Take the time to map out a career path for your staff as you digitally transform your finance and accounting functions. Otherwise, you'll risk losing top talent, transformation specialists said last week in a CFO.com webinar.
Finance and accounting functions today barely resemble the mostly manual operations of years past, and yet, even today, most organizations are only just starting their transformation process, said Stephanie Hudson Miller, vice president of business software company SAP North America.
The typical finance and accounting operation today is a mix of manual and automated processes, but the trend is to push automation further, so staff no longer have to manually post transactions or reconcile costs. “Do you really want someone spending hours looking for that last five dollars on a $1 million reconciliation?” Miller asked.
In an Economist poll, most CFOs said they were automating so they could provide better operational insights, increase data security, reduce errors, and better use staff time.
Along these same lines, a Deloitte poll found that 77% of CFOs plan to retrain staff to use technology and redesign job functions to better use human skills. At the same time, there will be some staff reductions. About 20% plan to reduce headcount and 17% are prepared to manage people, robots and AI working side by side.
Putting staff first
These transformations are well and good, but they'll only succeed with sufficient attention given to the human side of the process, so you retain your talent and ability to recruit people in the years ahead, said Miller.
“A lot of people wonder, what’s going to happen next? What’s going to be left for me to do?” said Sue Mozdzer, finance transformation leader at Hubbell Incorporated, an electrical construction products company. “So, it’s really important to have a good career path that you’re able to communicate to people, because this is something that weighs heavily on their minds.”
Already, finance executives are hiring very different people than they were years ago, said Tammy Coley, chief transformation officer at cloud-based accounting software company Blackline.
“The type of person I was hiring pre-transformation is completely different than the person with the skill set and experiences we needed after the transformation,” she said. “It’s not going to be people who enjoy routine manual processes; it’s going to be people who [are comfortable] not knowing what they’re looking for."
Coley said her company is looking for someone who thinks ahead, and after completing menial tasks, says, "'I want to take a look at that and compare it to the budget or the forecast and make sure it makes sense.’”
Given these changing functions, you still need to look for people with core finance and accounting talent, but you also need to look for people who are comfortable working with technology tools, are comfortable collaborating with colleagues in operational divisions, and can communicate.
“It’s not necessarily a person just sitting behind a desk posting journal entries and taking and tying numbers,” said Mozdzer. “It’s about getting these individuals more involved with the actual people in the business, be it the sales team or the operations folk.”
Younger professionals today tend to come into an organization already comfortable with this way of doing things, said Miller.
She pointed to an emerging talent advisory board created at SAP to give young employees a voice on strategic issues. “They have quarterly meetings to advise on what the company needs to do to run better,” she said.
CFOs need to work with HR to map out career paths for both those who want opportunities providing value-added analysis to operational colleagues and those who are more comfortable staying where they are to the extent automation hasn’t done away with their functions. “I think companies need to have a mix of both to be successful,” said Mozdzer. “Not everybody has to be in line to be the next CFO.”