Problem Solving has emerged as one of the key skills that accountants will need in the future. As we are increasingly called upon to help solve problems, both in business and in practice, so it's vital that we hone our skills in this area so that we can continue to add value to our organisations in the future. In this extract from his new course, Problem Solving for Accountants, Alan Nelson describes how we can develop our problem-solving skills.
Before we elaborate on why accountants should be interested in developing their problem-solving skills, let's go back to basics.
The most obvious sign of a problem is that something is not working as well as you would like it to be.
What is a problem?
What are the signs that there is a problem? A downturn in reported sales for the period?
Whether it is a financial reporting issue, a timing issue, a sales issue or a business performance problem, the most obvious sign of a problem is that something is not working as well as you would like it to be.
What are examples of typical accounting problems?
Accountants and finance professionals deal with problems on a daily basis. You might:
- Spot that some creditors are taking longer to pay
- Reconcile accounts
- Notice that an important KPI is off target
- Identify an increase in production costs
- Uncover errors in tax returns
- Foresee a cash shortage before it becomes critical
As accountants, it's vital that you notice the finer details, meaning you are able to spot errors and patterns with figures. Not only do you have the skills to identify these kinds of problems, but you have the technical knowledge to make the numbers right.
How is the nature of problem-solving changing in accounting?
Emerging technologies are causing the accounting industry to change. Computer programmes are starting to rectify the nitty-gritty numbers issues that accountants traditionally dealt with, meaning you will be faced with new problems to solve.
As those of you in practice attempt to move towards becoming trusted business advisers, and those in business towards being finance business partners, rather than being asked to solve problems to do with the accounts, you will be asked to seek out – and provide solutions to – issues in the wider business.
How will I need to develop my problem-solving skills then?
With the rise of automation, accountants of the future will be required to focus less on highlighting these sorts of issues with the numbers, and become much better at thinking up alternative solutions to a range of issues across the organisation.
Your job will be to bring problems to senior management and highlight how they present an opportunity for the business to improve – provide a better service, make better products, satisfy more customers, make more money... the list goes on.
And there are two different sets of skills that you can develop to help you do this.
Traditionally, the strategies used to get to the cause of a problem can be seen as being either creative or analytical. So it's developing your problem-solving skills in these areas that the new course focuses on.
Alan Nelson is an author for accountingcpd. To see his courses, click here.