The talent challenge – ensuring balanced capability

accapr —  19 July 2013 — 1 Comment

By Arnold van Boven, director finance and accounting operation, Unilever

At Unilever we operate a hybrid model, using a number of BPO relationships to provide transactional finance activities, but also we are now setting up operating centres that offer finance services further up the value chain to the organisation to drive the effectiveness of our finance operations.

In terms of the talent challenge there are some issues from the operating centre perspective – our work is focused on higher value finance activities and, as we have moved in-country finance operations and centralised them, we have lost some experienced F&A people. So, trying to recruit that level of finance ‘capability’ and tacit knowledge into the centre is always going to be a challenge. It’s about counter-balancing losing the tacit knowledge in the retained finance function/in-country by the benefits and expertise you get from standardisation and centralisation in the operating centres. Our aim is to build and retain valuable deep ‘Unilever’ accounting knowledge in conjunction with centralised finance models, standardised finance processes and increased automation.

Solutions – ensuring balanced capability

  1. Think carefully about your location selection and recognise access to talent is a factor. We look at the major Business Process Outsourcing organisations as important strategic partners; we share the potential talent pipeline to bring in candidates with finance and management experience. Our operating centre location strategies always consider where the major hubs are to mutually benefit from the talent in the region in various stages of their careers. The quality of local universities is equally a factor in ensuring we get the right mix of talents and skills.
  2. Balance tacit knowledge of the business and operational and process expertise. We encourage mobility into the finance operating centres from country finance roles to bring deep Unilever expertise as well as bringing people in from other functions of the business to drive a better business understanding and help contextualise the role and purpose of the finance and accounting activities in the bigger picture. Equally we offer finance careers from our operating centres into the business for the best talents. Successful shared service operations need a tacit knowledge of the business but this must be combined with operational mastery, process knowledge and specific capabilities such as six sigma and lean.
  3. Think creatively about where your talent can come from. We have begun an open dialogue with other organisations in the market, in a particular location, to consider how businesses can work together to facilitate attracting talent to the area as a whole and also to help facilitate career movement between different organisations through more visible opportunities.

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.


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  1. The talent challenge – ensuring balanced capability - 1 to 1 Accountancy - July 19, 2013

    […] accapr By Arnold van Boven, director finance and accounting operation, Unilever At Unilever we operate a […]

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