Training and development: take charge

The need for more talented managers in finance is a growing problem and not
enough is being done to improve the situation. We are all aware that strong
leadership skills are hard to find, and now, more than ever, employers are
crying out for them. Finance functions have – in some places – become
increasingly lean and the department is under increased pressure to tackle the
challenge of improving performance and cutting costs with reduced resources,
particularly in public services. According to the Hays Public Services
Leadership Survey, public sector chief executives and managers believe they lack
the skills needed to deliver services when funding cuts start impacting in 2010
and beyond. Only 16% of managers said their organisations had the resources to
manage a reduced budget in 2010, and even fewer junior staff (13%) thought that
was the case.

Finance departments are unlikely to achieve their objectives without
effective leadership skills in place.

Today, the majority of employers want candidates to have a marriage of both
strong technical and leadership skills. It is commonplace for someone to excel
in one area or the other, but not often enough in both. Prior to the recession,
employers may have been willing to overlook a shortfall of management skills
providing that the candidate was particularly talented technically, but not any
more. the line has been drawn and expectations are higher than ever. As the role
of the accountant has branched into something more diverse and all encompassing,
the level of skills required has increased. Number crunchers just won’t do these
days; talented accountants who advise on numbers and lead with them are seen as
crucial to the survival and growth of any business.

As employers look to improve management and leadership training internally,
accountants should also consider ways of ‘up-skilling’ themselves. Although an
MBA is traditionally recognised as the most popular management qualification, in
truth, an MBA will only hold real weight with an employer if it has been
completed at a recognised university or if the accountant has taken it on while
in full-time employment. The discipline required to complete an MBA while in a
permanent role is often seen by an employer as a strong indication of the
jobseeker’s strong work ethic and discipline.

Proven management experience and evidence of strong leadership is often more
important to employers than a qualification. Accountants will typically be
required to provide examples of their experience in performance management and
employers will often want to know where they have built knowledge and expertise
within their teams and the wider business. This is of particular interest given
the difficult two years the economy has been through.

The trick, for an accountancy professional, is in understanding the
management qualities they possess and how these can be improved upon. The
recession has meant that training is an area that has been significantly cut
back in some organisations, but there are other ways for professionals to
develop management skills. Many senior accountants now work with external
leadership mentors, but, this can be costly and many employers have adapted
similar programmes internally. Identifying and working with a strong leader
within your business, whether in your department or outside of it, is an
excellent way of improving your own management skills. If the business cannot
provide you with funded training or support the costs of an external mentor, the
internal mentor is often the most practical alternative.

Management skills can, and must be, developed within the business. Many FTSE
250 companies have excellent fast track management schemes to identify and
promote talent, employing a similar programme internally is often a successful
route to first finding out where these skills exist and then focusing on ways of
nurturing them. For some finance functions, initial conversations with employees
who may demonstrate natural or inherent leadership and management skills can pro
voke answers to what might be needed to take that talent to the next level.
Strong managers will need recognition for their skills and will need support and
encouragement to push their development.

What makes a leader?

* Finance professionals that make the best leaders possess strong
communications skills, integrity and are forward-thinking.

* Talented leaders will successfully engage with staff and gain support for
change that is needed, therefore creating the necessary momentum to move

* Every business is different and professionals must gain an understanding of
what good leadership looks like within their business, or within the business
where they are looking to start work.

* Working with an established leader or manager can help you improve your own
management skills.

Teresa Thorrington-Allen is national director at Hays Senior Finance

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