[Ask the CFO] Finance Leaders Talk About Talent: What They've Learned & What's Next

December 9, 2020 Theresa Rex

cfo and finance talent

If there's one thing we've learned in 2020, it’s this: if you want an honest answer about business, you'd better ask the CFO. For all the ways the role has evolved and continued to change, the necessity for objectivity, finance talent, and the ability to cut through the noise to find the numbers has remained absolutely critical, something that's reflected in the conversations our VP & General Manager of FAO Services, Megan Weis, has with her guests every week on Personiv's award-winning podcast, CFO Weekly.

Over the past 25 weeks, the show has covered a wide variety of topics and featured guests that come from a wide variety of backgrounds and industries. Despite the diversity of backgrounds, education and path to leadership, however, we noticed a few topics begin to emerge as near-universal areas of focus or concern. There is no "standard-issue" CFO, of course. And even among professionals that share a profession, there's a lot of nuance that can't be conveyed when you use a broad brush, no matter how tempting it is to try. Still, when you find a common thread (or a few of them!) it makes sense to follow it.

Read More: How The CFO Role Has Evolved: Becoming A Comprehensive CFO

If you want to know what constitutes an actual "pain point" for finance leaders, it makes sense to simply ask them. If you want to know what keeps the CFO up at night, why not just, well, ask the CFO? In a way, that's what we've been able to do. For the next few weeks, we'll be talking about what we've learned from the answers.

When It Comes To Talent, It's Not Just About The Shortage

When it comes to the finance department and the talented people that finance leaders choose to work within it, there's a lot of focus on a narrowing talent pipeline in the field of accountancy. That makes sense – it continues to be a point of concern among leaders. Our own research found that 84 percent of CFOs have difficulty finding any accounting talent and 60 percent of Accounting VPs struggle to find "low-level" talent in areas like accounts payable and accounts receivable.

More: Solving The Accounting Talent Problem [VIDEO]

But the talent shortage isn't the whole story. When it comes to what's on finance leaders minds on the topic of talent, there's more to discuss.

finance talent

Ask The CFO: Finding Finance Talent – And Keeping It – Starts At The Top

The finance leaders that we spoke to feel a great deal of ownership around the concept of building strong teams and keeping them on board. In Episode 14, Top 7 Ways To Be An Effective Leader, we talked to Roy Austin, the Founder and Chair of Savannah CFO Council, leadership coach and Managing Principal at Rockwell Business Solutions and the author of The Alligator Business Solution, where he outlined the seven things that effective leaders do. Chief among them was "find people who share your values".

These shared values – and whether your employees feel their presence or not – can be a key indicator of employee engagement, which is in turn a key indicator of the amount of churn leaders can expect. Recent research suggests that in 2020, 73 percent of unengaged employees are "open to new career opportunities". Of those, 33.1 percent are "actively looking" for a new job. That number increases to 44 percent if the employee has been with the company for under a year.

That means that leadership has to get it right – right away. That's something that Austin made clear in his discussion with Weis, devoting two of his seven tips for effective leaderships to the topic, emphasizing that creating a culture that attracts talent and then keeps those hires engaged begins at the top.

"At some point, as a small business, you have to have the ability to keep and retain employees. That's dependent on you as a leader and creating a climate in which people want to stay" – Roy Austin, Founder and Chair of Savannah CFO Council

He's not alone. Another of Weis' guests, Olga Shevorenkova, CFO of EVgo, discussed how the top-down approach is a critical one in the startup environment in Episode 22, Building Startups: The Do's and Don'ts. Then, she takes it a step further, encouraging leaders to empower the people they hire to create their jobs from the ground up. Instead of insisting that everyone fit into a narrow definition of their role, allowing them to challenge the status quo builds a sense of shared ownership.

"The right team starts with the CEO and includes everyone. The team is the whole team, not just the executive team." – Olga Shevorenkova, CFO – EVgo

Avoiding a mindset that only prioritizes the executive perspective is key to bringing invested talent on board, and in Shevorenkova's book, it differentiates startups that succeed from the ones that don't. The numbers back that up: 19 percent of executive-level leaders recognize that Millennial new hires (the cohort most likely to work in a startup environment) leave because they dislike the organization's culture. What's more, 76 percent of employees who "do not feel valued" are actively looking for other opportunities, no matter how long they've been working in the role they're looking to leave.

CFOs Talk About Unconventional Solutions To Traditional Talent Challenges

Speaking of Millennials, Cliff Edwards, CFO Weekly's first ever guest, had a much different take on the much-maligned generation on Episode 1, Scouting For Accounting Talent, responding to those very maligners:

"We have had great a great experience [with Millennial workers] ... we've done a better and better job of laying the groundwork for the next generation to take over at some time. I kind of cut that short when I hear somebody complaining about it. I say, 'You know what? Send them over to me, I'll interview them, and we'll try to place them – or maybe I'll hire them!" – Cliff Edwards, President and Owner – Thomas Edwards Group

This enthusiasm to approaching the "same old" talent challenges that CFOs contend with by applying new strategies is one that's shared by other successful CFOs. In Edwards' case, that means ignoring "conventional wisdom" and relying on real-world experience – in this case, taking a "risk" by actively seeking out talent that's sometimes overlooked – to draw their own conclusions.

In Gene Corvino's case, that means adopting an entirely new perspective, which he explained in Episode 15, Core Competencies To Transition From CFO To CEO. Corvino believes that the success of a CFO – or any executive leader – depends upon their willingness to step firmly inside of their team's shoes and stay there.

"You need to hire people who you believe can replace you and who can do things beyond what your capabilities are." – Gene Corvino, President – William M. Bird and Sr. VP and CFO – Southern Diversified Distributors

finance leaders checking reports

Onboarding people that you believe have the ability or potential to replace you is key to avoiding stagnation as a leader and building a company that stands apart from its competitors. That may be a radical idea, but it's clearly one that has demonstrably worked for Corvino. Authenticity in applying could be the key for other leaders, too.

Ultimately, there are as many approaches to talent management as there are individual financial leaders. These are just a few of the strategies that our guests have identified as workable solutions. Tune into CFO Weekly each week to hear more firsthand, and if you have a talent-management strategy of your own that you want to share with the financial leadership community, get in touch! We'd love to feature you as a guest on the podcast.

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