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A few years ago, the CFO of Bank of New York Mellon explained to investors why revenue per employee was a meaningless metric for his company. “It’s just too hard to tell exactly what’s going on with headcount and how people compute it and whether they’ve got contractors in versus full-time employees and so forth,” said the CFO.
He illuminated a portion of the idea around integrative intelligence, that work team is different than in the past—it consists of anyone who can contribute, including co-workers, customers and suppliers who have integrated data, vendors, consultants, gig/freelancers, and even automated bots. The team structure is fluid, formed around tasks, projects, and processes which may last for a few days or years depending on the request. Conceptually, businesses find themselves moving from a position of TALENT ACQUISITION, where they hire individuals, to one of TALENT ACCESS, where they hire the skills they want. The key for finance is how to operate effectively with blended teams.
What happens when key files are stored on laptops? Or processes are in someone’s head rather than shared? These are typical examples of single points of failure that create risk for your operations, as well as increasing the level of difficulty for someone to step into a role, evaluate work, and load data efficiently.
Finance can expand integrative intelligence through transparency. Defining single sources of truth, validating data, clarifying processes and the roles/responsibilities within those processes. Some of this is a cultural approach to work, and other aspects rely on tools that promote collaboration. In both cases, adding flexibility and clarity will enhance the collective access to information and improve process function. Bonus: identifying processes may be a step in the path to automation.
Especially with fluid teams, it is important to know different roles and whom to call at a given moment. Consider a RACI chart:
Responsible for doing the work or making a decision
Accountable for approving and owning the work. Usually one person and may be the team lead
Consulted to give input during the work to help complete the task. Expect interactive discussion.
Informed and kept in the loop about what is occurring, as it may impact their own related work. For example, they may be the downstream recipients of the group’s work. Generally one-way stream of information.
How you deploy your team members is just as crucial. Are you asking people to do things they are good at and were hired to do? Are there learning opportunities available in teaming? And who maintains and builds multiple relationships? Anders Liu-Lindbergh, the co-founder of the Business Partnering Institute, advises that third party team-members “could be highly effective when it comes to analytics and digital technologies that may lend itself to project-based work that does not need to be tied tightly to the company; however, business partnering and core FP&A work needs strong business understanding and strong relationships with business stakeholders. That won’t happen with a freelancer.”
PROTECT YOUR EMPLOYEES
Blended teams place burdens on your full-time employees, the constants who keep the fluid system working and integrated. It is critical to keep them feeling a part of the enterprise and willing to work the shifting cast of players.
Protect your helpers. The new people and non-employees on your team will have a lot of questions, which means that your full-time employees will be bombarded with requests that may inhibit their work and frustrate them. Find ways to protect your existing staff from this type of burnout.
Manage the potential anxiety of your existing team by introducing gig work to your staff as a positive, roll it in slowly as auxiliary staff during busy times or for rote work, and if it is a matter of hiring expertise, then pair the freelancer with existing staff to transfer knowledge to your team. Make your current staff a part of the process to ensure their buy-in.
Explain freelance versus FTE roles. To the extent possible, develop a policy (or at least an explanation) of why certain roles go to external resources so they do not feel that it is job replacement—rote work, seasonality, expertise, experimental projects. Try to avoid replacing FTEs with freelancers.
Upskill your existing team by ensuring knowledge transfer from external resources on tools, practices, or simply market trends.
TIPS FOR HIRING THIRD-PARTY TALENT
Cy Wakeman, a speaker at AFP’s annual conference in 2014 in Washington, DC, had a simple formula for the value of an employee: Value = Current Performance + Future Potential – 3*(Emotional Expensiveness). Forming short-duration teams, you will be tempted to overweight the current performance part of the equation for both employees and the extended team because you are bringing them on-board for the specific task or project. We encourage you to always think about your employees for future potential and look for ways to upskill them. In all cases, Emotional Expensiveness retains the same weight because your goal is to hire people who can integrate quickly and help the team. Here is how to do both of these:
Find someone passionate about what you are hiring them for. Ideally, you will have many people bidding on your project, so find someone who loves the challenge you are putting in front of them:
building financial models, data mining, web design, and visualization. I knew one candidate was an Excel-lover when he told me that he made a pointillism picture of his fiancé in Excel by coloring cells.
Hire them for their best skill. Freelancers may have a long list of things they do well, but you want them for the things for which they are GREAT. These will be near the top of the resume (and will coincide with the point on passion).
Evaluate communication skills. Key to success in any project, and even more so when the person is remote or a new, is the ability to communicate expectations, progress, work, challenges, and questions. Define the format of communication—text, phone, email, Slack, other—and set your expectations.
Develop a broad network for sourcing freelance talent so that you do not need to hire strangers.
Develop a rapport. Think about questions centered around teamwork and culture adapted to this virtual work. Initial face-to-face meetings will ease future conversations. Supplement with video conferencing, hang-outs, and even water cooler chatter, such as a chat space on Facebook where the team can talk about non-work-related items. Talk about culture and communications more than you normally would, and then live up to your own expectations.
MAXIMIZE YOUR BLENDED TEAMMATES
In an interview with Cindy Rogers, FP&A, and frequent freelancer in the office of the CFO, she outlined what makes for a productive assignment: “Employers should create a job description with specific functions for the contractor addressing the same aspects of the role as if they hired a full-time employee. This may be accomplished by a detailed scope of work for the project, although they focus on the technical objectives of the task and tends to miss the soft goals. In short, if you want to capture and integrate the intelligence from a non-employee, put that right in their contract with specific documentation of goals. Specific deliverables could include mentoring/training of other team members on improved methods or workflows, participation in corporate self-evaluation (performance) review process for documented two-way feedback, etc. These soft skills are the difference between success or failure, or between good or great consultants.
“Also, care should be taken so that consultants report to the appropriate person in the organization—high enough that the consultant’s request receives appropriate attention. Generally, they should report to the same management level that an equivalent employee would in order to help capture the day-to-day benefits that an experienced consultant can provide. Those learnings can be lost if the consultant/contractor is subordinated one level down—which I have seen done due to the nature of the employment arrangement.”
BOTS ON THE TEAM
Are bots really on the team, or are they just a tool like a spreadsheet or an accounting system? Bots are a category of automation tools that run autonomously to complete work. At a simple level, it could be a script that executes a task. At a more complex level, they are replacing categories of work, such as variance reports. They receive a dedicated workstation, passwords and access codes to run its reports, and are monitored through audit logs as any other employee would. They also need to be managed as any employee would. Perhaps the nature of the data has changed leading to incorrect outputs; you need to test the results to ensure that the script or algorithm performing to your expectation.
Second, just like people, a bot will have blind spots in its “thinking.” A bot may disregard outlier data where a content expert may identify a fringe trend that is building. Similarly, a bot may push forward with its script where a SME would stop working if the data is fuzzy, results unexpected, or conclusion is illogical. Consider periodic “performance evaluation” or feedback sessions with your bots to ensure their results remain relevant.