Financial executives need to soften up.

Author:McDonald, Paul

Today's accounting and finance teams are expected to engage in meaningful analysis of financial data and deliver actionable guidance that can help organizations seize opportunities for growth and avoid risk. But a general lack of nontechnical skills within an organization's talent bench can be an obstacle to success.


Research shows many finance teams are too engaged in nuts-and-bolts transactional work to add value to the business in other ways. And accounting and financial professionals who do try to provide analysis-based insights to decision-makers in the organization often fall short because they're unable to communicate effectively.

What's the solution? Sounding the "death knell" for soft skills. These abilities--which include effective writing, speaking and collaboration skills--are no longer "nice to haves" for accounting and financial professionals. They are "must-have" attributes, on par with technical abilities, or so-called hard skills, in importance.

The idea of sounding the death knell for soft skills sparked an animated discussion at Financial Executives International's Leadership Summit Conference in Las Vegas earlier this year. At the presentation by this author, two esteemed chief financial officers (CFOs)--Kurt Amundson, of GoPro, and Anup Singh, of Nimble Storage--shared their thoughts on why soft skills are essential for today's accounting and finance professionals (see sidebars).

Soft Skills Necessary for Influence

The expectation within many businesses is that the finance function serves as a partner to senior management and acts as a trusted adviser to a wide range of functions beyond finance. Meeting this expectation requires financial professionals to be able to communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing, with those unfamiliar with figures and spreadsheets. Collaboration and project management abilities are needed to build productive relationships across departments and levels. Interpersonal skills, including diplomacy and persuasion, are required to convince people to act on certain findings.

Interpersonal skills--or a lack thereof--only become more pronounced as financial professionals climb higher in the organization. A person's technical proficiency may be exceptional, but if he or she does not also possess an arsenal of solid non-technical abilities, the employee will not perform well as a leader. Few will listen to the individual's ideas, take them seriously or even understand them. His or her influence on others and the business will be minimal at best.

Cultivating Nontechnical Skills in Your Team

One responsibility of financial leaders is to draw new talent into the company and cultivate it. It is beneficial to build a staff comprised of professionals with strong interpersonal abilities because it makes it easier to tackle...

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