A Crisis of Competency

toolboxCongratulations. You’ve graduated from a distinguished college. You’re filled with a sense of accomplishment and confidence from what you’ve learned, and now you’re ready to head full steam into your first job. Everything seems to be following the path you’ve laid out for yourself, and yet for most of the people like you, the next three to five years of your life are about to drastically change.

The majority of accounting and finance college graduates will change careers three to five years after they graduate, landing jobs in managerial accounting whether or not they started there. This leaves a lot of young professionals feeling overwhelmed and underprepared as they realize what they learned in school doesn’t adequately match up to the skills they need on the job.

And new job seekers aren’t the only ones who are seeing this skills gap. Stagnant curricula coupled with expanding professional roles and increasing global competitiveness are why, according to Accenture, more than 50% of finance executives are finding it hard to hire accounting and financial professionals with the skills they need to succeed. At the same time, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the number of new accounting jobs in the United States will grow by 13% from 2012 to 2022, and baby boomers will retire without a qualified workforce to replace them.

The situation, in fact, is a competency crisis.

How can we fix this?

We all play a part: schools, companies, and individuals.

It’s important that schools prepare their students for whatever their future careers will be—to train students not just for their first job but for their life-long careers. Schools that have curricula mostly oriented toward public accounting need to broaden their course offerings to encompass the broader range of competencies their students will need.

Educators can make use of more real-life case studies, such as those found in the IMA Educational Case Journal. Case studies that are rich in detail can illustrate current problems and complexities characteristic of today’s dynamic business environment.

Companies need to be more proactive in reaching out to schools to let them know what skills are lacking in the graduates they hire. Also, companies should consider setting up training programs for new and seasoned staff to make sure all are up-to-date with the most relevant information.

Individuals also need to do their part. If you find that your skills are lacking in a certain area, either see if your company will assist in accessing proper training or go outside of your organization so that you can obtain the skills necessary to advance your career.

The above suggestions aren’t the only answers. Dialogue is needed between the profession’s various stakeholders to collaborate and find grassroots solutions. It is only by all parties working together that we can overcome this competency crisis.

Written by Dr. Raef Lawson, CMA, CPA, CFP, CFA

Follow me on Twitter @RaefLawson

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Sharpening the Saw: Reflections on International Women’s Day, Part 1

Like many IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) members, I first joined the 3.7.14_International-Women's-Day-Graphic-FB_2organization to earn the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant)  certification. After becoming a CMA, however, the main reason why I stayed active in IMA was to further my own career as a businesswoman and, at the same time, encourage other women to do the same. Even now, in my current position as IMA’s director of European operations, I see it as my duty to communicate the importance of networking and personal development, especially to younger women just starting their careers. As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, it seems fitting to take a moment to share my reflections on how IMA can help women in finance.

When I was a young finance professional, I was completely unaware of the importance of networking.  A male colleague, who started at the company the same time as me, was promoted despite the fact that I had put in more hours. He regularly visited me in my office to ask why I didn’t go out to lunch more with the team instead of working through lunch at my desk. I finally understood the importance of networking after seeing this colleague in action, solving an interdepartmental problem with his network of friends and supporters.

Cutting edgeAnother pivotal moment in my personal development was reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. “Sharpening the saw,” or preserving and enhancing yourself with a holistic lifestyle and continuous learning, stuck with me the most. Women, especially, are so giving of themselves that sometimes we neglect our own well-being. Especially for working women who are also mothers, it can be impossible to even think about “sharpening the saw” at the end of a busy day.

When I encountered IMA, I realized it could help me improve both my networking and finance skills. In addition, by offering members access to free or inexpensive continuous professional education opportunities, IMA supports women in their efforts to “sharpen the saw.” Professional organizations, like IMA, encourage networking and professional development for women to succeed in business.

How do you build your network and in what ways have you “sharpened the saw”?

