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Finance Teams: Fundamental Rethink Needed On Hiring

Posted on June 20, 2013 at 9:35 AM

The goal of more women as non-executive directors in the boardroom has turned out to require a fundamental rethink of the executive pipeline and the structure of UK plc. But there's a lot more thinking to be done, if we want to change business for the better.

A qualification in finance has been widely seen - and reported - as the holy grail for how to get into the boardroom. Now it turns out that in fact, finance teams themselves need to rethink how they hire and reward a different set of skills, if they are to boost their mix of talent and deliver long-term value to the business. 

So says CEB, the member-based advisory firm working with 73% of the FTSE100, after a survey of over 2000 finance firms across the globe. A staggering 87% of CFOs say they do not have the right talent or mix to dleiver value to the business.

"There is currently too great an emphasis on 'functional expertise' such as accountancy qualifications and knowledge of the regulatory environment, rather than 'soft skills' such as strong communication, talent development and an understanding of wider business strategy" says CEB.

CFOs and their teams now face a widening realm of responsibilities. It isn't only about accounting and compliance - teams are expected to manage new technology, understand the macro-economic climate and provide insight on how to make business grow.

CEB has identified three key areas for CFOs to focus on to attract and retain the best talent :

1. Look beyond ACCA - they are not saying accountants don't make excellent finance leaders. Rather, "targeting unlikely talent pools, such as start-up firms, media companies, the military and overseas graduates, can improve the chances of finding a strong candidate by 20%"

2. Reward the right behaviour - not just 'getting the job done' but thinking about it as well - "the ability to interpret financial information to support strategic initiatives across the organisation"

3. Adapt the interview process - move away from written 'tests' to demonstrate technical knowledge and psychometric tests as well. "CFOs need to move away from this kind of analysis and instead look at ways to assess skills that are 'uncoachable' such as influence and leadership.

I think this is all very interesting. If your reflex is to say 'Bah Humbug' it may be an even better idea to think again. Sometimes you have to be counter-intuitive to break through a long established mindset.

Paul Dennis, senior director at CEB says: "Finance teams still need to have core accounting skills and technical knowledge  - that hasn't changed - but increasingly, they now also need the commercial insights to drive the business forward. To succeed in this landscape, CFOs need to seriously reconsider they way they recruit and reward finance talent - and that includes looking beyond the traditional gene pool of accountants."

And you know what? If you do that, you might just find that you also end up with a more diverse team, gender included. How about that ?

And we all know that despite all the talk about the role of headhunters in boardroom and other appointments, the way things are done has not changed much over the years. Headhunters do what their clients ask them to do - there are a few brave enough to suggest alternative thinking, but it's not going to come from them, by and large. It just is not part of their remit.

It's your business and you set the strategy - thinking more cleverly about appointments really ought to be part of it.

(There is a white paper, available from CEB - or the lovely Juliet Chaplin JChaplin@bell-pottinger.co.uk, an all-too-rare example of a PR determined that you read and follow-up without making life a living hell. Thank you.)

Categories: Appointments, Scrutiny, Communication