve problems ensures that decisions are made more swiftly, resulting in business not grinding to a halt.

Another important skill that finance professionals are encouraged to master is communication. Communication is broad and encompasses written, visual and oral communication. Finance and accounting staff have been known to use technical jargon only understood within the department, and of little value outside of the function.

An analysis by LinkedIn showed that 57.9% of new hires who changed jobs in 2014–15 listed communication as one of their strong suits.

Good communicators are in demand across a range of industries, and they are vital in fields that require employees to explain their specialist knowledge to others.

An aptitude for number crunching without an ability to justify and explain one’s calculations is no longer required in the modern finance function. A recent report by ICAEW advises that professionals within finance need to communicate on a number of levels, whether it is;

  • sharing key figures with management or
  • translating those figures into relatable ‘stories’ for
  • their own team and
  • other stakeholders of the organisation.

They need to relate this information clearly, without jargon. This has contributed to the escalation of the demand for polished report writing and presentation skills in the finance profession.

The CFA Institute reports that businesses are increasingly moving towards a flat and/or matrix organisational structure. The ability to influence in all directions and across all types of relationships is likewise becoming increasingly important. Communication is taking place at various levels within the business as well as with other key stakeholders. It is, therefore, important for professionals within the department to develop skills in understanding information from other departments as well.

Communication is no longer limited to receiving financial data, processing it and reporting it. Being able to relate the financial data to the non-financial data flowing in and out of the organisation is becoming increasingly important.

The World Economic Forum ranks creativity higher as an essential future leadership skill than people management and negotiation skills. Being able to look beyond the numbers to other potential solutions or growth avenues will be a key element in future leaders as they look to generate more value for their organisations. This ensures continuous evolution and innovation within the business. Access to information from across the whole organisation presents finance with the opportunity to be the source of innovation within organisations. This calls for the need to develop more agile finance teams that are not only technically competent, but are increasingly focused on refining their soft skills for greater collaboration with non finance staff.

To be able to foster a stronger business supporting finance department, the way in which finance professionals relate to other people especially those outside of the finance function is also important. For instance, demonstrating empathy helps to build relationships and strengthens team dynamics, not just in the finance department but in the organisation as a whole.

The information age is bombarding finance department with a lot of data and information on a daily basis. This information now comes at both lightning speed and in huge quantities. Resultantly, a large number of reports and insights are expected to be produced more frequently and with greater accuracy. There are also a number of distractions that one has to deal with from emails to constant social media notifications from their communication devices. It is easy for one to get overwhelmed and stressed out by the increasing demands that the complex environment has placed on them. It’s all too easy to spend an entire day (or week, or year or indeed career) being busy with ‘urgent’ but not ‘important’ matters. We proceed to deal with the ‘important’ matters when they become ‘urgent’. And this compromises the quality of the deliverables!

Harvey Mackay once said,

“Your workforce is your most valuable asset. The knowledge and skills they have represent the fuel that drives the engine of business — and you can leverage that knowledge.”

We will leave you considering a few questions, as usual:

  • How often do you carry out an evaluation of your finance team members?
  • When was the last time your team members were equipped with formal training that is relevant to their jobs?
  • Which could be your department’s weakest link and what specific areas could be of concern to you?
  • What soft skills could your finance team members, when assessed individually, aim to improve on?

SAFiM Africa

Written by

The School of Applied Financial Management | Blended Learning Experience | Pursuing Peak Performance

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