CFOs crave soft skills, but aren’t providing training

I caught the following tweet recently, and it reminded me of my most recent blog post on a survey that found finance people lacking in “value creation” skills:

The tweet links to a story that is based on a survey conducted by Robert Half. Here’s the actual survey release.

The first thing you notice is three out of ten say a lack of soft skills is the biggest factor holding back finance professionals from advancement. Okay, that makes sense.

Strangely the next question asks where training is planned, but apparently only allowed one answer. It really should’ve allowed more, because companies can provide training in multiple areas. Respondents probably picked the area receiving the most attention, which might explain why soft skills garnered only 19% of the vote.

I had several paragraphs written where I speculated on why soft skills weren’t getting training dollars when clearly there is a need, and now that I analyze the poll questions themselves, I can’t use them!

However, I do wonder if “poor interpersonal skills” is code for something else? Maybe a culture fit issue? Maybe some other career-limiting move? Sometimes it might be the other person who lacks people skills, and is projecting!

Finance managers are human

CFO.com has brought to my attention a survey conducted by the CEB of finance managers. They asked finance managers whether they believe their direct reports are “effective in the behaviors and skills that drive excellent performance by the finance function.” The title of CFO.com’s article gave away the answer: Finance Leaders Bemoan Talent Shortage. Not only that, but they’re good at the stuff that sucks and suck at the stuff that’s good:

And on average, finance workers are more skilled in the areas that have the least positive impact on value creation.

You know how everyone likes to think they’re above average? Above average driver, above average intelligence, etc.? This is that. Finance managers believe they’re above average at their jobs, therefore those around them are likely below them, and possibly even below average. It’s OK. They’re human.

I also think there’s an element of confirmation bias at play. They’re finance managers, so they must be above average and have the skills and behaviours that the survey indicates is important.

But back to those hapless direct reports: First, who hired them? If it was those selfsame finance managers, shouldn’t that reflect poorly on their ability to assess competence and develop talent? Whose responsibility is it to put in place succession and training plans? (HR’s, they’d probably say, if surveyed about it.)

Overall, finance managers appear quite dissatisfied with the talent levels on their teams. [The CEB] acknowledges as much. “We weren’t particularly surprised that the ratings were so low,” she says. In fact, she adds, one reason CEB did a report on talent is that when it conducted its annual interviews with CFOs last year, 85 percent said talent was a major concern.

I’m not surprised either. This is never going to stop, until robots run companies completely. Even then we’ll probably sneak a “dissatisfied with direct report talent levels” easter egg into the code, just so robot CEB surveyors can have something to write about. What a chilling dystopian vision; I think the living will envy the dead.

Mercilessly, it continues:

Effective delegating is a capability many finance departments sorely need. “After the financial crisis, finance is overwhelmed with ad-hoc requests,” the report states.

If you’re delegating to staff that you don’t have (because they were all downsized during the recession), it isn’t going to be very effective. Perhaps that’s the reason they’re feeling overwhelmed?

There’s a reason why great people are hard to find: they’re scarce. And once found, smart managers do everything they can to keep them. As well, it’s highly likely those yearned-for “persuaders, strategists and builders” recognize a good situation when they have it. Perhaps that’s the most important takeaway here for finance managers. Build it, and they will come.

Survey says: IA feeling the squeeze

A survey conducted at the recent Institute of Internal Auditors annual conference by Protiviti has revealed that ⅔ of IA professionals believe their department is under-resourced and therefore unable to adequately carry out their duties.

Protiviti’s take is that due to increased expectations of the assurance Internal Audit can provide on an ever-widening spectrum of enterprise risks, auditors feel under-resourced. Sukhdev Bal, Director of Protiviti says:

This survey is a clear indication that internal auditors themselves believe that prior to the recession, they were not fit for purpose in terms of focus, skills and capabilities. Audit committees, Internal Audit leaders and management need to work more closely and collectively to agree the role of audit, objectives, criteria for audit and the overall approach of the internal audit function required to meet current and future evolving needs. Importantly, having agreed these, they need to ensure that the function is staffed with the right skills, capabilities and experience to meet these objectives.

There is evidence that spending on governance, risk and compliance didn’t decrease in 2009 compared to 2008, so I think Protiviti is correct with its assessment. IA is being asked to expand their risk coverage beyond traditional areas of expertise. It’s only natural to feel a little overwhelmed by the expectations. The key to adapting in my opinion (and experience) will be support for training in non-traditional areas.

The survey is available on Protiviti’s website (if you give them some personal information first).

Experience requirement completion date nears

Earlier this month I received a letter from the governing body of my profession in this province, the ICAO. I wasn’t expecting it so naturally I was pretty curious. It turned out to be great news:

“According to our records, your estimated completion date of the 30-month practical experience requirement is 12/7/2007.”

ICAO envelopeEven before I had opened the letter I was treated to the new CA branding on the envelope. Not only that but the new CA logo is the only thing on the front of the envelope. The return address information is printed on the back flap at the opposite end of the envelope. Pretty cool twist for something as mundane as a business envelope.

I may have been done on December 7th, but I won’t know for sure until my firm submits the attached form with all my hours. 625 auditing hours, 100 review hours, 1,250 total assurance hours (including those audit and review hours plus other assurance engagements), 100 tax hours, plus elective hours making up no less than 2,500 total hours. I’m certain I’ve met all the hours.

Any leaves of absence taken in excess of those allowable (prescribed by Regulation I) will extend your completion date. The allowable leaves of absence are as follows:

  • 8 weeks vacation
  • 5 weeks staff/job training
  • 5 weeks illness/compassionate leave

I did some quick calculations and I’d be surprised if I’d taken more than those amounts off over the 2 2/3 years I’ve been working in public accounting as of the end of this year. But there’s more — any other paid/unpaid leave plus time spent at the SOA and writing the UFE is also added back. 4 weeks for the SOA and 1 week for the UFE.

My best guess is that it will be sometime in mid to late January before I’m clear to put the letters behind my name. The Waiting is the hardest part.

Variety and experience at mid-size firms

I’m going to have a fast-paced week again. This week I’m working on two clients from jobs that have wrapped up field work and two clients whose field work has yet to begin.

On the two post field work jobs, I’ll be auditing the consolidation of several large private companies and clearing review notes and documenting big picture issues on the audit I just wrapped up last week.

On the two pre field work jobs, I’ll be supervising a group of junior staff working on some small company compilations and reviews and beginning the planning on an audit that goes in February, and interim work that starts the week after this one.

It’s tiring but it’s exciting to have this much variety and experience already in my career. Makes me glad I chose a mid-size firm.