Businesses value accountants who are strategic thinkers, but the results of a Robert Half Management Resources survey suggest company-sponsored training in this area is not always available.
More than eight in 10 (86 percent) CFOs said strategic-thinking abilities are important for accounting and finance professionals – 30 percent of those interviewed feel they are mandatory. Yet nearly half (46 percent) of executives said their organization does not provide related professional development opportunities.
CFOs were asked, "How important are strategic-thinking skills for accounting and finance professionals?" Their responses: “Mandatory” (30%), “Nice to have” (56%), and "Not necessary" (14%).
CFOs also were asked, "Does your company provide professional development opportunities to help accounting and finance professionals build their strategic-thinking skills?" Fifty-four percent said “Yes,” while 46% said “No.”
"Businesses want financial professionals who can formulate and execute new ideas, but firms could be doing more to help their teams develop these abilities," said Tim Hird, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. "These are not easy skills to train on, but managers should identify ways, such as giving employees project-management responsibilities and stretch assignments, to support staff members' growth."
Hird added whether or not their employers offer it, individuals, particularly those in or aspiring to the senior ranks, must take it upon themselves to build their skills. "Professionals who can craft and communicate effective strategies are in high demand and ahead of the pack for career opportunities. To advance, they need to strengthen their business acumen and learn new problem-solving approaches."
Robert Half Management Resources offers tips for professionals to enhance their strategic-thinking skills:
- Speak up. If your employer hasn't offered training in this area, ask for it. Look for additional professional development options, too, such as working with a mentor.
- Participate in external events. Attend industry conferences, and take advantage of programs offered by professional and business organizations. Your employer may even reimburse you for the costs.
- Collaborate across functions. Working with colleagues in other departments will broaden your organizational view and provide new approaches for addressing problems.
- Volunteer to lead a project team. Your viewpoint and interactions with colleagues will enhance your business acumen and help you identify additional ways to support the firm.
- Move into a new role. Job rotation provides exposure to different challenges, processes and business units. Along the way, you can learn new best practices and problem-solving techniques.
- Build big data expertise. Knowing how to work with business intelligence will enable you to identify strategic recommendations for the organization. Big data skills gaps are severe within accounting and finance, giving you the chance to jump ahead in the field.
- Pursue consulting opportunities. By working as a consultant, you see best practices at a range of firms. You'll also be able to share your insights with and learn from others.
- Don't neglect soft skills. Coming up with ideas is just one part of the equation. You'll need to be able to communicate them effectively and cultivate influence to secure buy-in.