Written by Nina Michels-Kim, CMA

Follow me on Twitter: @NinaMichelsKim

Earning by Learning

Sometimes in life it seems that taking the easy way out is the best choice, but in fact this is often the worst possible choice. Earning a certification should never be a time to consider a shortcut.

scattered_booksAs senior vice president of ICMA® (Institute of Certified Management Accountants), the certification division of IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants), I see firsthand the value and importance of studying for and passing a rigorous testing program.
I see two major benefits of testing:

Confirm your competency and skill set.

If you want to be a driver, you take a road test. In college, you take exams to pass a course. So why would it be any different for earning a certification?

Assessing one’s knowledge of management accounting through testing advances careers of individuals, increases the effectiveness of finance teams in organizations, and enriches economies as a whole.

Certifications are often a key differentiator in the hiring and promotion process as companies value the objective validation of competence. Finance team hiring managers want to have confidence that the person they’re hiring has mastered a rigorous curriculum that’s verified objectively. Earning a certification demonstrates that you have the skills needed to help your company succeed because certification, in addition to continuing Perseveranceeducation and experience, helps you stay relevant and sharpens your skill set.

Without proper testing there’s no integrity and no validity to a certification.

I like what Susan Weiss, Ph.D., CMA, adjunct accounting instructor at Bryant University, said in the March 2012 ION: “Perseverance is the key because anything worth having is worth working hard for. It may seem like a lot of planning and time management is required to pursue a certification like the CMA, but the end results are clearly worth it.”

No matter how much you think you know, you learn so much more.

From 2010 to 2020, there’s a projected 13% growth in employment among accountants, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A recent Manpower study also found that “Accounting & Finance Staff” is one of the Top 10 Hardest Jobs to Fill.

Changes in accounting regulations, advancements in technology, increasing globalization, and an ever-evolving profession result in changes in the work of the management accountant. With these changes in the job comes the need for new knowledge, skills, and abilities, and the lack of these skills has created a gap between what management accountants know and what’s needed on the job. Studying for and passing a certification like the CMA can help close that gap.

I’ve been with IMA for 20 years and I recently earned the CAE (Certified Association Executive) by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). After meeting the experience and education requirements, I had to study for and pass an exam. I thought I knew a lot about association management, but I learned a whole lot more. Not only did I learn more, but I also feel the intangible benefits of increased confidence and effectiveness in my job. I earned a sense of achievement and was rewarded with a credential knowing that I was current with the demands of my profession.

Don’t take the easy way out. Study and work hard for your credential and be proud of the letters next to your name. You earned them.

Written by Dennis Whitney, CMA, CFM, CAE

Follow me on twitter: @IMA_DWhitney

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CFOs Must Tackle Technology in the New Year

CFOs and football players have a lot in common. They plan their route around competitors with strategic thinking, they evaluate their previous decisions for future success, and they’re continuously learning new techniques to stay ahead of the curve. The biggest “play” CFOs can make in the future is becoming sharp with new technological advances.

Big data, cyber security, cloud technology, digital service delivery, and even artificial intelligence and robotics are the linebackers in the room who are changing business strategies. Who would have thought 10 years ago that these trends would become part of the CFO’s role?

CFO Month

Because of the ever-evolving role of the CFO, and the fluctuating business landscape, IMA® and strategic partner ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) have marked January as “CFO Month” with this year’s theme being technology.

IMA and ACCA are always thinking ahead. This means we realize the impact  technology has on how CFOs do business, and it’0s our joint goal to provide the most informative resources possible to aid them in their roles.Together we support CFOs and aspiring professionals as they step into broader, more strategic roles. In the year ahead, we could also see the rise of the chief financial and technology officer (CFTO) as an important member of an organization’s leadership team.

IMA and ACCA research reports, such as “Digital Darwinism: Thriving in the Face of Technology Change” and “Big Data: Its Power and Perils,” revealed technological trends that will affect business in the future. There’s a future of opportunity out there for businesses that embrace technology and harness the increasing amount of data available for decision making.

Organizations of all sizes can use technology and big data to gain a competitive advantage. CFOs are at the forefront of this exciting business transformation. Like any other business transformation, CFOs need to take a balanced approach that includes technology enablement for information delivery, risk management, internal controls, fraud/cyber security, and ethical concerns to help lead organizations successfully into the future.

