Posted by Salo Posted on
Remember last October? Before we used terms like “PPE”, “N95”, and “zoombombing” in regular conversations? Way back then I wrote an article called Finance roles will be drastically different in 10 years. Here are four ways to prepare.
Well, I should have said, “Finance roles be drastically different in 10 MONTHS”. The Coronavirus epidemic not only accelerated the career development trends discussed in the original article (such as agility, cross-functional collaboration, tech-savviness, and contingent work)—it also brought a few oldie-but-goodies back to the forefront.
A Renewed Focus on Foundation “Business School” Skills
In 2020, technology was more critical than ever (hi, remote workforce!). But as automation increases, employers are looking for finance and accounting professionals who can do what robots can’t do. These foundational skills might seem obvious, but they take real work to master.
The good thing about these more foundational skills is: There is a wealth of educational opportunities on these topics. While your favorite business school likely has a variety of options; you don’t need a formal degree. Online sources, such as Acumen Academy, LinkedIn Learning, and Coursera can get you started. The main thing is to stay dedicated to learning, experimenting, and improving!
1. Communications and social skills
If you’re used to working heads down in a delivery role or accounting position—and you’re not entirely comfortable with communicating results to the business—you’ll need to upskill quickly. Remote work and restructuring have made finance/accounting more egalitarian, leading to more visibility to everyone in the department. To get ahead, start working on:
- Going beyond providing “the numbers” to telling the story behind the numbers
- Improving listening, speaking, writing, and presentation skills
- Responding to questions and asking questions yourself
- Explaining concepts, systems, and processes to others
- Maintaining relationships—even if you’re not in the office
2. Strategic thinking and problem-solving skills
In 2020, the challenges came at us fast and furiously. And, although the volatility will slow down, it’s not going to stop. Employers are looking to finance and accounting people to be observant, insightful, and innovative. You’ll be expected to:
- Use data to spot developing patterns and trends as (or before) they happen
- Separate the anomalies from real concerns
- Find innovative solutions to complex business problems
- Provide informed perspectives during strategic planning initiatives
3. Super-fast skills acquisition
You don’t need to be an expert in everything, but you need to be ready to pivot. In my 2019 article, we talked about cultivating a love of learning. Now, we’re taking that to the next level—being prepared to dive into new areas of expertise at a moment’s notice. In 2020, many professionals saw their job duties shift instantaneously—from focusing on day-to-day operations and closing the books to being knee-deep in systems implementations and compliance issues needed to meet the demand of the remote workforce. They had to get up-to-speed ASAP.
These kinds of situations are likely to happen again and again. So, instead of just suffering baptism by fire, take the time to learn how to learn quickly. Just look up “rapid skill acquisition” online for resources, like this video.
4. Efficiency skills
This year, restructuring has meant doing less with more, and that trend will likely continue. Luckily, technology eliminates some of the rote finance and accounting work, but there’s still plenty to do. Learn ways to find efficiency opportunities, such as:
- Making sure you (and your team) are clear on the purpose of every task
- Mapping out processes and analyzing the flows
- Learning as much as you can about technology systems—so you can be faster and more strategic when using them
- Collaborating with coworkers (in finance and other departments)
- Outsourcing tasks to contingent workers
While efficiency is important, 2020 also taught us that focusing on efficiency without considering resiliency can lead to roles, processes, and systems that can’t handle unexpected disruptions. The Harvard Business Review defines resilience as “the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity.” (Basically, it means whatever life throws at you, you got it.) Employees who are resilient and can foster resiliency in the organization are going to be in high demand from here on out. To become more resilient:
- Consider setbacks as a learning or innovation opportunity, not a failure
- Build a strong support network at work and in your life
- Focus on work-life integration
- Be a team player, build trust (and workplace satisfaction) helping others succeed
- Be authentic—align your actions with your values and beliefs
Check out the Resilience Institute for more information.
Predictions are just educated guesses
With so many uncertainties in the world, it’s almost impossible to make accurate long-term predictions about the future of accounting and finance careers. But, it’s a safe bet that the finance and accounting industry will:
- Have remote and dispersed office environments—making communication and collaboration skills more critical
- Continue to automate processes—leaving employees with more time to spend on strategic work
- Keep up the rate of change—making resilience and skills acquisition necessary for workplace survival
After this year, the rest is anybody’s guess.