Retaining key finance staff

Published: 18 August 2016

It goes without saying that we speak to a lot of people in this job!  Clients regularly ask us to find someone who is that perfect combination of high quality, motivated and, crucially, open to a new role.  Through our extensive network of CFO’s and Chairs we can identify these people, however it is the follow up conversations with them that reveal so much about those who feel happy, valued and challenged in their roles, and those who don’t.  This then provides us with the tools to both advise our clients on retaining key finance staff and in enticing the very best to join them.

So what are the most common themes that we hear from those who are happy in their roles?  This is in reference specifically to those who work for a CFO or Group Finance Director (I will discuss retention for those at that level in a later blog), i.e. Financial Controllers, Heads of Finance, Finance Business Partners and Heads of FP&A.  

1. Feeling valued

It may sound corny and it isn’t normally the first thing that people tell us, but when you strip back the reasons for their contentment more often than not it comes back to the knowledge that their boss rates them, understands them and motivates them.  It is no surprise therefore that this breeds loyalty. They will have an open relationship with their boss and will meet periodically to discuss where they are in terms of their skills, career aspirations and potential options within the firm.  

2. Freedom and flexibility  

It is natural for anyone joining a business to be closely monitored to make sure they are getting up the curve. For the individuals that have proved their competence the happiest are those who are then left to their own devices, given the freedom to make their own mistakes and credit for their achievements. Extensive research has shown that flexible working patterns is a key retention tool for each generation post the ‘baby boomers’ and will only increase in its importance.  From our perspective at the coal face, speaking to these people on a daily basis, we know what a key factor this plays and how difficult it is to extract someone from a position which provides this if the client we represent cannot.

3. Developing their skill set

Almost certainly the most common complaint from this pool of candidates is that they are repeating what they have done before and aren’t challenging themselves in new ways.  Of course finance as a function requires an element of repetition, however if individuals feel that they are learning new things and have challenges ahead of them then this usually acts as an excellent incentive for them to say.  They should be encouraged to take on roles which they have not done before, which of course presents an element of risk to a CFO, however in most cases will pay off in the long term.

4. Financial lock-in’s

Rewarding people in the highest echelons of an organisation through a long term incentive plan (LTIP) is nothing new, however we have started to see this creep in at increasingly lower levels of an organisation, often at the request of a canny CFO who is keen to retain their best!  While I’m not suggesting that money necessarily buys happiness, there is no doubt that is a highly effective tool when it comes to retention.  We have also seen certain individuals being paid considerably above their pay grade, meaning that it becomes increasingly difficult for them to be poached by a competitor.

5. Having options

While the promised land of a CFO role is the preferred destination for many, a significant number of people reach the conclusion that, having worked with the executive team, this isn’t the path that they want to follow.  The selfless CFO will therefore look at what the individual can bring to the organisation in the wider context and give them the opportunity to progress their career within a different functional area or business unit.  

Of course the opposite to these points apply equally strongly in the functions that typically lose their best performing staff. It’s important that today’s CFO’s are in touch with the generations that are coming up behind them and can adapt their own leadership styles and approaches to the expectations of these individuals.

If you would like to discuss retention in your team then please feel free to reach out to me or any of my colleagues.

Hal Stoddart is a Consultant in the Finance Practice for Berwick Partners

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