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  • Alexandra Bond Burnett

How Accountants can play to strengths and leverage weaknesses

I remember the day I took my first profiling tool. I'd just started my practice, and was seeking further insights. Strengthsfinder had been recommended as a good tool to use by a business coach I was starting with.

I'd read the book and completed the online tool before my meeting. This was it - was eager to find out more about what made me tick and how to use it. Sitting in a hotel bar, the business coach came and found me - and said "well, that was surprising - but also NO surprise whatsoever knowing you."

My particular blend was a very active, outgoing, energetic, great at relationship building and inspiring... but also very reserved, precise and analytical.

My coach looked at my business plans. Speaking coaching... accountancy...

"Well, it turns out you're perfect for both of these, you're certainly playing to your strengths"

Are you?

There is a huge skills gap in accounting. Big. HUGE. Not according to me but to the ACCA, research by Grant Thornton and various other sources.

In fact this is not news. 25 years ago academic journals were published showing how accountant’s training was letting down new starters by failing to impart any wisdom by way of communication or interpersonal skills.

Accountants graduated from their studies, knowing in principle, what they could do, but nothing about how to navigate their way through a trail of personalities and emotions encountered throughout an accountant's career.

Did they forget that accountancy was not just a numbers profession, but a people business?

Technical skills are a given. Accountants need to account. But is there any point to learning a technical skill, if you don’t use it to get results?

“Because of rapidly changing rules and regulations in the accounting industry, we would have expected lack of talent with technical accounting skills to be the primary challenge for CFOs. As a result, we were surprised to see soft-skills deficiency to be a more pressing issue,”

Gina Kim, a Director in the Public Policy and External Affairs Group at Grant Thornton LLP.

The big D word

Digital processes then threw in another clanger to the job - and wasn’t that fun (for some).

There are those that enter data, and there are those that automate.

An effective finance function will have a long term job spec that includes forever looking at the best apps, processes and data sets to achieve results for a business.

Businesses need clean data, big data, but they also need data that tells them what to expect and what they need to do about it.

The accountant will care about WHAT numbers, but the stakeholders won’t care until you share WHAT they mean, WHY they should care and HOW to move forwards.

You don't do that with numbers, you do that with communication skills.

while technical expertise is important, it is the softer skills that will set an individual apart – an excellent rapport with colleagues and other stakeholders, strong commercial awareness and the ability to sell are all part of what makes a good CFO."

Josh Rufus - Morgan McKinley

Does it really matter all that much?

Of course, in fact, I can give you 139 million reasons why it does.

In 2015 McDonald's of all people put together a report called the Value of Soft Skills in the UK.

Guess who was the loss leader in interpersonal skills? You guessed it - Manufacturing. No, I’m kidding. They came second. It was Financial Services.

Even I was pretty surprised by that. The estimated (bear in mind without the foresight of a pandemic) that by 2020, this skills gap would cost the UK economy £139m from a range of issues such as:

  • Errors

  • Low productivity

  • Low morale

  • High turnover

  • Fraud

Think about every time you’ve had an unproductive meeting, a poor presentation, a personality or ego clash.

This year more than ever mental health is a high consideration, especially for accounting leaders with a team to care for.

When accountants get these software skills working alongside the technical skills, we see bigger better results.

"emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills play a big part in the success of a professional accountant, in the form of broader soft skills such as communication, empathy and dedication. "

ACCA’s report, Emotional Quotient in a Digital age

The real question: Does it really matter?

At the end of the day it doesn't matter what I think, or your accounting body - but what you feel would make you even more impactful as an accountant, FD, CFO or CPA.

To help you with that - I'd like to to take 1 minute with no distractions to ask yourself the following:

  1. What work are you doing when you have your best days?

  2. What do you want to do more of in the future?

  3. What is currently limiting you from achieving that?

  4. Imagine you at the top of your game. What does that look like?

  5. What skills do you need to get there?

Easy questions for some, but rarely do we get the opportunity to ask ourselves this.

By answering those questions you'll be more prepared to take the steps you need, and if you actually what them.

If you'd like to have an audit of your soft skills, heck out my free audit tool below.

Explore your skills with the Remove your Limits Scorecard





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