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Finance Leaders Bemoan Talent Shortage

In a recent highlighted article on CFO.com, the article says in part: "Corporate finance executives rate few of their direct reports as effective in the behaviors and skills that drive the finance function to excellent performance." And in the opening paragraph states: "For public consumption, finance executives are happy to talk about what wonderful teams they have. In private, most are not very impressed with the talent at their disposal." Are you happy with your fellow Talent?

Answers

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

This isn’t necessarily going to answer the question, rather I am posing another question in response, after a short observation.

I think finance leaders don’t want to admit in front of others that their team lacks the desired capability, especially when the company is traded on an exchange. How would that go over with stockholders and analysts?

A large part of me wants to throw this back on the finance leaders, regardless of their subordinates finance and accounting history. Henry Cloud says his book Boundaries for Leaders, “Leaders get what they create, and what they allow.” Also, he says, “Leaders have to take ownership of what they are getting…the must take ownership for either creating or allowing things to exist.”

Quite frankly, in my not-so-humble opinion, the finance leaders that are bemoaning the talent shortage can appropriately blame universities, the generational gaps, how the staff was inadequately trained prior to joining their team, and many other outside factors, but the responsibility ultimately falls upon them for how their teams are performing.

I am going through a leadership development process with an organization where I am a member. All our readings and discussions have revolved, so far, on how to develop future leaders, and increasing the capability of talent that are on teams. Now for my question in response, “What are the finance leaders that are bemoaning doing about the talent shortage?” And, “How are they ensuring the future of their company’s executive finance leadership to be full of talent?”

I am curious in seeing other people’s answers to “Are you happy with your fellow talent?” But I would like to know what solutions are being offered if the talent isn’t there.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

Excellent points Chris!!!

David Smith
Title: Manager
Company: Private
(Manager, Private) |

I agree with Chris, adding...

It might just be complaining and no actual measure at all of the general level of employee skill.

In fact, there may be very little to no actual talent shortage, except in the talent of leadership.

To adapt or mangle an old saying, it's a poor workman who blames his team

Mark Rome
Title: CFO
Company: Empower2adapt
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, Empower2adapt) |

David, I agree, "... there may be very little to no actual talent shortage, except in the talent of leadership."

"Finance managers rate few of their direct reports as effective in the behaviors and skills that drive excellent performance by the finance function, according to new research by CEB. And on average, finance workers are more skilled in the areas that have the least positive impact on value creation."

"... when it conducted its annual interviews with CFOs last year, 85 percent said talent was a major concern."

Obviously, it must be a talent shortage if the finance staff is not meeting performance expectations, because it surely can't be the finance manager's leadership skills that are lacking.

Within every organization, decision making drives performance. Every employee comes to work every day and makes decisions that impact performance.

The workplace has many temptations that employees must resist, from the petty impulse to claim credit for someone else's work, to the unscrupulous lapse of lying in a negotiation, to the criminal act of misrepresenting financial numbers.

These decisions, at every level of the organization, define the corporate culture and drive performance.

In 2008, Harvard Business School Professor Robert S. Kaplan and his Palladium Group colleague David P. Norton wrote The Execution Premium: Linking Strategy to Operations for Competitive Advantage. They outline six stages in their management system:
1. Develop the strategy
2. Plan the strategy
3. Align the organization
4. Plan operations
5. Monitor and learn
6. Test and adapt

Using Kaplan and Norton's work as a guide, a proactive finance manager can follow a process to lead their finance team.

Step 1: Visualize the strategy.
Step 2: Communicate strategy.
Step 3: Identify strategic projects.
Step 4: Align projects with strategy.
Step 5: Align individual roles and provide incentives.
Step 6: Manage projects.
Step 7: Make decisions.
Step 8: Measure the strategy.
Step 9: Report progress.
Step 10: Reward performance.

One of the critical steps is to align individual roles and provide incentives that encourage high performance and intraprenuership while enforcing rules and aligning decision making with the finance manager's goals and strategy.

