Solving talent problems in the finance team

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Business finance teams are facing twin challenges when it comes to talent: attracting new candidates to cover an expanding workload, and retaining and upskilling existing staff.

The pandemic has pushed most teams into a more digital finance environment. Up-to-date scenario planning and the need for more support on decision making has put emphasis on the soft skills that finance team members can offer as well as their technical abilities.

The economic impact of the coronavirus has also put some businesses in a precarious position. Are teams in a position to be able to recruit? Our members in business panel let us know how they’re approaching recruitment (if at all), the skills they’re looking for in new talent, and their approach to upskilling.

It pays to take a chance on someone

Clare Elliott, CFO, ILUX (a workplace IT provider)

We have been heavily recruiting in recent years, and in the last 18 months alone, have increased our workforce by over 220%.

We’re not actively recruiting for specific roles at the moment, but we are always looking for talent that would be too good an opportunity not to be missed. Some of our best people have been those we took a chance on in the moment, but they have brought so much to the organisation.

Knowing that our plans are to continue to grow is a great position to be in when someone amazing pops up in your emails, as you never have to give that automatic “no”; you can always be open to the possibility.

Regardless of your role and level of role within a finance team, everyone has a very important function, and the responsibility on each and every person is huge. Therefore there are certain characteristics I look for when recruiting, for example: independent thinking, a questioning nature, the desire to delve for information, the drive to find errors and inconsistencies, and strategic thinkers who have the big picture in mind. A finance role demands someone have extremely good attention to detail while being disciplined enough to keep that top-level thought process.

In my experience, there are some excellent people looking for work who you wouldn’t think ordinarily should be looking, which brings both benefits and disadvantages. There are people looking for something at a lower level than they are qualified or experienced to do, and at the other end of the scale lots of young people who have the drive and energy to exceed expectations as they want to be successful and build their career.

So while I believe there is a lot of amazing talent available, it is always hard to reach the person you’re specifically looking for as you both have to be in the right place at the right time. You also have to just go with your gut feeling and take a chance. Some people are incredible during interview and getting through the door, and then not quite live up to the dream they have sold you. I’ve also recruited people who didn’t set my world alight during the interview but there was something about them that made me want to give them a chance, and they’ve turned out to be fantastic. I feel so lucky to have them as I know they could easily work anywhere else if an employer knew how amazing they are!

There are two approaches to upskilling: transferrable skills (so those within the industry and generic to their role), and company-based knowledge (so very specific to their role within your business, and client-specific too). Both are equally as important as each other, as both increase engagement and commitment from, and to, the employee, which will deepen loyalty to each other too. Ultimately though, whilst the company needs to think about the needs of the business, in order to retain someone you need to give them access to further development that they are really keen to do, as that will increase motivation and the chances of success, which further increases the drive to push harder and become even better. If the arrangement is reciprocal then both parties will benefit the most.

Personal skills and resilience are the priority

Andy Murray, finance lead, Manna Pro UK

We’re not currently recruiting, however if the workload continues at this current pace and the business growth remains strong it is sure to be a prompt requirement.

The most valuable skills within a finance team (accounting aside) would be a combination of the following soft skills; communication, social Intelligence, and a great personality and sense of humour.

As well as the above, we cannot forget the ability to work as part of a team, to have accountability and flexibility, and being able to multi-task a varied workload while under pressure.

Upskilling is a key necessity and forms part of the annual review plan, where all employees are taken through this process. Upskilling is vital to all members in the finance team. Upskilling subjects have included extra system training to become a ‘subject matter expert’, Excel courses, soft skills training and wellbeing courses, to name a few.

All team member development plans are reviewed quarterly to check on individuals progress and to identify any additional needs or requirements to support the employees.

The role of finance is changing, and so are the skills

Farha Jamadar, finance manager, Todd Doors

We are currently recruiting, but not within the finance function. We’re looking for operations – drivers in particular – and sales assistants. Mainly due to the loss of staff while on Furlough.

Finance is no longer the dated image of a bunch of people kept to themselves. It’s now about understanding and working with different Departments to achieve the organisation’s goals, answer questions to highlight variances and forecasts so that you can make changes and be flexible as an organisation.

Finding staff is not a check box activity. It’s juggling between finding someone who has the technical expertise and the experience in producing work, but also the communication skills and the ability to fit into the organisation to ensure business partnering (a crucial part of the job) goes well.

With existing staff, we’re reviewing tasks and duties to automate the mundane, developing our people to understand the overall objectives and implementing tasks and duties around that. Most of these require updated Excel training but also soft skills like communication, being able to understand requirements and deciphering the needs of senior managers.

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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