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Winning the War for Finance Talent: Game Plan for the Digital Age
You need finance talent with more than traditional skills but you must first attract it, then develop it. Here's how.
As technology paves the way for CFOs and finance teams to take on more strategic roles, organizations face a new challenge: finding and developing professionals who are as people savvy as they are number savvy.
To be sure, today’s finance professionals not only need to have the right credentials and experience, they also need to be able to communicate their ideas, work across business lines, think about the big picture, solve complex problems and be willing to learn and adapt. While such “soft skills” are no substitute for tangible skills, they are key to fostering collaboration, improving productivity and retaining top talent.
Of course, finding candidates who have it all is a tall order, and not just in finance. In a survey by Adecco Staffing USA, 44 percent of executives said a lack of soft skills was the biggest proficiency gap they saw in the U.S. workforce.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to identify, develop and improve these critical skills, and in the process attract and retain even better finance talent.
Here’s how to help your finance team tap into its softer side.
- Pinpoint the right skills for your culture: In a perfect world, a candidate can shift effortlessly between working on a team and working independently, balance creativity with attention to detail, be confident and humble, and know when to lead and when to follow. In reality, finance leaders need to recognize that most people have strengths and weaknesses, and identify the traits that matter most to their organization. For example, Oracle Global Finance prioritizes communication, leadership and relationship building skills in its finance employees in addition to strong analytics.
- Factor these attributes into hiring decisions: Once you know what your organization needs, the next challenge is to look for these soft skills during the hiring process. Soft skills don’t show up on a résumé, nor are they easy to glean from an interview. Consider using online tools or tests to measure emotional intelligence, or to gauge such things as empathy and humility. Well-chosen interview questions can help you tune into whether candidates have what it takes, or are willing to learn. Also pay close attention to employee referrals; the people who work for you already have a good sense of who may be a good fit.
- Include soft skills in goals and reviews: Soft skills are not easy to quantify, but they can still be part of regular goal setting and reviews. As with any goal, leaders can guide individuals on their team to identify areas where they can improve, outline an action plan to achieve those goals, connect them with resources (e.g. a workshop on public speaking or a strategic communication course), and hold them accountable. Increasingly, professionals don’t see an emphasis on soft skills as an obstacle, but a benefit.
- Help people savvy employees amplify their soft skills : In the same vein, you probably have employees who already possess solid soft skills. Identify your next generation of potential finance leaders and help them capitalize on these valuable strengths. For example, Oracle leadership makes a point to identify team members with exceptional soft skills and then offers them training opportunities to further improve them. The company has also developed a Finance Academy, which includes embedding finance talent into other Lines of Business. Not only does this ensure that finance team members gain a broader understanding of the entire company, but it also helps improve soft skills around understanding and communicating with people from various LOBs.
- Recognize personality differences: When thinking about soft skills, it’s important for managers – and colleagues – to understand that personality differences influence how people communicate and collaborate. For this reason, many organizations encourage employees to do personality self-assessments to better understand their own strengths and quirks, and account for these differences when interacting with others.
- Tap into your team’s wisdom: Rather than singling out people for any shortcomings, make this aspect of development a team effort. Because of changing technology and social norms, even the most seasoned professional can benefit from exercises focused on polishing soft skills. Many leading finance organizations also pair new hires with mentors who can help them understand team dynamics and company processes, and adapt accordingly.
- Emphasize that practice makes perfect: It’s one thing to read or talk about soft skills and quite another to put them to the test in real life. To help your team have the most impact and evolve in their own careers, look for opportunities for people to practice and perfect these newfound skills.