Attracting and Retaining Top Finance Talent

The New Jersey Chapter of the CFO Leadership Council held a panel discussion on “Attracting and Retaining Top Talent.” The panel was moderated by Karyn Egeland, Regional Director of Corporate Consulting at Randstad.

The panelists included a number of executives with experience in talent management including Sandra Clarke, VP of Finance and CFO at Daiichi Sankyo; Anthony Graziano, Regional Managing Director at Randstad; Andrew Reich, Chief Financial Officer at Pearl Media; and Barbara Toscano, Founder and Owner at Evolution.  This lively panel discussion touched on many important topics facing Finance today.

Challenges in Building an Effective Finance Team

One panelist spoke about a recent reorganization at her company that impacted Finance, and their recently acquired talent. She highlighted the shifting roles of the Finance team as a result of this reorganization, which included redefining roles and relationships. In light of the reorganization, the company has made the decision that going forward, they will put less focus on recruiting and more on retention of talent. While there are some Millennials on staff at present, most of the team is more experienced. One key challenge in retaining Millennials is creating a work environment that is more casual and appeals to younger staff (e.g.  casual dress code, collaborative work areas, flexible hours, etc.). The panelist expressed concern that the CFO needs to balance creating an organizational culture that is both attractive to Millennials and one that is not offensive to older staff members.

Another panelist mentioned that Millennials have different expectations, therefore the CFO must use creative strategies to keep them motivated and engaged during changes in leadership. Culture is a big factor in retaining talent – and this is a key selling point for small, innovative companies.  Communication is key in creating a culture that appeals to Millennials and improving retention of Millennial staff members.

Others on the panel agreed that Millennials have a different attitude and expectations in comparison to prior generations of staff members. Many panelists pointed out that Millennial expectations don’t always match reality – regarding promotions, for example. For this reason, when hiring candidates with limited work experience it’s crucial that the hiring committee get to know the individual on a personal level, exploring their interests and activities in high school and college. This will tell the committee a lot about what motivates them and make it more clear whether that individual is a good fit for the culture of the organization.

Younger staff often question existing processes and procedures, which is welcome. But this can be perceived as a threat by older workers and must be managed carefully. The CFO needs to balance solicitation for suggestions and new ideas with ample training and education on existing procedures.

Finding Qualified Hiring Candidates for Finance

The unemployment rate in Accounting & Finance is lower than the national rate, suggesting that there is a dearth of qualified individuals in the market. Hiring processes don’t always match market trends, thus CFOs must have realistic expectations about how many candidates they can expect to see for a particular position. Instead, by focusing on quality over quantity, CFOs can quickly identify the best candidates and make hiring offers. Demand is strong and supply is limited, which means that going forward it may take longer than expected to fill an open position.

Focus on Retention in Tough Hiring Environment

One of the keys to retention is identifying top talent and using coaching and mentoring to develop these staff members. The focus of these efforts should always be rightsizing to ensure that the right people are in the right roles. Putting the wrong person in a given role can be toxic and unproductive. In fact, one toxic staff member can have a negative impact on the entire team and can even make it more difficult to retain other valuable team members. In situations like this, the CFO needs to take immediate action to mitigate the negative impact.

Development and training programs for key staff — sometimes using outside programs — can go a long way towards improving rates of retention. Mentoring and coaching programs for younger staff are also effective. Reflecting on this and incorporating it into the annual performance review process has also been shown to have a positive impact on retention.

Another factor that can influence retention is having a strong HR group that can help change executive mindset on talent retention. CFOs can make a choice: invest in talent retention or invest in recruiting and hiring. Luckily, this is typically not a hard sell — most executives understand the need to retain top talent and HR is often supportive in this endeavor.

Identifying Problem Employees and Making Changes

There are many reasons for employee underperformance: manager issues, lack of appropriate skill set, skewed expectations, etc. If an employee is not performing well, it is imperative that the CFO identify the cause and address the problem right away. One possible solution is coaching an employee either to improve or to transition out of their role. If the correct approach is taken, the employee can be an asset in this transition and work with management to develop an effective solution.

Sometimes changes in management can lead to performance issues. Getting employees to build rapport with a new manager can be challenging. In situations like these CFO’s need to be supportive, but monitor the situation closely and be ready to take action in case the group fails to become cohesive. In other situations, making a change in senior management can be positive change that sends a supportive message to the team, especially if the previous manager was a bad fit or there was a toxic situation between the manager and some of the employees.

How to Stay Ahead on Talent Management

Having a strong relationship with a company’s HR or talent acquisition group is key. Establish clear guidelines regarding Finance talent needs and make sure they are always on the lookout for new talent. CFO’s can also leverage the existing team for referring new talent. Another strategy is using a rotational approach, which gives employees new experiences, builds new skill sets, and improves employee retention as employees who are cross-trained are more likely to understand and engage in a given organizational culture. This is especially true in FP&A functions – rotating LOB assignments and providing exposure to different functions (e.g. Sales, Marketing, MFG etc.) can be a very effective tool in identifying talent and improving efficiency.


This was a great panel discussion on a topic that is clearly relevant in today’s competitive hiring environment. The influx of Millennials into the workforce creates an opportunity to engage fresh minds that will challenge existing processes and suggest new ideas for improvement. At the same time, companies must help Millennials manage their expectations about the work environment, job responsibilities and promotional opportunities in order to keep the peace with the more senior staff.

One way to engage and motivate younger staff is for the organization to stay current with the latest tools and technologies. Not just for the sake of impressing Millennials, but to truly improve key business processes and make Finance more effective and productive.

Tools such as Cloud-Based EPM applications for modeling, planning, consolidation and reporting can reduce the drudgery of day-to-day Finance and Accounting tasks and allow Finance staff to focus on more value-added analysis that will better support the organization.


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