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How Leading Finance Teams Are Training Their Way to Digital Expertise

May 26, 2021

Contributor: Rob van der Meulen

Improving digital competency in finance is essential to get the most out of the broad transformation that is taking place, yet most training is currently inadequate. Finance leaders need to think differently as a result.

Digital transformation is at the top of leadership agendas in many organizations, but it will be hard to realize its promise without the right skills in place. Organizations should not rely on being able to hire scarce skills and must instead fundamentally change how they train for digital.

“The organizations that will get the best returns on digital are those that successfully train and retain their existing employees rather than trying to hire in-demand skills,” says Jake Dunne, Director, Advisory, Gartner. “But the way many currently train for digital is ineffective. It doesn’t do a good job of creating critical and emerging digital capabilities in an organization.”

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Two main root causes account for why much of digital training today is inadequate. First, digital skill investments are often spread unevenly, and even then, there is poor knowledge retention from training initiatives. This creates digital knowledge gaps in an organization that impede the sort of collaborative on-the-job learning that builds broad, persistent digital talent.

“Second, training is often only given in one format, such as classroom training, and usually only catering to junior staff and lacks any opportunity to apply the lessons in practice,” says Dunne. “And also it tends to be given to one or two ‘specialists’ within a team, so their ability to collaborate with others in their line of work is hampered.”

Identify learning moments

What Gartner experts recommend is that finance leaders should identify the digital skills they need to achieve their objectives and then train everyone — from the CFO — around those digital skills to coincide with opportune moments to put those lessons into practice.

For example, data literacy training might start with a typical business problem that is met with employee training around defining relevant data elements. When the right opportunity arises, there can be further learning on the quality limitations of those elements and how to communicate that quality through an analytic deliverable. 

Democratize finance digital transformation

“Classroom training is really a quarter of what comprehensive digital training looks like,” says Dunne. “Create opportunities for independent study and individual course work, as well as group hackathons or online learning communities to give people different ways to put their new skills into practice both individually and as a team.”

Furthermore, it’s important to make foundational digital training mandatory for everyone, even the CFO. This democratizes the process of digital transformation in an organization and will help to boost utilization and internal knowledge transfer as well as ensure that digital opportunities are well-understood at leadership level.

Increase retention

There is little point in investing in digital skills training if your hard-learned skills simply walk out the door in a short period of time. Looking at ways to make internal opportunities highly visible to existing employees and encouraging lateral moves within the organization are effective ways to hang on to digital talent, and also to source hard-to-find skills within your own organization. Think of it as building your own highly skilled internal labor market.  

Moreover, hybrid working arrangements since the pandemic may become a battleground for employee retention, as expectations around remote working and work-life balance have shifted significantly in the past 18 months. Given these retention issues, now more than ever, career development is top of mind for employees. Successfully leveraging and applying digital training is imperative to make staff see their position as a career rather than just a job.

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