I have heard for quite some time about the importance of the “soft” skills in professionals at all levels. It seems that lately the importance of these skills is being elevated by partners, senior financial officers and human resource professionals. Recently I was engaged in a conversation with leaders of their firms and in the profession that accounting skills are a given. The challenge is to find people to hire or promote who have outstanding “soft” skills.
Why are these skills referred to as “soft”? Why are they so hard? Is it because there is no easy way to define the skill levels? Or is it because employers and employees alike have a hard time articulating what the progressive skill levels are? Over the history of the profession it has been pretty easy to define the technical skill requirements to be a staff accountant, senior, manager or partner. It doesn’t seem that the same thing is true of those “soft” skills.
The AICPA Vision Project and subsequent CPA Horizons 2025 project identified the profession’s “core competencies.” Communications Skills, Leadership Skills, Critical-Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills, Anticipating and Serving Evolving Needs, Synthesizing Intelligence to Insight, Integration and Collaboration. Those are the “soft” skills that all CPA employers are seriously looking for. The profession historically has been very good at developing the technical skills in their professional staff. But it’s been not so good at developing the “soft” skills. The core competencies.
Why so important today? The emphasis on these skills is a direct result of complexity in everything we do. It is a result of the need for any organization to be adaptive, dynamic and agile. For organizations to be resilient, these competencies are essential.
So, employers send staff to classes on communications, leadership and problem solving. And then they hope. The problem is that these classes include participants with a wide variety of skill in whatever the “soft” skill. There is no real focus on the needs of professionals in the class. Until employers can clearly articulate the level of communication (or leadership, critical thinking, etc.) skills that a staff accountant must possess, as opposed to a partner, there likely won’t be much improvement.
But keep an eye out. The Indiana CPA Society has been developing the tools you need to provide just the type of direction required to improve these core competencies. You will hear more later this summer and fall. Just one big way we are working to “enhance the professional success of our members.”