Communication skills have grown in importance for accounting and finance professionals, but workers may be on their own when it comes to developing this expertise, a new survey shows. While 75 percent of CFOs say that verbal, written and interpersonal skills are more valuable now for accounting and finance professionals than five years ago, only 37 percent of CFOs say their firms provide formal training in this area. The survey was developed by Accountemps, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals, included responses from more than 1,400 CFOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with more than 20 employees.
“Communication skills are a critical factor in shaping your professional reputation,” notes Tom May, branch manager of Accountemps in Cleveland. “It is important to hone these skills because the way in which you communicate speaks volumes not only about your knowledge level and attention to detail, but also your work ethic and ability to be diplomatic, persuasive and tactful.”
Smart Business spoke with May about how employees can obtain these coveted skills, and how companies can help their employees become better communicators.
While communication skills are valued, very little training is provided by companies. Why?
Soft-skills training varies significantly from company to company. While some companies may provide many types of courses from leadership seminars to writing tutorials others do not.
For some companies, providing communication training is something that gets relegated to the back burner. They would like to offer it, but it often gets swept under the rug due to the time and resources it entails to provide the proper training. Companies find it to be very worthwhile, however, when they do have communication training in place.
What should companies do to decrease this gap?
Of course, providing internal communication and soft-skills training opportunities is one solution. But if it’s not feasible for a company to develop its own program, there are many other options.
Encourage staff to attend local workshops. Provide opportunities for staff to develop their communication skills through presentations and situations that involve working with a team.
In hiring and promoting staff, look carefully at communication skills. When considering if someone is right for a position, the manager should ask: How does this person represent himself verbally and in writing? What impression do others have of this person based on his/her communication style? Can others learn from this person in terms of how he/she communicates in difficult situations?
What should employees be doing to make themselves more marketable in regard to communication skills?
- Observe others. In addition to traditional learning methods (like classes and online tutorials), a good way to enhance communication skills is by observing others. Take a close look at people in your organization who present their thoughts well at meetings and can write detailed, yet brief, e-mail messages.
- Invite constructive criticism. Those with whom you work closely will be able to provide a more objective view of your communication skills. Inform trusted coworkers of your desire to improve and ask for suggestions to act upon.
- Seek opportunities to improve. There are a number of courses individuals can take to heighten listening, negotiation and public speaking abilities. Also, the capacity to perform under pressure, make good decisions in a time crunch and project a professional image can be enhanced with practice.
- Give attention to the details. Make it a habit to double-check your e-mails for accuracy and clarity a clean, error-free e-mail speaks volumes about your attention to detail.
- Be an active listener. The savviest communicators do more listening than speaking.
Are CFOs largely lacking in these skills because they focus more on numbers?
It may not be that they’re lacking, but now more than ever soft skills are important across all industries and skill levels. The workplace is increasingly team oriented. If you can't work well and communicate with others, your options can be limited.
Executives rely on soft skills every day in their interactions with staff, senior management and clients, so proficiency in all types of communication is essential to success. Since senior-level responsibilities include motivating and retaining employees, strong people skills are as vital as financial expertise.
TOM MAY is the branch manager of Accountemps in Cleveland, a company with more than 330 offices throughout North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, which offers online job search services at www.accountemps.com. Reach May at (440) 777-8367 or Tom.firstname.lastname@example.org.