Anxiety over job security is real. The World Economic Forum reports that 42% of core skills required for most jobs are going to change by 2022, and many sources estimate the half-life of most professional skills to be five years or less. The frequent disruptions in the business environment and the accelerating pace of change demand re-skilling to remain relevant.
Alas, school and professional curricula are not keeping pace, and ageing degrees may be less applicable to current and future needs. The skills and mindsets that got us to our present positions will not get us to the future, so we need to invest in learning and resetting, refining and re-skilling. Put in the words of Alvin Toffler, the great futurist, we need to, “Learn, unlearn and relearn.”
This article is an excerpt from the AFP FP&A Guide: Becoming a Value-focused Finance Organization, underwritten by Workday. Download the full guide here.
Broadly, there are three types of learning. Accidental or incidental learning happens by chance, as you come across something new. Conscious learning is seeking out unspecified knowledge, such as when reading the newspaper online or watching the news. Both are critical, and in addition, we need to embark on deliberate or intentional learning, where we intentionally acquire new information and knowledge for a purpose. Even when your career is going well, be sure to set aside time regularly for deliberate learning. I recommend creating lists of what you want to learn, including small skills and larger capabilities.
For finance practitioners, consider paths outside of finance, including:
- “Soft” skills oriented around people and relationships.
- Fresh approaches to problem solving such as critical thinking and analytical reasoning.
- Tips and tricks for managing remote and hybrid teams.
- Familiarity with data related knowledge and skills.
One avenue for deliberate learning is to seek out structured curricula through courses, classes, and certifications; a second avenue includes self-study such as reading good books and following thought leaders in the field(s) of your choice via their podcasts, newsletters and webinars. A third avenue is to structure your career and incorporate/embrace experiences for deliberate learning. For example, you can take on different roles within finance, explore roles outside finance, and/or volunteer for cross-functional projects. You can move across geographies, business sizes or business models. If you are a leader, take care to facilitate these opportunities for your people.
In my own career, I was eager and fortunate to be able to do all of those. I exited finance to lead sales and distribution for the Asia-Pacific region, handled business operations, was the head of strategy and business development, and assumed charge as the general manager for a couple of business units. Eventually I returned to finance as a regional CFO. All these pivots were learning opportunities that increased my influence and credibility as a finance leader because I understood the stresses and realities of the business. The skills and tools were additive, and sometimes contradictory. I was learning, unlearning, relearning at every stage of my career.
I will make a quick comment about risk-taking and failure: Tim Harford, author of “Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure,” said, “Success comes through rapidly fixing our mistakes rather than getting things right the first time.” Give yourself permission to fail, and treat failure as feedback. If you are a team leader, encourage your team members to think outside of the box. Giving them the time, resources and freedom to explore new areas for innovative ideas often results in breakthrough products, services and processes. The biggest risk is that fear of failure leads to avoidance and inaction.
A career has a long trajectory, and your progression is really a zigzag of successes and failures. To stay relevant and thrive, what will you do to be a deliberate learner, embrace the growth mindset and keep reinventing yourself?