No one knows better what it’s like to be a millennial working in finance than millennials themselves, those professional who reached adulthood around the turn of the 2ist century and are now rising into the middle ranks of organizations.
I recently talked to two: Bryon Baxter, senior financial analyst at CommScope, a telecommunication company, and Chris Ortega, MBA, manager of financial planning and analysis (FP&A) at WebLink International.
Their main point was that companies need to adjust the way they manage this younger generation to take advantage of the breadth of their skills, their ambition, and yearning for learning.
Millennials may rush through a project and complete 90 percent of it, but don’t do the last 10 percent needed to finish it off. Millennials run so fast that attention gets lost in the process
What unique skills does your generation bring to the finance function?
Bryon Baxter: Our generation brings with it a tech savviness that perhaps wasn’t there before. Millennials are very open-minded and good communicators who easily adapt to any kind of change, in process or organization.
Compared to older generations, we are more open to new experiences. We are also able to quickly adapt to new technologies and provide better analysis to our internal customers.
Chris Ortega: This generation is all about continuous development, improvement and constant learning. When I look back at my work transitions, it was always about reaching a ceiling and looking for opportunities for more growth.
The moment we’re not learning and growing, companies are not leveraging our skills.
The unique skills millennials bring to the finance function is their creative thinking and intellectual curiosity. We’re analytical by nature. Millennials always ask the why questions, i.e., ‘Why are things being done this way?’
We want a full picture of it. Millennials are not content putting in a routine eight-hour day. We want diversity and to work on high-value new projects.
Do you see millennials lacking in any particular skillset?
Bryon Baxter: The one thing is that perhaps millennials lack is a sense of loyalty to their companies. A lot of them, particularly the younger wave, spend one to two years in a company and then move on.
Mainly, that’s because they’ve not been provided with an opportunity for growth.
In general, we bring to the workforce the same kind of professional skills that are on par with today’s business needs. Universities have tailored their curriculum to ensure graduates have the technical skills, communication skills and the business acumen that organizations are looking for.
Chris Ortega: Millennials do lack some more traditional skills. They’re not very high on patience. Sometimes you have to trust the process.
The other potential drawback is lack of focus on detail. Millennials may rush through a project and complete 90 percent of it, but don’t do the last 10 percent needed to finish it off. Millennials run so fast that attention gets lost in the process.
What challenges do companies face in managing millennials?
Bryon Baxter: Management has to be effective at providing rapid feedback and constructive criticism, as well as praise and recognition for a job well done. There cannot be a big gap between the financial analysts’ perception of how they’re doing on an ongoing basis and what they hear at the annual review.
There has to be an open communication and an ease of communication with your manager. Any criticism has to be offered in a way that offers opportunities for career development, and managers need to remove limits on opportunities for growth and enable millennials to feel like true business partners.
In finance specifically, one of the challenges is ensuring work/life balance. In some positions in finance, that’s harder than others. I recall working approximately 40 hours by end-of-day Wednesday, closing the books.
Millennials place more emphasis in maintaining a healthy work/life balance and finance may be a more difficult area for them to achieve that goal.
CFOs should create a learning organization and a data-based decision culture. These are two hugely valuable attributes that all high performing and potential millennials are looking for in a company and finance group
Chris Ortega: To retain millennials, companies have to be innovative. Those companies that are not agile enough to innovate and implement innovation will find it hard to keep that incoming workforce.
Companies have to keep millennials constantly engaged, working on projects and asking them questions, i.e., What can we do better? Let them explore these questions and then implement solutions.
The worst thing a company do is not keep them informed on the big picture.
Millennials have to have a high impact. Companies need to give them the latitude to go out and execute and provide them with the executive sponsorship and support for their initiatives.
Money is not the main motivator. It’s about the opportunity to have a high-value impact on the organization and continue to develop their skills. If you’re focusing on learning new skills and broadening your experiences, the money will follow.
What advice would you give CFOs about what they need to do to recruit and attract millennials to FP&A/finance roles?
Chris Ortega: CFOs in all industry and company sizes should begin by creating a learning organization and a data-based decision culture. These are two hugely valuable attributes that all high performing and potential millennials are looking for in a company and finance group.
So begin shaping and creating this atmosphere and the millennials will come. If you build it, they will come.
Bryon Baxter: My advice for CFOs is to make sure millennials know that they’ll be provided with functional and technical training to enhance their skills for future roles in finance. In addition, CFOs need to ensure meaningful tasks are assigned to enhance learning and development.
Top finance executives need to offer millennials opportunities to become engaged in projects and career advancement within finance and potentially cross-functionally, within a culture that embraces diversity and inclusion.
About the Author
Nilly Essaides is Director, Financial Planning & Analysis Practice, at the Association for Financial Professionals (AFP), a US-headquartered professional society that represents finance executives globally.