Despite facing the possibility of a looming recession, talent shortages remain top-of-mind for today’s CFOs, with 40% of financial leaders pointing to the challenge of keeping and retaining workers as the main risk facing their businesses.
This means keeping hold of high-value talent is critically important for today’s financial leaders, especially as they navigate continuing market pressures such as persistent inflation, a red-hot labor market and the ongoing “quiet quitting” surge among employees.
Taking a people-based approach where the emphasis is on outcome and driving value is one way financial leaders can help to keep critical talent engaged, said Eric Emans, CFO of process intelligence and automation firm Nintex — especially at a time when the rising popularity of remote and hybrid work models is making company culture increasingly “virtualized,” he said.
Emans’ own leadership approach is “probably more driven by what I think the key asset of a technology company is, which is people,” he said.
Making space for communication
“Quiet quitting” represents a half trillion problem for U.S. employers alone, but the term is just a new way to speak about disengaged employees, Scott Dussault, CFO of Workhuman told CFO Dive in a previous interview.
Employees that feel engaged in their workplace are 10 times more likely to say they belong in their organizations, according to a Workhuman survey, while those who do not have this sense of belonging are five times more likely to look for another job.
However, developing opportunities to keep employees engaged or maintaining a positive company culture can be difficult at a time when more and more of one’s workforce is scattered across disparate locations. Opportunities to create workforce camaraderie through events such as in-person happy hours can be difficult to replicate on a virtual stage.
The international Nintex, headquartered in Bellevue, Wash., operates as a “remote-first” company and is actively moving to reduce its lease footprint, but it can be "hard to learn how to be a manager in a virtual world,” Emans said. The finance chief goes into the office a few times a week.
“I think our hybrid model is making sure executives get out there and can meet face to face and you create these opportunities to bring people together,” he said.
It is also important for managers to conduct regular checks-in on their team and especially conduct one-on-ones.“You have to religiously talk to your people,” Emans said.
Emans has served as Nintex’s CFO for 10 months, according to his LinkedIn profile, and began his career at Deloitte. He has held numerous CFO positions, including serving as CFO for legal and compliance SaaS provider Lighthouse prior to moving to Nintex. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
Creating space for communication also requires that CFOs be able to “listen and not assume” when it comes to their workforce. While Emans talks to executives such as the CEO or the Chief People Officer regularly and his VP of finance daily, operating as the firm’s top financial leader also means he is now far removed from the typical day-to-day concerns or stresses of employees like a senior accountant, he said.
Emans described a trip he took to the company’s offices in Melbourne, Australia where he was able to schedule one-one-ones with several members of his team in that office, including employees who had never spoken to the CFO previously.
“I was like, that's going to change, we’re going to do these every so often,” he said. “It's how I learned how the team is doing. You’ve just got to create those things that just organically happen in office settings that just don't happen now.”
Outcome over productivity panic
Remote or otherwise, holding on to top talent within the finance function is especially critical for CFOs in the current environment who need to be able to balance rising costs as productivity also dips from its 2021 highs, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor productivity fell by 4.1% in the third quarter of 2022, according to the Labor Department, despite a 2.7% jump in the number of hours worked.
While the drop in productivity has raised questions regarding remote work — the uncertainty of not having one’s workers in their sightlines can worry leadership, according to an Oct. 31 Washington Post report. But it is important for CFOs not to focus on the wrong metrics — it is important for team members to know why certain tasks must get done, not just that they were asked to be completed, Emans said.
“I’m not a big productivity police person,” Emans said. “I'm very outcome oriented, or product oriented. I think you have to be very intentional about what you need people to do and how you measure that success.”
Finance works well “in a company when you have an expectation-based culture,” Emans said.
“I don't want to measure how many keystrokes you did to get your Excel work done,” Emans said. “I want to understand what that Excel work product looked like and how it drove positive business outcomes.”