While no one has a crystal ball to predict the future, we can confidently say that tomorrow’s finance profession will have a distinctly technological flavor to it. How do you think technology will affect how you do business in the year ahead?

Written by Jeff Thomson, CMA, CAE

Follow me on Twitter @ima_JeffThomson

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Volunteer Leadership – What’s In It For You?

In professional associations, many Puzzle on white background. Isolated 3D imageleadership opportunities exist for volunteers. It is this powerful relationship between the association and its volunteer members that help organizations deliver their mission.

Throughout my career, I’ve had numerous leadership opportunities including my current role as IMA’s director of market advocacy. I have the pleasure to serve as a staff liaison to IMA’s three technical committees to ensure that these groups represent the interests of accounting and finance professionals everywhere.

Aside from the intangible benefits that volunteerism brings, such as a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, and giving back, I see three tangible benefits that our volunteer leaders gain through their roles.

Making Connections

As I’ve observed from the volunteers I work with, participating on a committee can expose you to a variety of people with a common interest. volunterer_leadership-QuoteProfessional associations offer access to boards, committees, subcommittees, and ad-hoc groups—a plethora of opportunities for volunteers to broaden their networks and commit to a shared common goal. In my role, I get to strengthen my existing relationships with members, as well as meet people in my field with a multitude of perspectives from around the globe. Networking is important to everyone, regardless of your career level. Business contacts and even personal friendships can stem from volunteer positions.

Advancing Your Skill Set and Your Career

Volunteer roles help you gain experience in a particular area of interest, practice relevant skills in a safe environment, and learn what it takes to be an effective leader to aid in the progression of your career path. Going outside of your normal day-to-day job is a differentiator that also adds skills to your résumé. Volunteer roles can help you gain experience you may not otherwise be able to get.

Yet, as important as it is to step up and be a leader, it’s also important to step back, share your knowledge with others, and allow them to step up. The most valuable experience I’ve gained as a leader is learning to facilitate successful outcomes without controlling the process. True leaders assist in the process of grooming someone else to lead a task. Being a strategic thinker and creating opportunities for others is also a rewarding experience, as you watch others grow from your guidance.

Impacting a Cause

At IMA, our volunteers serve as a voice, not only within a group, but on behalf of the profession as a whole. Advocating for a cause enhances technical knowledge while helping the greater good. At IMA, our volunteers are passionate about serving the interests of small businesses, promoting sound financial reporting standards, and educating the business community about important issues that impact them in some way.

If you have an opportunity to take on a leadership role, go for it. These valuable experiences will help you expand your knowledge, create lasting personal and professional relationships, and make a powerful difference in the community.

Have you had an interesting volunteer experience? Did it exceed your expectations?

Written by Linda Devonish-Mills, CMA, CPA

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Earning Value through Trust

Following my initial year as IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) president and CEO, I intended to move the organization to the next level by creating more sustainable value outside of what’s defined as “economic” or “monetary” value. I recognized that we focused on what we do on a daily basis; that’s the easy part. It was time to place more focus on how we do it.

Here at IMA, we promote ethical behavior through daily actions—not hollow words—and thus the mantra of “creating value through values” was formed. I recently contributed a chapter on this subject to the book Trust Inc.: Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset. In this post, I’ll summarize the key takeaway: creating a value statement is only the beginning. Leaders must have an internal strategy for ethical leadership and accountability in order to increase business value and overall performance.

Making Values Your Anchor

As the world’s leading management accounting association, IMA raises the bar with how anchorwe serve our members, volunteers, staff, as well as regulators and other external stakeholders. Our organization was going global after my first year as president and CEO. This meant that IMA’s values and culture would go far beyond our U.S. headquarters, reaching our growing markets in China, the Middle East, and Europe. Our values would attempt to cross various cultural norms and, while nothing is ever perfect, it’s critical to make the substantial effort in initiating foundational principles of how we do business.

Ethical Leadership Starts from the Top

It’s disheartening to reflect upon the many public scandals that have negatively impacted the reputation and perception of corporate leaders and the accounting and finance profession. This particular issue was the reason I decided not to outsource the process but draft IMA’s initial Core Values statement myself. If exemplary behavior and ethical leadership is required and expected to start from the top, then the genuineness and authenticity of the values become evident through the whole organization.

