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Poor Interpersonal Skills Doom Employee Advancement

June 21, 2013

A new survey from the staffing company Accountemps finds that the top reason cited by CFOs for why their employees fail to advance is poor interpersonal skills (30 percent).

However, only about one out of five (19 percent) financial executives said their companies are likely to invest in soft skills training in the next two years, up from 8 percent in 2008.

Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half International, the parent company of Accountemps, explained to me some of the ways that companies and accounting firms are offering professional development to help employees develop their interpersonal skills and advance up the career ladder.

“As you can see from our survey, we asked 2,100 CFOs, ‘In your opinion, which of the following are the most common reasons for employees’ failure to advance at your company?’ Far and away, 30 percent of the respondents said poor interpersonal skills,” he said. “Then after that, the survey went into poor work ethic and not developing new skills. When we asked the follow-up questions of the CFOs, ‘which of the following types of skills are you likely to invest in for your accounting and financial staff for the next two years?’ I’m not surprised that accounting and finance training came in number 1. Five years ago, it came in number 2.”

He noted that accounting and financial training, and information technology training, ranked number 1 and number 2, respectively, both five years ago and in Accountemps’ most recent survey. “

What’s really interesting is the importance of soft skills,” McDonald added. “It’s coming in at number 3 in the types of training that CFOs will provide. Soft skills are communication and interpersonal training courses, or development within the organizations. Actually, the respondents doubled to 19 percent from 8 percent. It shows the importance of interpersonal skills, or critical nontechnical skills, are starting to play, just in the last five years.”

He sees a number of reasons for that. “People in finance and accounting, earlier on in their careers, are being asked to make presentations more often,” McDonald pointed out. “Technology is doing more of the mundane number-crunching. The first few years of your career was tied up in ticking and tying. Now a lot of that is automated. As a result, they’re asking people earlier on in their careers to come forward and make presentations, speak on teleconferences, and present the data. And having the ability to relate to individuals as well makes it more of a collaborative environment.”

Companies are using a number of training options for this type of professional development. “One would be in-person courses or online courses,” said McDonald. “The usage of video in online courses is becoming much more prevalent to model what a good interchange between individuals would look like and sound like. There are also conferences and workshops that employers can send individuals to. Many of the trade associations, in the past few years, are getting really honed in on the need for soft skills training.”

This can occur early in a professional’s career as well, or even before accounting students graduate college. “For instance, Beta Alpha Psi goes through a number of emphases, both in campus chapters and in regional and national and international meetings, and is very much in the forefront of preparing these students and preparing these new grads for success in their careers, with emphasis on soft skills training,” said McDonald.

He also sees mentoring as a good way to teach interpersonal skills. “I find mentoring programs highly effective within an organization,” said McDonald. “We’re seeing more corporations and companies worldwide providing mentoring. This can be a two-way mentoring process, or a partnership process, where one partner would have strong technical skills and can impart some of that knowledge to the other partner, and the other partner may have very good leadership skills and very good nontechnical skills or soft skills that they can share with the partner. Mentoring works, and the partnering program works as well.”

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