Retaining Key Controller Talent
Disengagement is at an all time high. According to our 2010 Q2 Labor Market Survey, almost half of all finance employees are not committed to their jobs, and one-third are planning to leave their current jobs within a year. One-third of those that are planning to quit are high-performers. Losing high-potential staff now, especially those that are integral to decision support, thought leadership, and preparation for accounting changes, could be disastrous for many finance organizations.
Many companies are taking advantage of this level of disengagement, and the soft talent market in general, to poach competitors’ employees and upgrade their talent. Losing key talent presents various risks: notably, losing high potential employees and leaving critical positions vacant. Both of these risks have serious costs for an organization and it’s imperative for controllers to be proactive in preventing talent flight.
Now that the recession is over, don’t wait to create a plan to retain high potential employees. Just because you can’t provide bonuses or significant raises, doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer. In fact, while finance employees say their salaries are the most important aspect of their job, non-financial attributes, such as future career opportunities, the reputation of senior leadership and employee empowerment, are the reasons most people stay at an organization. Smart companies are responding to the increasing turnover in controller staff by employing a variety of strategies to improve employee satisfaction.
Here are some approaches to consider:
- Know the skills your staff need, and develop them. Controllers who don’t realize the breadth of skills that their people need to succeed in today’s world are likely to lose valuable staff. Today’s controller staff are often asked to help business partners make key strategic decisions, develop recommendations to improve organizational effectiveness, and aid in organizational change. Financial knowledge is now only one competency they need to do their jobs well. Develop a competency and assessment model that evaluates people not only on their financial acumen but on their communication, partnering, risk management, and technological skills as well.As part of its talent development strategy, a multinational packaging company designed a skill taxonomy for finance staff, dividing cognitive and behavioral skills into six discrete buckets—technical, analytical/constructive, appreciative, personal, interpersonal, and organizational skills. Concrete skills and behaviors were then described for each area, providing finance staff with a detailed understanding of the skills they should develop.
- Build critical skills in your bench. Controllers are facing unprecedented scrutiny of corporate financial reporting processes, and they are experiencing increased pressure to support sound business decision making. This has created an urgent need for a deeper, stronger bench of finance staff who has technical competence and business savvy. Focusing on your bench strength is a win-win. You develop the organizational capacity for the future while also giving employees desired skills and a reason to stick around. In an era of increased accounting uncertainty, having both technical and judgment skills in finance—at lower levels than the controller—is a necessity rather than a luxury.
- Provide relevant and useful development opportunities. Employees want to feel that companies are investing in their future. Our research shows that one of the best ways to develop employee skills is to expose them to challenging new experiences, either within the central finance organization or in the broader organization. However, only 23% of companies have formal rotation programs in finance. Implementing a rotation program is not necessarily easy but controllers can reduce the risks inherent in rotations by creating clear accountability mechanisms and allowing poorly performing employees to be taken out of rotations and returned to their original position.
- Create tighter hiring filters. Treat every open finance position as an opportunity to upgrade talent. Avoid hasty hiring decisions at all costs because nothing lowers morale more quickly than a bad hire. Letting a misfit hire go has cost implications, but those costs are dwarfed by that of mediocre hires who not only block others’ development opportunities, but typically require more coaching and assistance, thus draining resources and spirits. By incorporating more rigorous filters into the hiring process, controllers can avoid these pitfalls. They can also create training programs to ensure incoming talent are capable of more than just the technical skills. Training should focus on helping them develop business-specific judgment to enhance business partnership skills.
- Consider creating a flexible staffing pool. Workloads vary drastically so that controller staff may often be overworked or underutilized, making them feel alternately burnt out and underappreciated. An investment and insurance company decided to manage finance workload volatility and broaden finance staff experience through flexible project staffing. All projects were staffed a pool of finance professionals that were not functionally aligned. Shifting away from a silo-ed structure allowed the organization to reduce head count from 17 to 10, while completing the same amount of work through better workflow management. There was an added benefit to the pooling: increased employee satisfaction. Their staff enjoyed working in the management reporting pool so much that they were reluctant to transfer out of it.
Resources for Controller Clients: Find out what we’re hearing from controllers about finance talent; use our talent management development center.
Resources for Shared Services Clients: View our leadership development webinar.
Resources for CFO Clients: Find out what we’re hearing from controllers about finance talent; use our talent management development center.
Resources for FLEx-Elite Clients: View our webinar on retaining finance talent.