As the role of the finance function evolves, finance professionals must expand skillsets. Collaborating with others is a skill that accounting staffs are struggling to master as they venture beyond traditional, back-office work.
Finance is being counted on to be more of a business partner, so accountants thrust into that role not only have to know the business, they also must know how to be a good partner, often with people who might not think the same way they do.
CFOs say learning to interact with a variety of personalities is the greatest challenge when working with other departments, according to a new survey. Global staffing firm Robert Half asked more than 2,200 US CFOs about the top challenges, and 39% picked learning to work co-operatively. That was followed by managing stress arising from crisis situations (22%), prioritising conflicting deadlines throughout the enterprise (19%), and conveying financial information in non-financial terms (19%).
In the past, when finance had less interaction with other parts of an organisation, such collaborative skills were not as important. But with a more strategic focus – more time spent on analysis, less on compliance or scorekeeping – finance is emerging from its traditional, compliance-centred duties.
Research from numerous sources shows that the ideal finance employee has analytical and communication skills to go along with required technical expertise.
Deloitte’s quarterly CFO Signals report shows that 70% of CFOs have yet to fully resolve shortages of “consultative, partnering, analytical, and technical skills.” Additionally, CFOs in the Deloitte survey indicate a strong demand for analytics expertise, business acumen, and leadership and influence. To that last part, CFOs are seeking leadership candidates who can not only analyse and synthesise data but can also be persuasive in communicating insight to those outside of finance.
Business partnering is one of the traits that sets apart high-performing finance departments from others, according to a 2014 report by IBM. And research commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and the American Institute of CPAs shows that 89% of companies believe a stronger partnership with finance in decision-making would help them better manage their organisations in the future.
Having conversations, sometimes with those who may have a different personality or different approach, is a key step in breaking down silos and enabling greater collaboration.
“For functions such as accounting and finance that interact with a broad cross-section of business units, navigating disparate protocols and personalities can be tricky,” Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half, said in a news release. “Building relationships across departments ensures enhanced collaboration, smoother processes, and greater influence for practitioners.”
Related CGMA Magazine content:
“FP&A Can Help Guide the Journey”: James Miln, ACMA, CGMA, the senior director of investor relations at Yahoo, shares how companies can improve the effectiveness of their financial planning and analysis teams.
“How Finance and Accounting Can Boost Innovation”: Several management accounting experts offer advice for boosting strategic input from finance and accounting departments.
—Neil Amato (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.