Every experienced manager knows that the key to improving and then maintaining business performance is to have the right people in the right jobs.
Finding the right people, however, isn’t always that easy, especially when it comes to functional areas such as The Finance Department.
In many cases, you can find someone who, on paper, fits the bill. They have the right qualifications and work history. However, when it comes to an interview or their performance in-role, something is lacking.
It’s a ‘something’ that stops them excelling in their position and potentially compromises the overall performance of your team.
The nature of this ‘something’ can be hard to quantify and isn’t always easy to spot in interviews.
However, for a CFO, I think there are four key attributes you need to identify in candidates and then also nurture across the Finance Team.
While curiosity might have led to the demise of the metaphorical feline, when it comes to members of The Finance Team, it can bring nothing but benefits.
Curious people will ask questions, building their knowledge and understanding of the company they work for and the sector in which they work.
This will develop their business acumen and their ability to identify missing information or flaws in processes that could be leading to inefficiencies or costing you money.
A curious person will want to solve these problems, not resting until they’ve come up with a solution.
You can spot a curious person in an interview because they won’t just have come prepared to answer your questions; they’ll have come with their own, far beyond the standard questions such as when they might be expected to hear about the outcome or holiday entitlement.
You can test their skills by asking them to describe a situation in which they’ve identified and solved a problem.
Also, you can nurture them once they’re part of your team by asking them to come up with new ways of working or ideas that can improve performance; remember, however, that you’ll need to take any viable idea forward; otherwise you risk demotivating them or losing them to a competitor.
#2. Data Awareness
Finance isn’t just about the information that can be found in a spreadsheet; it’s about what’s behind those figures and what they tell us.
It would be best if you had people who not only understand this but can drill down into the data to find answers.
Moreover, linking nicely back to curiosity being a key attribute, because not all data will be held on your finance systems, you want people who are comfortable looking for data from across the organisation, or outside it if needed.
In interviews, find out when and where candidates have looked for and used data and what they’ve done if they haven’t had the information needed to make a decision or run a report.
Once they’re on board, please support them by making sure they have the training they need in the systems you use.
As a senior manager, encourage a culture of transparency so that any requests for data from other departments are met.
#3. People Skills
Of all the departments within a business, possibly none is as well-connected as The Finance Team.
Unfortunately, finance is also often one of the most misunderstood areas, which can lead to teams becoming separated from the wider organisation.
You can mitigate this effect by employing people who have good people skills and can build relationships with other departments.
This means that any requests for data will be well-received and responses provided promptly and those other departments will come to you if they have questions or concerns, reducing the risk of financial mistakes being made.
People skills are one of the easiest attributes to identify in an interview.
Candidates who can build a rapport with their interviewers will stand out. They’ll make eye contact, speak positively about previous roles and employers and act openly and honestly.
You can make the most of these skills by arranging for teams to work together on projects or hosting joint meetings so that people can get to know and understand each other.
Not only will this make for positive working relationships, but it will also allow everyone involved to gain a greater understanding of your business.
The world of finance is changing.
There is increasing automation, for example, which may reduce the need for some roles and mandate evolving skill sets in others.
The need for information to be available at the push of a button may mean that quarterly reporting – while still important – doesn’t drive decision making the way it once did.
This is why adaptability is such an essential attribute in today’s Finance Team.
You need people who can rise to the challenge of a new system, seeing the benefits it can bring rather than being afraid of the changes themselves.
Also, it would help if you had people who can carry out more than one role or function, moving between each based upon business need.
You can identify this in interviews by asking candidates how they respond to competing challenges or new situations. Look to their CVs for clues as to their adaptability.
Have they changed careers, for example? While this was once seen as a bad thing, it could be a positive, especially if they’ve been successful in more than one role.
You can nurture this attribute, or encourage it in others, by offering opportunities to retrain or take on additional responsibilities.
You may wish to consider work shadowing, enabling your team to see what other roles entail.
If they are curious enough, they might see a solution to a problem you didn’t even know existed, leading to improved performance for your team and the business as a whole.
While looking for these softer skills may be a move away from your traditional approach to recruiting, there are benefits to be had by hiring staff with specific attributes including curiosity, data awareness, adaptability and the ability to build relationships with people across the organisation.
As a CFO, this might require a change in mindset, for you and the business.
It might also mean a change to your recruitment practices or organisational culture so that you can attract the brightest and the best talent on the market.
Remember that you need to retain this talent too so any cultural change can’t be merely superficial.
It needs to go to the heart of your organisation and be embedded in everything you do as a Finance Team.
It needs to encourage new ways of working and ways of collaborating that get the best out of everyone.
Most importantly, it needs to reward people for their hard work, for thinking outside the box and coming up with ideas that improve business efficiency and for adapting to the seemingly ever-changing world of finance in an age where technology is becoming increasingly important.
These rewards can be financial but acknowledging a job well done is just as important to younger workers, as is helping them to strike the right work-life balance and an evident appreciation of what they’ve done to assist the business to succeed.