From cloud services to robotic process automation to AI, technological advancements are making the finance and accounting function a center of innovation and profitability for many businesses. Many organizations are well on their way in their finance transformation journey, and a vital part of the process is ensuring that the skills of the professionals working within that area are keeping pace.
According to Gartner, 85% of finance teams are currently undergoing or planning a transformation initiative, such as an update of IT operating systems or a revamp of core processes (gtnr.it/34TnGf8). Many changes, like automation of invoicing and financial report generation, are meant to increase efficiency, modernize operations, and reduce manual work for finance staff—today. But disruptive technologies will bring the most significant change to finance organizations, and to how people work, over the next several years.
Consider the accelerating rise of AI. A sizable majority of companies are fast-tracking AI applications and expecting to see significant gains in profitability, productivity, and more within the next two years, according to a global survey report from Protiviti, a Robert Half subsidiary, and ESI ThoughtLab. More than half (57%) of survey respondents said finance is an area where they expect to see advanced AI having the greatest impact, and 43% of companies categorized as AI leaders say they’re already seeing significant benefits from using AI in their financial functions (bit.ly/2X54JDD).
Employers need to help their team members visualize and get excited about the future of work—especially since the changes are already unfolding rapidly.
ACQUIRING NEW SKILLS
It’s paramount that employees expand their capabilities and skills in this increasingly disruptive Digital Age. As an employer, it’s a win-win: You help your staff maintain in-demand skills that will allow them to keep adding value to your organization as it evolves, and they, in turn, will be prepared for any skills they’ll need in the future.
Robert Half’s Jobs and AI Anxiety report says 47% of U.S. employers expect technological change to create a need for new skills in their organization, and 64% believe that training and acquiring new skills will be how they upgrade their teams’ technological expertise in preparation for the future of work (bit.ly/2X8M8qe). But where do you start?
The following strategies are relatively easy to implement, manage, and budget for:
- Microlearning. This is an efficient way to address technical skill and knowledge gaps. Employees watch short web-based videos (five to 10 minutes long) focused on a specific topic area; at the end of the lesson, they may be asked to complete a quiz or exercise to test their knowledge. A key benefit of this on-demand learning option is that it’s easy to fit into a staff meeting or into accounting and finance employees’ daily workflow.
- Virtual training. Arranging on-site training can be a logistical challenge, especially if your team is distributed across offices and includes remote workers. Hands-on training delivered through an online platform is a flexible way to upskill employees and give them access to learning at times when they’ll be most engaged in the process.
- Peer-to-peer (P2P) learning. Your business likely has a ready supply of subject-matter experts who would be willing to share their knowledge with their colleagues. Much like mentoring programs, P2P learning can be an informal and unintimidating approach to learning new skills. Some examples of P2P learning include employee-led workshops, study groups, and team projects.
When arranging learning and training opportunities for your accounting and finance team, don’t focus only on technical knowledge. Most employers surveyed for the Jobs and AI Anxiety report said that the most valuable skills in the workplace of the future will be soft skills such as strategic thinking, leadership, communication, collaboration, and intellectual curiosity. You can connect your team with learning opportunities, like mentoring or leadership training, that will help them build and refine these abilities.
A NEW LABOR MODEL
Despite your best efforts, the pace at which your employees can learn new skills and knowledge isn’t likely to match that of technological change. Unexpected projects can materialize suddenly, leaving accounting and finance teams scrambling to meet new challenges without letting current responsibilities slip. The Benchmarking Accounting & Finance Functions 2019 report from Robert Half and the Financial Education & Research Foundation found that many finance leaders lack confidence that their teams could handle unexpected projects (bit.ly/33GhUxj).
So how can you prepare? One solution is for managers to use a new labor model for finance designed for the Digital Age, which can be employed by businesses of all sizes. This model involves accessing a scalable mix of specialized interim professionals to be guided by, and often work alongside with, external consultants who provide a strategic plan, project oversight, and targeted technologies (bit.ly/2O9Vpu8). This is tailored for the Digital Age because companies can supplement the work of their internal and external teams by automating routine processes and allowing staff to focus on higher-value work. Many of the complex initiatives that companies want to pursue involve new technologies as well. This approach also helps businesses keep key projects moving ahead without disrupting day-to-day operations and overburdening core employees.
Preparing for the future of work is more about people than technology. You’ll need to invest strategically in both people and technology to prepare your accounting and finance functions for the future. Make change your friend. Businesses can’t afford to drag their feet on inviting necessary disruption.
CareerDriver is a free benefit for IMA® members to assess their technical and leadership skills in management accounting and help plan their career path. Complete an assessment to get feedback on your strengths and areas for improvement, and then map out a development plan to help you toward your desired role. For more information, visit www.imanet.org/careerdriver.