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Unleash Your Maximum Learning Potential

By David Wray, CPA, CGA, ACA
September 1, 2021

A strategic mind-set, communication skills, industry knowledge, and analytics can fuel changes to learning and development.

 

So much has changed in the last five years through technology, geopolitics, climate change, and the ongoing pandemic. These forces are transforming traditional career paths, which demand more proficient leadership skills from management accountants. And as a result, the accounting and finance profession is continuing to grow beyond merely balancing the books, auditing, and financial reporting.

 

The next year will be a critical time of transition for leaders as they examine the finance function’s role and strategy within their organizations. It takes courage to change it when it’s no longer fit for purpose. Strategic pivots and change management require leadership to display strong communication and critical-thinking skills.

 

If leaders are unable to ask the right questions, then they won’t identify the best development opportunities nor manage change effectively. The following questions will help you to do an assessment for your organization’s purpose and finance needs:

 

  • What is the big picture? How can I help shape strategic thinking?
  • What mind-set is needed to shape and deliver on the strategic plan?
  • What communication styles work best with the board, C-suite, peers, and my team?
  • How do we expand our industry knowledge to support the business? Where can we get this insight?
  • How can we accelerate our intelligent analytical capabilities? Which digital tools could help us to better inform colleagues?
  • How do we ensure that everything we do in this high-pressure environment is guided by a strong ethical compass?

 

This outward assessment exercise rapidly causes us to identify the need for learning and development (L&D). Before crafting processes, it helps to understand the causal relationship between the desire to learn something, learning styles, and our performance or achievement. Organizations that embed a culture of continuous learning and professional development personalized to each learner reap the benefits of employees’ enhanced skills and capabilities.

 

IMPROVING L&D

 

How effective is corporate L&D in developing critical employee skills? We’ve all been put through the paces of the traditional approaches, including classroom instruction, workshops, and on-the-job training. A 2019 Harvard Business Review study said the $359 billion spent annually didn’t achieve the desired return on investment, as only one in 10 employees uses the learned skills and one in four believes that training improved their performance. Most companies’ L&D spend fails to yield sustained value.

 

There’s a better way to learn critical team leadership skills that requires:

 

  1. An L&D process that goes beyond traditional training programs that merely consider superficial or external elements of skills.
  2. An L&D process evolution that includes employees serving as change champions who overcome organizational change fatigue or resistance.

 

BEYOND TRADITIONAL L&D MODELS

 

Effective learning starts with an understanding of the invisible internal processing we go through when receiving information about external events, which range from benign to life-changing (such as being diagnosed with a critical illness). Each individual reacts differently to the same information or event. Some individuals may choose to ignore information, generalize it, or associate it with a past experience. Each information-processing filter is influenced by how we see ourselves, what we believe, what we value, powerful memories (positive or negative), and how we speak to ourselves (e.g., inner chatter that’s self-critical or self-respecting).

 

Our current state of mind also affects outcomes. For instance, being cut off in traffic on a day when we’ve just heard great news is less likely to trigger a negative reaction in us. These rapid information-processing systems impact what we learn, how we learn, and ultimately how we’ll behave, which is directly correlated with how others perceive our capabilities. Knowing this about ourselves and our environment puts us in control of our learning success or failure.

 

LEARNING LEADERSHIP SKILLS

 

Leaders need to be able to remain calm and balanced while communicating effectively in pressurized, stressful situations. For example, let’s imagine you’re set to deliver your first public speech to a medical conference talking about the benefits of your company’s breakthrough drug in treating diabetes. Your nerves have the upper hand; words are mumbled, forgotten, or mispronounced. Stress sets in.

 

You need a learning experience that helps you to understand how public speaking experts overcome their nerves. Traditional public speaking courses focus on outward signs, such as physical movements, voice projection, pitch, tone, attire, venue, speech content, and technology. These are important, but what about the elements you can’t see? Unless you get inside an expert’s head, how will you know the importance of frame of mind, self-confidence, energy management, motivation, or harnessing nerves for the skill of presenting effectively? Breakthroughs happen when the visible and invisible are combined into an iterative lifelong learning process.

 

CHANGE CHAMPIONS

 

By seeing the positive impact of a learning method firsthand, change champions will naturally emerge as leaders who are the eyes and ears for the organization, contributing directly to:

 

  • Securing a commitment to change;
  • Involving the right people to drive a new learning model;
  • Promoting benefits of the learning style;
  • Keeping the change top of mind within the organization; and
  • Bringing the L&D vision to life.

 

Our profession will continue to undergo significant changes as innovative technologies change how, where, and when we work. It’s also evident that traditional L&D techniques are only partially effective in promoting long-term success. Our achievements are directly tied to our commitment to, and investment in, lifelong learning and professional development. By identifying and understanding the invisible processing paradigm through which our worldview influences our learning, we can unlock our ability to master any skill we want and reach our greatest potential as finance leaders.

 

David Wray, CPA, CGA, ACA, is vice president of DFCG International Group and an IMA member. You can reach him at author@davidwray.com.
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