Created for CFOs by CFOs
Brian Markley, CPA
Executive Vice President and Managing Partner, Transaction Services and Mid-Atlantic Region SolomonEdwards
Table of Contents
Feature Story: Winning the Talent War
A Conversation with SolomonEdwards Executive Vice President, Brian Markley, CPA
Attracting and retaining employees, also known as “the war for talent,” has become one of the most pressing concerns facing business leaders today.
According to The CFO Survey, conducted by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta, CFOs cited “labor availability and quality” as their second most pressing concern, just behind “cost pressure and inflation.” And more than three-quarters of respondent firms reported difficulty hiring new employees.
We sat down with SolomonEdwards’ Brian Markley to better understand the challenges at hand and what CFOs should be considering.
Let’s talk about the role of the CFO in today’s world. How has this role evolved?
We need to begin by taking a look at the current business landscape. Overall, there’s a tremendous amount of change and growth occurring.
There’s substantial merger and acquisition activity. Companies are refinancing their balance sheets with new debt. They’re bringing on new investors. They’re diversifying products and services. Organizations are becoming exponentially nimbler and more innovative, particularly when it comes to creative financing. Very few are simply maintaining the status quo.
Today’s thinking is: if companies aren’t growing, they’re dying. And that’s placing new demands on the accounting and finance function. CFOs must be able to absorb the impacts of debt and equity raises, mergers and acquisitions, and other strategic growth and transformation initiatives.
Add to that the whole movement toward greater transparency in accounting and reporting. Then, consider the massive shift from applying historic costs to the new approach of fair value-based accounting. CFOs today are challenged to navigate all of this and more.
In addition, with so many entities looking to achieve growth as quickly as possible, the CFO has had to become the gatekeeper or the conscience of the company.
CEOs and investors often want to jump right in the car and hit the gas pedal. The CFO has to be the keeper of the brake. They need to say, “Yes, let’s put the money to work and let’s grow, but let’s also make sure we’re being responsible and measuring performance along the way, so we know when we need to pump the brake or change direction.” CFOs are now performance managers and sometimes referees. The challenges are abundant.
How does the current business landscape impact the war for talent?
All of these factors are adding multiple layers of complexity and stress on talent. It makes solving the talent puzzle exponentially more complicated. The CFO is a cog in their own talent puzzle. How does that CFO quickly sharpen their own skills, and what new competences do they need other hires or consultants to bring into the mix?
Organizations have to invest in ongoing training for their current team members and hire additional talent to fill in the skill gaps. It all becomes part of this menagerie of considerations that CFO organizations need to think about.
The day and age of a CFO looking at their org chart and seeing the same names in the same boxes for two, three, ten years is over. Those boxes are changing as CFOs need to interject new talent and do so in as cost-efficient a manner as possible.
There’s now so much more technology and automation involved today. Many tasks in accounting and finance that 30 years ago, a CFO may have relied on a sea of people to perform, are now managed through technology. So, you need a smaller pool of people who are even more dynamic in their skillsets.
Where do you find them? How do you retain them? CFOs now need the people skills to be able to build these teams and leverage them in an environment where there’s an inherent war for exceptional talent.
SolomonEdwards is at the epicenter of the talent exchange, allowing a unique perspective regarding what both hiring CFOs and potential talent are facing. What stands out to you?
Accounting has always been math. While before it was about adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, now it is driven by advanced math. It’s about probabilities and discounted cash flows. It’s much more complicated.
The demographics of the workforce are such that, those of us who were in college a long time ago have to sharpen and develop new skills. How do you do that on the fly when you’re not in an academic environment? Organizations need to invest in more training and employees needs to seek it out.
Meanwhile, there’s a new demographic of talent learning those kinds of concepts in college, but they may have a different set of priorities when it comes to work-life balance that CFOs need to navigate.
Then, layer in the impacts of the pandemic, where maybe the new demographic of talent might have functional knowledge they gained in school, but not practical experience, because they’ve been working on Zoom for a year or two, pushing three.
All of these factors make it really difficult to extract and leverage the knowledge you need to make an accounting and finance function work. People skills are being pushed and stretched. The CFO has to juggle numerous different priorities and dynamics.
For younger people, the challenge is how to develop a more strategic personal perspective with limited experience. It’s so much bigger than the numbers now.
Based on your ongoing conversations with CFOs in hiring positions, what are the biggest challenges faced by CFOs trying to hire and retain talent in the current business climate?
First, with so much growth, the CFO has tremendous responsibility in figuring out how to navigate and achieve that growth.
Second, a lot has changed in accounting, and technology is a big part of that. We live in an immediate gratification society, and that dynamic is invading the world of accounting. CFOs are expected to produce almost instantaneous, usable financial data that informs the business strategy. They need a living dashboard of critical business metrics.
Gone are the days of shepherding the slow-moving Titanic of financial information. Now, it’s a speedboat, and everything must reflect those fair value concepts. It doesn’t matter that we bought the glasses for $1 three years ago. It’s about what we can sell them for today.
Third, it’s the talent war. While technology is prolific, accounting is still highly people reliant. If the CFO is going to be an effective advisor, they need a team of advisors supporting them.
The skillset required is transforming, and the bar is being raised every day. It’s moved from someone who is good at math to someone who understands and accurately captures debits and credits, to someone who can tell the story behind the numbers.
The demand for this kind of talent is huge, and people with this level of skill can have ten offers on the table.
What are the most important points for hiring CFOs to keep in mind if they’re going to win the war for talent?
The playing field has changed completely. Higher salaries are not the answer. In terms of both hiring and retention, today’s talent is looking for much more.
One thing we hear about a lot from talent is their desire to work in a shop that’s well organized with solid systems in place, where there is limited chaos. They want to work for companies that have made those investments, where optimal processes and technologies are already established.
Otherwise, too much stress is placed on people, which equates to more hours. So, the irony is that one of the best ways a CFO can invest in their people is to not spend more money on people, but to spend money on processes and systems.
Companies that have all their ducks in a row are easily the employers of choice. Today’s talent is interested in work-life balance, and will potentially take a lower salary to enjoy the environment they’re in and spend more quality time with family.
The other thing we often hear is that talent wants to be exposed and contribute to the business strategy. They don’t want to just be living in the boiler room of accounting and finance. They want to get on the top deck.
They don’t expect to be in the board room, but they want to understand the impact of their contributions. Also, they want feedback on those contributions. Feedback is a very important element.
The bottom line is: CFOs need to sharpen their own people, leadership, and business skills more than ever. They must traverse all of these realms, while also navigating their own careers, as well as talent development.
It may seem overwhelming, but it’s actually a great time to be a be a CFO. It’s such an important and critical role, now more than ever.
CFO Consulting Services
SolomonEdwards’ Transaction & Regulatory Services (TRAS) practice provides accounting and finance advisory services surrounding the full life cycle of a deal for private equity firms and their portfolio companies. Within TRAS lies SolomonEdwards’ CFO Consulting Services, which help CFOs accomplish goals beyond their bandwidth or expertise. Additionally, we provide both Interim CFO and Retained CFO Search Services, for situations in which a CFO or finance executive is needed.
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