Finding and retaining talent is a top concern for CFOs and financial planning and analysis (FP&A) chiefs. An upcoming AFP FP&A Guide, “Addressing the FP&A Talent Gap” examines just how difficult it is for FP&A directors to find the talent they need to meet today’s challenges.
“Finding candidates who meet the technical requirements is not the most challenging aspect of an FP&A executive search,” Phil Murphy, a consultant in Spencer Stuart’s financial officer practice. “The challenge is finding somebody who not only measures up technically but who will also be influential in delivering macro insights that bring about change and create real value in companies.” What’s difficult to find is the combination of executive impact and technical skills, “and the ability to seamlessly move between these two very different aspects of the role,” he said.
According to David Pinkley, managing director of the recruiting firm Executive Insight Inc., the key talent gap is in the area of people skills and leadership. FP&A professionals straddle the finance organization and operations. “They’re dealing with a lot of internal customers,” said Pinkley, such as divisional heads and even operations managers. “There’s a range of personalities here,” he added. The key is that FP&A’s livelihood depends on the department’s ability to procure information from other parts of the organization—a task made more difficult by the fact that many managers are not interested in speaking to them. “The only way to reconcile that is with people skills,” said Pinkley.
The next challenge is to train and retain the best performers. The average finance professional still spends 70 percent of his or her time updating spreadsheet models and performing low-value data collection work, according to David Axson, managing director of CFO and enterprise value at Accenture. “If you put bright, capable finance professionals in these positions, they’re not able to spend their time properly. They spend 70 percent of their time waiting to get their brain switched on,” he said. “In that case, the brightest and most talented will find another company that allows them to be effective by providing them with the right resources and technology.”
When asked how she keeps her staff engaged, Christine Watkins, vice president of FP&A at beer giant Molson Coors replied: “We like to have fun. You have to enjoy what you’re doing. We celebrate a job well done. We also involve areas outside of FP&A, engaging with and celebrating as a team across functional areas. We take the opportunity to remind ourselves about how the work performed, both small and large, impacted the overall organization. We also do a lot of listening and collaborating with each other. We’re not very hierarchical. If people have good ideas, they’re encouraged to share with the team and take ownership of implementing them.”
Another FP&A professional noted that he tries to ensure his team takes part in cross-functional and special projects that allow members to be exposed to other areas of the organization, as well as gain exposure to senior management.
A lot of this is depends on the financial condition of the organization. With severe cost pressures, reported one FP&A director, her company hasn’t done a good job of retaining talent. “Our overhead budget has been cut 20 percent, mostly in terms of headcount—not letting people go but not filling positions when we lose people,” she said. “Now everyone is being asked to do so much more than they were before and we haven’t had any IT solutions to reduce the workload, so we have a work/life balance issue. It’s not so much a money issue. We pay above market.”
The company is also struggling with talent retention. “Our people do not have the time to focus on development, thus we are struggling to retain talent,” the FP&A director said. “When the company moved its headquarters to the south three years ago, it hired over 20 new staff. Only four of them have stayed.”
Seven ways to retain talent
AFP and Deloitte research suggests that organizations can address the issue in several ways.
- Give the best and brightest people challenging, problem-solving work rather than simple data crunching.
- Engage top talent by involving them in special projects that provide cross-functional opportunities and upper management exposure.
- Rotate staff into financial operations and other functional areas.
- Have fun and celebrate successes.
- Expand thinking about “engagement” by giving managers and leaders specific practices they can adopt, and holding line leaders accountable.
- Use tools and methods to measure and capture employee feedback and sentiment on a real-time, local basis to adjust management practices and the work environment.
- Raise employee engagement from an HR program to a core business strategy.
“It’s no secret that among the challenges CFOs face today, finding and retaining talent remains arguably their most prominent—and frustrating,” said Jim Kaitz, president and CEO of AFP. “Study after study points to a widening chasm in the level of talent companies seek to make their finance departments a more integral part of their business. But the real disconnect lies in what leadership is actually doing to fill the void.”