Finance managers can deploy a number of tools to implement and maintain a high performance culture, including:
1) Effective policy management (utilizing an online policy library)
2) Employee assessment surveys
3) Performance Scorecards
4) Event management and reporting
5) Annual certificates to a Code of Conduct

With the right tools in place, finance managers could have the actionable intelligence they need on an ongoing basis to gain confidence in their finance team, and effectively lead their team to meet performance expectations.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

"Quite frankly, in my not-so-humble opinion, the finance leaders that are bemoaning the talent shortage can appropriately blame universities, the generational gaps, how the staff was inadequately trained prior to joining their team, and many other outside factors, but the responsibility ultimately falls upon them for how their teams are performing."

So true, Chris. And, it's across-the-board, not just in finance. With the possible exception of a year or two before 9/11, the talent shortage "perception" has existed for a good long time. Given the train wreck of the job search process, I don't see that being resolved anytime soon.

Keith Johnson
Title: Principal
Company: Keith E. Johnson CPA PA
(Principal, Keith E. Johnson CPA PA) |

The problem with all the crying about there being a talent shortage is that it boxes the company into hiring the first person who has the qualifications who walks through the door. If they're not willing to hire the next person who has the magic 80% of qualifications sought (legal issues aside), then they're not desperate, they're picky and are lying about their problems when its the company who is causing the talent "shortage" by not selecting those in front of their nose. Having the "best qualified" person or someone with the right "fit" is secondary if you are truly having problems getting talent.

Bottom line is if there really is a talent shortage, companies better be willing to take what they can get lest they're being hypocritical.

John Harmon
Title: Owner
Company: John Harmon CPA
(Owner, John Harmon CPA) |

"Leaders" by definition do not blame others for their problems. Therefore, these "Finance Leaders" are not leaders. They are likely people who have made their careers from blaming and have used the experience gained, to construct intellectual arguments we see in the article.
It is a rare person who does not have valuable talents in an finance department if that person's attributes are considered and skills developed.

Pat Krueger
Title: CFO
Company: PMK Strategies and Accounting Services, ..
(CFO, PMK Strategies and Accounting Services, LLC) |

I agree with everyone who is indicating the push back is largely on the financial leadership. If the staff do not have the qualifications, then make them available to them. If the staff need better equipment, get it for them. What I often see is that staff must fit into a box - they have to have a specific degree, know specific software, and have specific job related experience, that when it comes down to it, are irrelevant to the success of staff person.

As a leader, do you hold regular meetings? Do you listen to what the staff are saying? What I have found is that it is not always a failure of the staff, but the way the other departments are using the systems. Departments do not get the correct paperwork in, they do not have it approved, they do not care about these issues. Your staff can understand this, and effectively explain it, but how many times are the departments who are the worst offenders, the ones who the CFO or CEO says to the line finance/accounting staff, we will correct that later, just do this now? That leads to a lot more work for the finance staff.

If you are a leader in any capacity and this happens to you, then you need to change what you are doing. Ask yourself why does the person have to have 3 years of experience with the accounting software that you use? Why can't they have experience with other software? I am often told, that our company unique, or software is unique, our needs are unique. That means you are only going to find people that fit the mold someone else has made, and unfortunately, that mold does not fit your needs.

The next time you hire someone, have HR send you all of the responses to the opening. Yes, it will take time to go through all of them, but it will be far less time than having a bad fit for a hire. When writing the job announcement do you really need to require X number of years of experience with your software ABC? How about X years of experience in a cloud based accounting system, or a server system, or something that describes the level of your software? Does someone need a finance degree? Would an accounting degree, business degree, analytical degree work?

There are a lot of talented people out there needing jobs. If you find you do not have that talent, then think outside the box, as all of the talented people I have worked with and met in my life do just that. They work and live outside that box, and that is what you need. So quit trying to put the square peg in a triangular hole, as it will not work, and you will not find the talent you need.

