High-performing finance teams have well-developed technical and soft skills and are deeply embedded in all aspects of a business, according to talent experts.
“When finance functions start to perform, is when they get the technical and cultural sides right," says Andrew Brushfield, Director of recruitment firm Robert Half Australia.
“A common mistake is focusing too much on the technical side at the expense of soft skills and personality traits," he adds.
A solid foundation
Brushfield says one way to understand a candidate's soft skills is to use the interview process to explore the ways people have performed well in different scenarios in the past, such as where they made a significant change or how they worked with an underperforming person.
“Questions like these are really important, but often overlooked in the interview process. This gives leaders a way to make sure they are hiring people who fit the firm's culture.
“It's important to gain insights into the way people communicate with one another, prioritise information and react," Brushfield says. “It's essential to check references and use behavioural-based questioning to build a high-functioning finance function."
The hiring process can also play a big part in attracting top talent.
While it shouldn't be too long, Brushfield says, there could be benefits in having multiple stages that offer opportunities for the candidate to become better acquainted with the organisation and its people.
David Cawley is the Regional Director for specialist financial services recruitment firm Hays. He says the work environment is crucial when building a great finance team.
“The idea is to create a really great place to work. Giving people autonomy and encouraging flexible work practices also helps. Candidates look for these features when they're applying for roles and they influence how satisfied and productive staff are," he explains.
Cawley says it's also important to remember hygiene factors like ventilation, lighting and the working environment.
“Taking Sydney for example, organisations are moving into Barangaroo, and there's a massive buzz about working there. The by-product is people work a bit harder and are more loyal."
Barangaroo is a vast new office and residential development in the Sydney CBD, on the western shore of Sydney Harbour.
He advises CFOs to ask staff about the environment they want to work in and take steps to create it. Cawley believes it's also important to organise team-building activities because they strengthen trust, respect, team identity and camaraderie.
Looking at ways to recognise and acknowledge staff who have done a good job can also be important. But recognition can take many different forms: remuneration, praise, certificates and team lunches are some options.
He says social media could be a good way for the business to differentiate itself to help attract the best and brightest.
“The best CFOs and organisations showcase their businesses via what are now considered traditional means, such as LinkedIn and Instagram. The very best finance leaders align themselves with their organisation's brand on social media, but they also have their own identity."
“A few years ago, it was all about connecting with people on LinkedIn and publishing articles. Now it's more about demonstrating what it's like to work for the company. You can do this by posting pictures on Instagram when your team does something incredible or you move office or do a refurb. This demonstrates to the outside world what it's like to work in the organisation," Brushfield says.
He also suggests it's a good idea to develop a strategy to promote the business via Glassdoor and Seek Reviews, which are portals that allow employees to leave a review about the company for which they work.
“The best organisations have a strategy around how they promote their business via these media because increasingly, candidates are using the internet to find organisations that fit with their beliefs and their values," says Brushfield.
Getting out there to understand the market
As new technologies are introduced into the work environment, finance departments may search for novel ways to adapt and evolve. However, that's not the only change that can impact finance teams.
Cawley says there's rising demand for what he terms 'finance business partners' – people who act as go-betweens between finance and other parts of the business such as IT and sales. There's also always a market for financial analysts, he says.
Brushfield agrees finance staff need to be highly analytical as well as commercial.
“They need to be across trends in the business community such as workplace automation and be able to produce quantifiable reports about the difference technology makes to the business."
Crawley believes it's also important to have well-developed career paths so people can understand where they move within the business.
“CFOs need to undertake talent mapping and develop an understanding of what their business functions are going to look like in the future," says Cawley.
“Finance staff need to be equally comfortable crunching numbers and also sitting at the sales table talking about sales volumes or pricing trends. They need to be at ease talking to marketing and assisting them to leverage big data and sift through it to pick up opportunities or anomalies. They also need to be across risk," he says.
“When you understand that, you can see how hard it is to find really good finance people," he adds.
Brushfield says because of the fast-pace of technological change, finance staff cannot afford to be too desk-based because they need to be up-to-speed with business intelligence tools and new software releases.
This means they could possibly benefit from being out in the market and meeting software vendors.
“If you are sitting behind a desk you're not necessarily going to be across that. The only way you're going to know about new trends is if you're out networking and building your own brand and hearing what's going on in the market."