Learning leaders aren’t the only top brass who care about workforce development. At least, they shouldn’t be. It takes the metaphoric village — of senior leaders — to skill up today’s workforce. Chief Learning Officer spoke with Benjamin R. Mulling, chief financial officer for TENTE Casters Inc. and chair-emeritus of IMA’s Global Directors, to get his take on what employees at various levels really need from the learning function in order to succeed. Mulling also shared some of his personal anecdotes on the connection between career success and targeted development.
- How can organizations identify the professionals who are best suited for targeted development opportunities?
Organizations must seek candidates who show ambition and drive. The strongest candidate isn’t one who has been out of college for a certain number of years, but rather one who: continuously shows their core values, learns through ongoing education, takes initiative in their day-to-day tasks, and shows their tenacity and ambition, both in a professional setting and in their personal life, such as volunteering or joining associations.
- What skills do entry-level professionals need to be successful? How would you recommend organizations identify these skills in young talent?
The skills that entry-level professionals need to be successful include a mixture of soft and hard skills. Soft skills include communication, verbal and nonverbal, having courage to stand up in certain situations, and maintaining composure during tough scenarios. Entry-level professionals must be proactive and determined to get ahead of their competition.
Organizations can identify the aforementioned skills by paying close attention to when employees go above and beyond in various situations, and then purposefully take action to recognize them specifically, publicly and in a timely fashion. Identifying these skills can also come from an employee recognition plan that nurtures loyalty and a commitment to the company culture.
- How do certifications and other development opportunities help nurture and reveal these skills?
Entry-level professionals often enter the workforce believing that once they receive a degree they’re equipped with the necessary tools to lead an organization. Yet, when they get into a leadership position, they stumble because they didn’t anticipate all the necessary steps they needed to take in between. This is where certification comes into play, providing the groundwork for the steps in between coming out of college or entering the professional field to obtaining a leadership position.
- How did obtaining certifications impact your career/skill set?
When I first stepped into the CFO role, I was prepared to tackle any challenge. As I became more immersed in the position, I realized there was a gap between what I knew and what I needed to know to do my job. That’s when I obtained the CMA (Certified Management Accountant) certification. My education, until the age of 28 when I entered the C-suite, helped me become CFO. But the CMA continuously helps me do my job in terms of managing staff, acting ethically and assessing business risks. I applied my certification knowledge to my everyday tasks, thereby becoming a more competent CFO.
- What can employers do to advance learning capabilities and skills development for employees?
There are multiple ways, but the top three for me are recognition, rewards and results. Publicly recognizing employees when they advance their career, such as continue their education or receive a certification, shows other staff members that your organization acknowledges the employees’ hard work. A financial reward can also help advance their learning capabilities and can propel other employees to do the same.
Another way is with a transfer of knowledge, which can lead to powerful results for the organization. Managers in the finance function protect their jobs by withholding information about their processes because they don’t want the employee to potentially take over their role. This trend must stop because this is not how a transfer of knowledge occurs, and leaders with this mentality are not equipped to develop top talent.
- Continuous education is important, but how can employer-sponsored courses advance certain skills and help retain talent? What’s the benefit to both the organization and employee?
From a leadership and learning standpoint, employer-sponsored courses help retain talent because it shows employees that they have the opportunity to grow, and that their company wants them to continuously learn and develop new skills.
My company frequently provides leadership training for the managerial staff, technical training for the product development staff and manufacturing training where we bring in local universities to help answer employee questions and address other topics. This shows staff members that their employer is willing to invest in them, that they’re part of a bigger picture, helping to drive the organization forward.
The benefit of employer-sponsored training is if a company shows they’re investing in their employees through various learning opportunities, the employees, in turn, will invest in the organization in terms of time and effort.
- How did ongoing learning and developing your skills aid in your rise to the C-suite at such an early age?
Having certain degrees and certifications showed my superiors that I was a competent professional, capable of handling different tasks that I was willing to improve and grow. When I started my career, I proactively assessed my skills gaps and continued my education and joined professional associations like the Institute of Management Accountants to ensure I closed these gaps. I kept my finger on the pulse of finance and accounting industry trends and proactively tapped into my network for guidance.
Companies can provide ongoing learning and development opportunities for their staff, but recognizing the ones that have a desire to improve is what will take their organization to the next level. My desire to improve and succeed as a professional is what pushed me harder and continues to do so. It is this desire that aided my rise to the C-suite and makes me an effective CFO.
Kellye Whitney is associate editorial director for Chief Learning Officer magazine. To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.