Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Non-Technical Toolkit

In what seems like a lifetime ago, there was an opening in my former company for a publisher to oversee one of its flagship B-to-B magazines. The odd-on favorite to get the job was the incumbent sales manager who was incredibly well-versed about the trends in the industry it covered and knew all the pertinent advertising vendors.

To our amazement, the job eventually went to an outsider with little publishing experience. We all predicted he would not last 6 months in the job. As it turned out, he enjoyed an astonishingly brief learning curve and by the end of the first year, the magazine had reported a double digit increase in ad sales.

One day I cornered the CEO and asked why Bob (not his real name) was tapped to head the publication and not the long-term employee Glen (again not his real name). The CEO pulled me aside and said “Listen, anyone can be brought up to speed on trends and learn which companies spend in terms of advertising but Bob had a number of intangible skills that we felt were better suited.”

I’ve often thought about how that non-job-specific criteria per se could be applied to hiring at CPA firms as well as not a week goes by that I don’t read an article or blog about the talent void and the profession’s eternal lament that good help is hard to find. 

I remember a survey from a few years back that polled some 2,000 firm owners and CFOs on what non-technical skills they looked for with regard to potential accounting hires.

About one third responded that they thought general business knowledge was the most critical non-technical skill, while about a quarter wanted IT expertise. Those were followed in order by communications skills and leadership abilities, respectively. Personally, I thought communications skills would have ranked higher on the list particularly writing and presentation skills as much of new business development for example, is achieved through networking at various events and conferences.

Anyway for those keeping score at home, Bob spent three years as publisher building the brand to among the strongest in what was an incredibly competitive sector before being lured away by a high-profile consumer mag where he flourished for nearly a decade before retiring.

As for the sales manager he tried his hand at publishing with another company, but soon realized that his non-technical toolkit was inadequate for the promotion and like a lifer in the military just sort of faded away.

So I guess if there’s a lesson to be learned here is knowing Adobe, Excel or PowerPoint and having decent public speaking skills may be more valuable to your firm in the long run than knowing how to navigate FIN 48.

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