By Sally Fisher, partner, Deloitte
There is a change afoot. CFOs and finance directors are beginning to take the talent agenda seriously and are redefining their traditional talent strategies. The well-documented war for talent is making way for a war to develop talent.
The ability of organisations to recruit the critical skills they need is being outstripped by organisations’ need for the skills, experience, attitudes and behaviours that are essential for the finance function, as it seeks to establish itself as a strategic partner to the business. Those with captive shared service centres are also investing in retaining and developing individuals with the technical and project-management skills, and the knowledge and networks within the business that are needed to create seamless end-to-end finance processes for rapid and robust transaction management. A lack of succession planning in our work with new CFOs transitioning into their role within FTSE 100 and 250 organisations, a constant theme that arises is the poor quality of the succession planning that they inherit. The majority of new CFOs are external hire recruits to the organisation, which in itself is revealing of the quality of the succession plan. Many new CFOs whom we work with in both the UK and US report that addressing the skills and capability gaps in their top team is a priority for their first year.
A perfect finance talent storm
Three forces are coming together in 2013. Firstly, there has been a long-term inheritance of finance function learning and development budgets dominated by technical skills development at the expense of leadership and behaviour competences. Secondly, in the years since the financial crisis a significant reduction in learning and development budgets has had a detrimental impact on everything other than core technical skills development. Thirdly, there is recognition that in these more challenged economic times with competitive and often consolidated marketplaces, growth ambitions will only be achieved if the finance function can play a strategic role in helping the business innovate in sustainably profitable ways and manage the increased complexity of the risk/opportunity dynamic. These three forces are redefining the skills that are needed within the function, with greater focus on commercial acumen, analytical thinking, communication and influencing skills, personal impact and solution-oriented attitudes. They have also ensured that there is inadequate supply, not only internally but also in the external recruitment market.
New approaches to developing capability
There is growing recognition of this problem and, in keeping with a general trend that we have seen in the US, where training budgets increased by an average of 13% in 2012, we are starting to see purposeful investment in skilfully designed development programmes that focus on clearly prioritised competences and targeted audiences within the finance function.
The key features of the most successful programmes are:
- a bias towards developing behavioural competences and advanced analytical skills
- the bringing together of communities of experts working in different parts of the business but on similar financial or commercial challenges, e.g. pricing or resource allocation adherence to a ‘less is more’ principle in learning and training, with a small, focused curriculum that develops the necessary critical skills
- a globally consistent strategy and curriculum, with localised nuances only where necessary, e.g. as a result of distinct market conditions or regulation
- any face-to-face development time is spent with a quality facilitator who is capable of shifting mind-sets, not just training new skills
- the integration of action learning, coaching, mentoring and leading edge resources with face-to face development experiences.
What organisations are not yet doing enough is defining the success of development investment by measuring business impact, and taking advantage of mobile digital solutions to create tailored learning platforms that push relevant content to finance professionals according to their preferences and needs, connect communities of experts, and stimulate collaboration. This will be the next leap for global finance organisations in the war to develop talent.
This case study appeared in an ACCA report on Talent and capability in global finance functions. As part of ACCA’s qualitative research, leading organisations shared their approaches.