What’s Wrong with Finance Training

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

Middle managers may well have sufficient intelligence to move higher up the finance chain, says Witmer, but they are often lacking in other areas. They have a hard time seeing the big picture, are overly cautious, lack social insight, or don’t have broad business experience. Unfortunately, he says, only one of those attributes — business breadth — is highly developable. “The others are really more genetically wired,” he says, adding that while a shortfall in one or more of those areas might be OK at smaller firms where the CFO role is less demanding, their absence would be a “fatal flaw” at the Fortune 100 level.

What about so-called soft skills — a polished presence, say, or strong communications skills? The great CFOs all have them, Witmer says, but he’s not inclined to include them on his short list of essentials. “I know brilliant CFOs,” he says, “who are not terribly articulate.” — R.M.

If a Colleague Falls in the Forest

You’ve heard about them, no doubt, and maybe even participated in them — those feel-good treks through the woods with your office mates that are designed to foster camaraderie and teamwork. New Age exercises like “trust falls” or rappelling down rock walls may enliven subsequent watercooler chat, but do they really have a lasting effect once everybody is back at work?

Probably not. “I have no problem with these things if they’re sincere,” says consultant Marc Rosenberg of Marc Rosenberg and Associates, whose latest book is Beyond E-Learning (Pfeiffer, 2005). “The real issue is that we tend to think a day in the woods will solve a year’s worth of personality clashes, organizational mismanagement, or bad leadership. What often happens is you go out there and you feel better for about three days. But if you then go back to the same environment and haven’t done anything to fix it, it’s a waste of time. This type of training is never a substitute for true leadership.”

Jack Phillips, chairman of the ROI Institute, in Birmingham, Alabama, agrees. “I’ve yet to see a positive return on investment from one of these programs,” he says. “That doesn’t mean they’re not important or that they’re unnecessary, but it’s rare for them to impact a person’s work or a team’s work enough to overcome the cost of that training. It’s more for entertainment.” Tell that to the guy with the rope burns. — R.M.

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