With unemployment figures hovering in the 8 percent range and headline news of a slow economic recovery, it is hard to imagine there is a shortage of qualified accounting talent. And yet, in a recent survey by Robert Half reported in CGMA Magazine, 69 percent of CFOs surveyed reported challenges in finding skilled accounting and finance professionals. We’re seeing this too: many of our clients are struggling to find the right fit for open finance department positions.
I think there are several factors at work here. Companies reacted to the economic downturn by cutting costs significantly, and workforce reductions left the remaining employees in the position of doing more with less. This “temporary condition” has lasted a lot longer than most people anticipated and resulted in burned-out employees, projects on hold, no time or resources devoted to process improvements and little to no talent management or career development.
Top talent drives top performance. When an organization is focused on cost cutting, not growth, it can be challenging to provide sufficient opportunities for building skill sets and providing career advancement. Many organizations claim “people are our most important asset” and yet often fail to act in a way that supports that statement. Although talent isn’t captured on a balance sheet, it is a valuable asset and oftentimes provides the most important competitive advantage.
Here are my suggestions for bridging this talent gap:
Make employee development a priority. Acknowledge that talent management is important and integrate that into your corporate culture. Make this a priority in bad times as well as in good times.
Come up with a plan. Formulate a strategy for developing and retaining talent. (And execute it.)
Talk to employees on a regular basis. Making time for focused 1:1 conversations is not easy, but it is critical to your own success—and theirs.
- Conversations should focus on what the employee wants in the context of what the organization needs. Help employees clarify what they want, build on strengths, address career liabilities and identify development opportunities for future roles.
- Determine how engaged your employee is with the organization. What are their drivers for job satisfaction? What makes them feel valued?
Augment in-house talent with outside help. Burning out your people is not in anyone’s best interest. Are there skill-set gaps that can be filled with a consultant? Rather than trying to hire an employee who meets a detailed set of requirements, can you hire a professional who can adapt and learn quickly while augmenting missing skills with consulting help? For instance, it may be more cost-effective to hire an employee who can fill 80 percent of the requirements and use independent expertise on an as-needed basis.
Show interest and initiative. Be engaged with your organization and contribute to its growth and success—and don’t wait to be asked. Employers have little interest in developing or retaining people who show little initiative or interest in the organization’s future.
Grow with the company. Organizations evolve, new tools come to market and regulations keep coming (and changing!). Keep pace with the changes and stay ahead of the curve.
Be proactive about your career. Talk to your manager about what you would like to learn and how you would like to contribute to the organization. Gain agreement about priorities and discuss how to carve out some time to work on new areas while keeping mission-critical tasks on target. What deadlines can slide out a little? What new tools can add operational efficiency?
Take the long view. You may need to put in some extra hours in order to develop new skills. Your payoff is down the road, either in becoming more valuable to your organization (increased pay, bonus potential) or in landing your next job.
Not having the right talent at the right time can cause serious harm to strategic initiatives with delayed projects, missed market opportunities or botched strategic execution. Losing a key resource can derail day-to-day operations until a suitable replacement can be found and can get up to speed. Talent management should be considered part of an enterprise risk management (ERM) program. Don’t have one? Get a good overview in our report, ERM: Not Just for the Big Guys.