David Katz
Title: Editor-in-Chief
Company: CFO Publications LLC
(Editor-in-Chief, CFO Publications LLC) |

Thanks for calling attention to our original article, which appeared in April, and which everyone can access here: http://ww2.cfo.com/training/2013/04/finance-leaders-bemoan-talent-shortage/

Thanks,
David M. Katz
Editor in Chief
CFO.com

Harvey Goldstein CPA
Title: CEO
Company: GPS
(CEO, GPS) |

Interesting discussion. Unfortunately lack of talent which is not just financial permeates throughout the USA today. It will be our downfall in the years to come. Fault: students, parents, schools at all levels. We are dumbing down the education of our children.

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

Privately, will anyone say they are happy with their talent? And, publicly with anyone say they are not happy? Seems like normal corporate culture to me. Internally, we never want to fall into the trap of saying things can't be improved because that type of comment will always come back to bite you. Seems like the same responses that people have been making to the surveys for years.

Rudy Fischer, CPA, CMA
Title: Partner
Company: RK Fischer & Associates
(Partner, RK Fischer & Associates) |

To expand on Cathy's point of "the train wreck of the job search process"; I would add "the hiring process" which is flawed on two fronts;

1) What are the essential criteria's for the role / task at hand? If one is looking for 25 years of experience, then why is someone being filtered out based upon the degree they received 30 years ago (which is totally irrelevant with today’s body of knowledge)

2) I am not convinced that most do not know how to screen for talent. Automated filters reject talent before anyone even gets to review or meet a candidate.

I once worked with an HR group to hire staff. Based upon my criteria, they created a reject pile and an acceptable pile of candidates. I could not find anyone in the 'acceptable pile'; but interestingly enough I found the candidate (and subsequently hired) from the reject pile. - Why?

Because I knew that equivalencies existed in education and experience, and that experience overrode education. The HR staff did not have that level of insight and in hindsight I should not have expected them to. I was responsible for the hire, not them; I knew what I was looking for better than they did. Therefore I looked through every resume that was submitted and did not abdicate my responsibility for that hire.

Result? One of the best candidates I could have found - even though they did not have the 'exact' qualifications I put down on paper.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

"I once worked with an HR group to hire staff. Based upon my criteria, they created a reject pile and an acceptable pile of candidates. I could not find anyone in the 'acceptable pile'; but interestingly enough I found the candidate (and subsequently hired) from the reject pile."

And the question is: Why you should not make playing the posted position game a primary - or sole - job search strategy.

Bypassing the middle man is just one more hurdle to being eliminated based on a checklist rather than being included because of potential value and impact to a prospective company.

Ross Norton
Title: Director Financial Analysis
Company: Giant Magellan Telescope
(Director Financial Analysis, Giant Magellan Telescope) |

You need to consider the application process for jobs. With companies pushing the hiring process in large part to online, a lot of good talent is overlooked if they don't survive the filtering algorithms. Perhaps we need to get back to finding good talent with more proactive methods.

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |

And, never forget: Talent costs money. Markets are dynamic, not static.

Anonymous
(VP of Finance) |

Another reason for a perceived lack of talent is the increasing use of lengthy online application programs (Kenexa), which require the applicant to spend up to an hour copying & pasting every line of their resume into the Company's pre-set templates. Use of these programs have multiple drawbacks:

1) Only the most desparate job-seekers are willing to go through this hour-long ordeal, and much of the best potential talent will cancel as soon as they see how arduous the process is.
2) These programs are fully reliant on pre-set qualifications rules which screen out much of your top talent (issue already raised by other commenters); and
3) Potential applicants see this process as their first impression of the organization. If they burden their potential employees so unnecessarily, how do they treat their employees?

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

Excellent point, Anonymous! That is why many of the best recruiters and professional coaches refer to the posted position job search as an inefficient way to find a job.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

""That is why many of the best recruiters and professional coaches refer to the posted position job search as an inefficient way to find a job."

True that, Chris. I call it the "spaghetti strategy." You throw your resume out to the black hole and hope it sticks somewhere near the top.

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