In the current market, it’s not unusual for boards to be on the hunt for senior finance talent when looking for new members, said Kylie Hammond, chief executive of Director Institute Next Generation Directors.
However, for accountants to get themselves on the radar, it’s important to think outside of a “numbers framework”, which can be their weakness.
“You need to be at the top of the tree in terms of technical competency. But what they look for from financial executives – accountants, CFOs, financial controllers – is your influence in making decisions about the business strategy and the execution of strategy,” Ms Hammond told AccountantsDaily.
“They are really looking for commercially minded executives who can look at things from all angles, not necessarily just through a financial prism, although that is important.”
Ms Hammond is confident that accountants are competent and appropriate for roles that require this skillset, but are often “pigeon-holed” into numbers-based roles.
“There’s maybe not the expectation from others that the CFO is going to come up with the next bright idea in the business. It think it’s about being assertive, putting forward your suggestions and ideas, and not just presenting on the numbers,” she said.
“You need to translate what the numbers mean in terms of business strategy, opportunity, growth, people, processes and systems,” she said.
The “number one” skill accountants with board and executive aspirations should work on is their communication; in particular, their communication of their ideas to senior management.
Further, Ms Hammond stressed the importance of investing in personal development, with many employers not providing these services to their accounting recruits as they once were.
“I always recommend people put 10 per cent of their income back into themselves in terms of personal development,” she said.
“That could be through a range of things. That could be through communication skills courses. It could be an MBA. It could be going to Harvard for a two-week residential program – there’s a range of opportunities that would boost your prospects,” she said.
Ms Hammond also noted that there tends to be a generational gap when it comes to accountants’ willingness to adapt their skillset – with Millennials, in particular, actively seeking personal development opportunities and keen to broaden their communication skillset.
The “old guard” tend to be more hesitant to adapting and adjusting their skillset, and tend to be more on the conservative side, Ms Hammond added.