What’s Wrong with Finance Training

And how some companies are finding ways to make it work.

Randy Myers is a contributing editor to CFO.

Sim-ply Marvelous

Training simulators aren’t just for astronauts and pilots anymore. With computing power ever more affordable, simulation software is popping up everywhere, from kids’ games (the popular Sims line from Electronic Arts) to corporate training programs.

Simulations per se aren’t new to the corporate training environment; for years, companies have pulled employees together and asked them to work through simulated business problems as a group. Andromeda Training Inc., in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has been developing and marketing business simulations since 1993. Its facilitator-led “Income/Outcome” program allows users to see how the decisions they make can affect a company’s profitability while teaching them basic business and finance concepts.
“I’ve sat through it, and it’s absolutely astounding,” says Harvey Singh, founder and CEO of Instancy Inc., a Cary, North Carolina–based company that helps businesses share knowledge among their employees. “What I would learn from reading three or four books I could learn a lot more quickly and readily in a simulation environment.”

Increasingly, simulations are moving online, as new software generates sophisticated problems and multivariable situations to which learners must respond — and face the consequences. Companies on a budget can dip their toes into the simulation waters using desktop programs such as Adobe Systems Inc.’s Macromedia Captivate, which simplifies the creation of E-learning content by giving more control to nontechnical staff, resulting in a highly functional tutorial, demo, or simulation that can be offered online, on a disk, or embedded in other applications.

Frank Hanfland, manager of training technology and interactive media at Safety-Kleen Systems Inc., says he can now create for hundreds of dollars what previously required tens of thousands of dollars — and in less time to boot. “Before, I would sit down with a subject expert, discuss the subject matter, try to learn what they were doing, and then go to a graphics designer and finally to a programmer, and then run back and forth three or four times to the subject expert,” he says. “Now I give Captivate to the subject expert and say, ‘Go crazy.’ Captivate captures his contribution, and then he passes it to me for a quick edit,” and voilà!, a module is born.

“I think this is where the future is,” says Singh, referring to the widespread popularity of computer games. “Kids are growing up with these tools.” — R.M.

Charm School for CFOs

Can training help turn a promising but unpolished finance manager into a company’s next CFO? Maybe, but it’s not easy.

Neil Witmer, an executive coach, management consultant, and organizational psychologist who runs Witmer & Associates, in Oak Brook, Illinois, has been helping firms evaluate executive talent for two decades. In that time, he’s identified six qualities he considers critical for world-class CFOs: intelligence; the ability to think in multiple dimensions; the ability to operate at either a macro or micro level at will; broad business experience; the willingness to take reasonable risks to grow the business; and the ability to read people (what he calls “social insight”).

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