Next week, we will report on the results of the corporate finance survey, “Your Personal Digital Readiness.” At AFP 2018, we previewed the results and asked a roundtable group for their feedback. The group came up with three ways to improve their team’s readiness, and one surprising way not to do it.
I began the AFP 2018 FP&A Roundtable by asking attendees a simple question: Do you consider your team above average or excellent regarding digital skills? Only one person out of 30 raised their hand.
Clearly, this is a need among the FP&A profession. The group launched into a discussion about how to upskill their team:
PROJECTS: JUST DO IT
Experience is the best teacher. “Putting our new planning system into place pushed us ahead,” one attendee said. The process of discovery, the effort required to implement, and education of using the new system moved the team ahead. A different practitioner said that an exercise in master data management helped educate his team on data practices as well as the systems that manipulate the data.
Project that are smaller in scale also make for good educational opportunities, but the key is to allow for intellectual wandering. One attendee said, “I like to give the idea of a project and allowing them to refine and redefine the project” in order to allow for exploration, and for results that may be unexpected at the outset.
When managing teams, projects allow for stretch or growth assignments that can pull individuals out of their daily routines and grind.
CULTURE OF EXPLORATION
Finance leaders should create an environment for growth. “I don’t answer all the questions for my people, even if I can. I let them wrestle and research,” said one practitioner. Good leaders ask a lot of questions to their teams, creating the expectation that questions are encouraged. The learning happens in the search for answers and finding the expertise; this is even more valuable if that requires reaching out to experts from other teams. Often the best interactions are from the mixing of different backgrounds and approaches.
FOCUS ON PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES
A significant portion of the discussion could be summed up as, “I can teach skills, but I can’t teach motivation.” This group wants FP&A people to be creative, curious, and motivated who will take it upon themselves to learn.
The theme of taking ownership of their work came up several times, as the practitioner is expected to be embedded in their business, conversant with their partners, and adding value to finance. Embedded means that you are their point of contact and advisor for financial and strategic advice. “If your business partner is coming to me before coming to you, then we have got a problem,” said one vice president.
NOT MENTIONED: CLASSROOM TRAINING
I pointed out to the group that no one had mentioned classroom training. The group suggested that classroom training is rarely ideal for two reasons. First, it does not come at the moment of need (“I need this answer now!”). More importantly, it presents information in general form and leaves the individual to figure out the use case back on the job. By contrast, projects provide the use case where the individual goes out and acquires the skill.
A CONTINUOUS JOURNEY
Education is a continuous journey, and we need to make sure we hire individuals and cultivate the environment where that is expected. When we think of work, there are functional portions that must get done combined with opportunities to explore new ways of doing business. Defining work then becomes as important as doing the work, and questions as important as answers.
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