Tips and Techniques to Retain Finance’s Best and Brightest

The finance and accounting industry has no shortage of jobs for those who possess adequate technical and functional skillsets. But progressing above and beyond the regular finance reporting role requires more than technical competence.
Faced with a hot job market and the prospect of lost productivity should talented staff quit their jobs, it has become more pertinent than ever for CFOs to focus on the qualities that encourage staff progression and thus retention.
Recruitment and retention across Asia remain a challenge. A 2012 study conducted by Towers Watson across the Asia-Pacific region found that 84% of employers in fast-growing markets are meeting difficulties in attracting talent. Seven out of ten – 75% – reported difficulty in retaining employees who possess critical skills.
Employer challenges include an intense pressure to maintain costs, pressure to increase productivity, and keeping talents aligned with company needs. Employees, meanwhile, leave jobs due to a mismatch of base pay with organizational cost management, long working hours that they do not expect will change, doubts about leadership and stress and anxiety about the future.
Decisions on whether or not to stay in a job are driven by the overall quality of work experience, says Mira Gajraj Mohan, a practice director for talent management and organization alignment at Towers Watson Asia Pacific.
Identify priority competencies
One way for CFOs and other managers to ensure talent retention is to make priorities known, so employees are well aware of targets needed for progression. Employees, for their part, should pay attention to the boss’s priorities as they work to improve on their performance.
“It’s about focusing on the aspects which have management’s attention,” says Mohan.
The Association of Certified Chartered Accountants (ACCA) has identified what it considers the ten core competencies for the accounting profession, both in practice and in business:
  • Professionalism and ethics
  • Governance, risk and control
  • Stakeholder relationship management
  • Strategy and innovation
  • Leadership and management
  • Corporate reporting
  • Sustainable management accounting
  • Financial management
  • Audit and assurance
  • Taxation
These competencies can be used to fashion specific KPIs for each team member. “Bosses have to look at and implement specific measurable targets related to retention identification and capability building,” says Mohan. “They then have to make sure that subordinates know these targets are important, by having these goals make up more than just 5% to 10% of their KPIs.”
Focus on adding value
A crucial aspect of talent retention lies in staff who feel empowered enough to take charge of their careers. While salary has and always will be an important factor determining whether a professional worker stays or leaves, opportunities for growth also play a large role in contributing toward job satisfaction.
In the accounting and finance world, this translates into employees who are not only technically proficient but also understand the business. They know what drives the organization and are willing to apply their capabilities to add value to the enterprise.
The ability to contribute this unique value to the business, in addition to technical expertise, is what sets one candidate apart from others who are content to perform more back-end and monitoring roles, says Mohan. “Many CFOs progress to become CEOs due to such qualities.”
However, such value-add contributions may be hindered by staff members’ inability to recognize the potential impact they could have on the business. Mohan has extensive experience with conducting talent assessments for C-suite and slightly lower job levels. She sees an overarching pattern of talented candidates who excel at their jobs, but did not see how their responsibilities played a part in the business’s well-being.
“It is easy for finance managers to implement training programs for various skills,” she observes. “But the gap lies not so much with the skill level, but in the way the role and goals are defined.”
Zoom in toward the more junior job levels and things are not looking so different. Issues around innovation and creative thinking are prevalent among Generation Y workers – those in their 20s and 30s – in accounting and finance. This ties in with the tendency of Gen-Yers to fail to understand the importance of the role they play in the business.
Studies conducted by Towers Watson show Gen Y staff constantly question if their work impacts the organization in a meaningful way. Retaining such staff requires tenacity on the manager’s part, says Mohan. He or she has to help the team understand just where they fit into the business, a task that is particularly challenging when dealing with finance staff that perform supporting roles, versus front facing sales or business functions.
“Finance bosses have to make sure they are helping staff to not only enhance their technical skills, but aslo understand how they add value to the business. Only then will they feel empowered enough to think innovatively,” says Mohan.
Customize talent strategies
The deluge of operational details faced by finance managers has been cited as a barrier toward implementing measures for a happier, more cohesive team. According to the Towers Watson study, finance managers cited being overwhelmed by firefighting and meeting deadlines, which give them little time to step back and focus on the equally important aspects of running the team.
The reality is that they simply have to find the time to address recruitment and retention issues. Indeed, it may be that one reason why they have to spend so much effort firefighting is because their team is understaffed or they have been unable to attract and retain the kind of finance professionals who can help with meeting deadlines and minimizing the need to fight fires in the first place.
Finance bosses must set aside time to design and implement a recruitment and retention plan that is appropriate to their situation. Strategies for talent management should not be implemented laterally across different organizations, says Mohan. Such strategies should instead be customized according to the type of business and what the business competes on.
“The kind of people practices, the level of empowerment given to managers and the way staff are trained will vary according to what the business is competing on,” she says. “For example, you would not expect a budget airline to have similar people management practices as a commercial airline, as they compete on completely different levels.”
Stressing the need for organizational support, Mohan says that a manager trying to push a particular talent management initiative would have his hands tied if the systems within the organization do not support the initiative.
Beyond the traditional
Despite high job requirements in the accounting and finance sector and the fair amount of work pressure that comes with the job, it is, perhaps surprising to note that work stress is not the main reason behind employees’ decision to leave a job. Instead, a key factor in retention appears to lie in the climate in which the employee operates, and this could include relationships with bosses and teammates.
On the surface, a happy employee is one who is assured of his or her contributions to the team. However, Employers need to go beyond helping employees establish a strong sense of identification. What employees require is a sense of empowerment. Questions employees constantly ask include: do I have the necessary resources and autonomy to do what needs to get done?
Employees’ sense of well-being also plays into the equation. An uncollaborative atmosphere will almost certainly lead to employee burnout and subsequent resignation from the job, warns Mohan.
About the Author

Melissa Chua is a Contributing Editor at CFO Innovation. 


Photo credit: Shutterstock


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