In the new FP&A Guide on Career Pathing, Ben Pring, Director of the Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant and Craig Stevens, Senior Vice President, Accounting and Reporting for Swiss Re, discussed career pathing and how it needs to change. Not only do financial professionals need a new outlook when planning out their careers, but managers should also be doing their part to help them to develop. Both Pring and Stevens will be presenting together in a session at AFP 2020.
AFP: With so much change, what will careers look like in the future?
Ben Pring: The most important thing may be to pick the right career and the right company. I have two older brothers and, when you look at it from a career perspective, I have been more successful. I am not any more brilliant than the others. One went into journalism, a profession that has been challenged over the past several decades. The other went into civil service. I put my board on the wave of technology, which has grown exponentially. The waves are what drive the future.
AFP: How can someone mid-career change waves?
Pring: I don’t have a good answer to that; it is really hard. It is not survival of the fittest, but survival of the most adaptable. As you grow and develop in your career, you need to continue to be curious and interested in the future of your work. A lot of people get to the midpoint of their career and lose that curiosity; they double down on what got them that far, which may not get them further.
Clive Davis is 88 years old and is the chief creative officer at Sony Music. He surrounds himself with young people who keep him in touch and in tune with the current music scene, even though he goes home and listens to Frank Sinatra. That is a type of reverse mentorship. People sometimes get to a point in their careers where they are designing for themselves, they have a lot of ego invested, when they should be listening and keeping in touch with others.
For people who are not technologically comfortable in a tech-focused world, there is an existential fear they will not be successful. However, people still want people. I don’t want a robot doctor, but I want a doctor who knows how to handle technology.
AFP: Are job descriptions obsolete?
Pring: I could not write a job description for what I do today. My mom has no idea what I do, and I have no idea what my son will do. He will develop something new. We are splintering into a world of open source, open APIs in all parts of our lives. Organizations are like a nucleus with a lot of neutrons flying around them.
AFP: The term “career path” implies change, otherwise there is not movement along a path. Why is change hard for many finance practitioners?
Craig Stevens: The current activities are keeping them comfortable…some people in finance are not hungry enough for change but are happy doing their widget building. Managers planning for the future should create a vision for the team, explain that change creates opportunities. Then create a path, and show people what will be needed for that path. Essentially invite them along!
AFP: How do you encourage finance leaders to coach people?
Stevens: Many managers are guiding people to get their work done, not to develop themselves. We created a coaching program where managers will coach assigned individuals on our team to support them in further developing their career paths. The plan is also to provide the coaches with training on understanding coaching styles, employee personality and work tendencies, and on guiding careers. This is a different twist on mentors; we did not want to use that term.
We as leaders look to guide individuals on what career options are possible, whether they are horizontal or vertical, and help to make appropriate networking introductions. With my direct reports, I have career discussions quarterly, while leaving the door open for more frequent coaching discussions.
AFP: How do you encourage people to change?
Stevens: Managers need to make change exciting and fun: create exposure for people to make change, create speaking opportunities through internal webcasts that highlight how a new finance tool or process has added value. We have “pitstops” where individuals can spend two weeks shadowing and learning someone else’s job. It takes a lot of effort as leader but over time, you create a snowball effect that brings people along. That should be the goal.
AFP: Should you create separate career tracks between SMEs and “adventure seekers” who are comfortable with change?
Stevens: You can create a career plan for both, but that may be hard to do. You need to be careful not to create a divide between the two groups, and you would have to be flexible on how you categorize individuals. There have been people who have surprised me by coming along on the path of change beyond what I expected from them.
Perfection is not going to happen right out of the gate and people are naturally afraid of failure, so perhaps a leader can provide air cover for that failure.
I expect failure, I just hope it is not humongous!