Finance leaders share how they’re retaining and competing for financial planning and analysis talent as demand for their skills soars
CFOs want to retain their accounting, financial planning, and analysis talent. But keeping those employees on board hasn’t been easy in the current environment since their skills are in high demand.
“It is very hard to retain staff, and there’s clearly a shortage of talent, especially in finance talent,” Barbara Salazar, CFO at E2 Consulting Engineers, a provider of environmentally focused services, said during the Controllers Council’s virtual panel discussion on Tuesday. Recruiting comes with its challenges, Salazar said.
“Some people who were just hired, resigned,” she explained. “Some people used our offer to negotiate with their present employer. So, we wasted a lot of time and did not receive new hires. It’s exceptionally hard to hire new people right now.”
The Great Resignation may be cooling somewhat. In October, 4 million people quit their job, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Wednesday. It was slightly less than in September and well below the record 4.5 million who quit in November 2021. But don’t exhale just yet. “Career cushioning,” when an employee begins to line up a new job while still working at their current one, is increasing due to a possible recession that is making holding a job more difficult, Fortune reports.
“We’re looking at the salaries competitors are offering and trying to do the same pattern,” and reviewing compensation structure, Salazar said. As CFO, she’s also aiming to build a pipeline for promotions. That includes career advancement in financial planning and analysis (FP&A), Salazar said. “You have to do this for your key employees,” she said.
FP&A involves budgeting, forecasting, and analysis, and those workers are increasingly playing a big role in how the CFO’s office executes strategy. “FP&A shouldn’t just be the team of people who are accessing and analyzing the data,” Michele Tam, a senior expert at consulting firm McKinsey, recently told me. “They should be taking that a step further to really think about what does this mean for my organization?”
Christine Gu, chief accounting officer at Enjoy Technology, a retail tech company, started by Ron Johnson, a former Apple retail strategist and chief executive of J.C. Penney, shared her perspective.
“We have experienced staff shortages, starting from the second half of 2021,” Gu said. Along with staff leaving for new opportunities, one of the factors was “work-life balance,” she explained. The process of taking the company public caused burnout for some employees, Gu said. Enjoy went public through a SPAC deal in 2021. Following a stellar year for tech stocks in 2021, this year, the shares of many tech companies have declined the most of any industry. Enjoy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June, which subsequently led to layoffs.
Currently, to increase retention, Gu said, “We help employees to find the purpose of work that they do.” She added: “Sometimes they just keep working on things but without really understanding the overall impact or how it’s helping the company grow. We try to identify interesting projects for individuals to meet their personal interests.” In addition, the company is trying to offer compensation and benefits that are competitive with the market, Gu said.
Flexibility is also desired by finance and accounting employees. Gu has a fully remote team in the U.S. and abroad, she said. Salazar’s team has a hybrid work schedule.
“I think it’s very critical, especially in remote environments, that there’s clear, concise communication on an ongoing basis,” Michael Mance, VP of financial operations at Dialysis Care Center, based in Illinois. “As a manager myself, I have individual one-on-one meetings with my direct reports. And then we do have monthly team meetings collectively for the entire finance and accounting staff.”
The financial leaders are also incorporating technology upgrades to attract and keep talent. “Automation is extremely important, especially for FP&A people who don’t like doing repetitive tasks,” Salazar said. “Next-level FP&A teams” don’t rely on legacy processes like using spreadsheets, McKinsey research finds.
The leaders mentioned the importance of valuing employees’ time as key to retention. To prevent Zoom fatigue, “We allow the team to have more focus time versus virtual meetings,” Gu said. “We try to keep meetings short, like 25 minutes, if possible.” That echoes the sentiment of several CFOs, who recently told me they’re ditching back-to-back video meetings.
And employee recognition has helped with morale and engagement, the leaders said. “People are excited when they get recognition,” Salazar said. “They have a positive attitude.”
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