But in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni advises that people have to weigh-in before they buy-in. So I took my initial draft and invited input from different levels of the organization for two months. This process involved personal feedback from my leadership team, then from a confidential comment period with the entire global staff.

IMA’s Global Core Values

The final draft of IMA’s Global Core Values reflects the ideal values of the organization as a whole and the inner strength of trust, ensuring its survivability beyond the current management. The following five Global Core Values can be read separately but are mutually dependent, reminiscent of the relationship between the IMA organization and its members.

  1. Respect for the Individual
  2. Passion for Serving Members
  3. Highest Standards of Integrity and Trust
  4. Innovation and Continuous Improvement
  5. Teaming to Achieve

These five Core Values and their in-depth descriptions are framed, distributed, adopted, and hung all over our headquarters and in volunteer leaders’ hallways and offices. It serves as a symbol of unity and trust. While it may be easy to talk about Core Values, enforcing these behaviors in action is the next step in generating value for the organization.

Individual Accountability

Organizations must create ways to recognize and hold individuals accountable for their behavior. For example, IMA has incorporated the Global Core Values in our staff performance reviews and volunteer selection and recognition processes. They also serve as a guide as we evaluate and pursue strategic partnerships with other organizations.

The Good Guys Can Win

The results of enacting Global Core Values show our dedication to the qualitative investment in our human capital and growth. In time, we’ve seen high employee and volunteer retention, promotions of exemplary leaders, an increase in continued education and certification, new partnerships with like-minded organizations, and a visible self-regulating culture. These successful signs reveal that Global Core Values have transitioned from symbolic to being “real.” It’s our proactive approach to promote the old saying, “the good guys can win” in the end.

Written by Jeff Thomson, CMA, CAE

Follow me on Twitter @ima_JeffThomson

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Mining for Gold; Good Data for Good Business Decisions

Good Data for Good Business DecisionsI often hear people complain that they are “drowning in data but starving for information.” It’s a common problem for both businesses and individuals— and a topic I discussed with IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) President and CEO Jeff Thomson in a recent interview.

In fact, according to technology research firm IDC, the amount of data in the world is said to double every two years! Defined as a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process, Big Data presents challenges to organizations seeking to harness it.

You may be wondering how your organization can make the most of Big Data for effective business decisions. I recommend, instead, shifting the discussion from “Big Data” to “Big Value.” Several kinds of tools have been heralded as solutions for harnessing data to make faster, smarter decisions, but what are the differences, and how are they best used?

A Shift in the Conversation

As IMA’s executive-in-residence, I examine business trends and assist with research, and I’d like to offer some clarity on these tools. In the past, business intelligence (BI) software tools have been offered as the solution for leveraging Big Data, but an emerging term, business analytics (BA), is gaining popularity and causing some confusion.

Business intelligence answers basic questions. It summarizes historical data, typically in table reports and graphs, so that businesses can answer questions. But reports don’t simplify data or explain its value; they simply package up the data so it can be consumed.

Business analytics, on the other hand, creates questions. It produces new information. Finally, there’s the concept of predictive analytics, a subset of business analytics. It can display the possibility (and ideally the probability) of outcomes based on the assumptions of variables. In other words, predictive analytics leverages data to drive better and faster decisions, thereby improving an organization’s performance.

Making Sound Decisions

In business and in life, it’s important to use data to make well-informed decisions. There is always risk when decisions are made based on intuition, gut feel, or flawed and misleading data.

In business, it’s important to identify the decisions that matter most to your organization. By understanding the type of decision needed, it becomes easy to determine what type of analysis to use to reach your goal.

Business analytics is the next wave for organizations to successfully compete and make the best use of their resources and assets. The ultimate business strategy, in the long run, may be to foster analytical expertise among an organization’s staff.

What tips do you have to leverage good data in order to make sound decisions?



Guest blogger Gary Cokins, CPIM, is president of Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC and IMA’s executive-in-residence.


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