Defining A Future-Ready Finance Workforce
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A few months ago, an article in the Wall Street Journal documented a troubling trend for finance; accountants are beating a path to the exit with more than 300,000 U.S. accountants and auditors leaving their roles from 2020-2022.
After almost a year of hearing about “quiet quitting,” accountants seem to be just . . . outright quitting.
That would be bad enough in itself, but the article suggested retention was only one part of the challenge finance departments are facing:
“The huge gap between companies that need accountants and trained professionals has led to salary bumps and more temporary workers joining the sector. Still, neither development will fix the fundamental talent pipeline problem: Many college students don’t want to work in accounting. Even those who majored in it.”
The WSJ interviewed one college student who bemoaned the idea of being “bogged down in the repetitive tasks of accounting, such as balancing cash sheets.” Instead, he found greater fulfillment in his data analytics class.
If this sounds familiar or reminds you of a similar refrain within your accounting and finance team, you might want to consider what will most deeply engage the talent you employ today, and what they’ll need to continue thriving tomorrow. I’m calling this a future-ready finance workforce, and if it’s not already, it should be at the top of every CFO’s agenda.
The search for meaning in finance and accounting
The evidence that working conditions within finance and accounting departments need to change isn’t limited to a few interviews and anecdotes. Last year consulting firm Deloitte conducted a survey in which finance professionals were asked what they value most in their career.
You probably already guessed the number one answer, which was compensation. Number two, however, was “meaningful work” at 28% of those surveyed. This was far more important than other factors you might have expected to rank high, such as recognition (cited by only 6%) or even upward mobility, which came in at less than ten percent.
If those in accounting and finance find work meaningful, in other words, they may not be looking for their next big promotion. They might just be looking to build upon their skills and deliver greater value for the organization.
“People are most often engaged and productive when they do activities that energize them and leverage their skills. When organizations connect people to work that uses their skills, the result is likely to be high engagement and productivity,” the Deloitte report’s authors wrote. “Transitioning from a role-based to a skill-based finance organization can empower the workforce to own their development and establish a culture of internal mobility.”
Your future-ready finance workforce to-do list
It might seem difficult to develop finance and accounting roles in such a way that they compete in terms of prestige or glamor. And yet being able to make sense of financial information and guide corporate strategy can transform the ability of an organization to grow and succeed. It can help leaders in every other department outside finance be in a better position to achieve their goals. It’s hard. And it matters.
With that in mind, the call to action for finance leaders couldn’t be clearer:
1. Listen and act upon employee experience indicators
A future-ready finance workforce is one in which leaders have taken the time to develop a culture among their team where this value is clearly understood, and to clearly reinforce it based on the employee experience they deliver.
By “employee experience,” I don’t simply mean what happens when an employee is welcomed on their first day, or the exit interview that’s conducted as a sort of post-mortem once they’ve tendered their resignation. The employee experience spans the entire journey someone takes with your organization, including what they see, think and feel on a day-to-day basis.
Whether through a formal survey or just seeking feedback through team meetings and one-on-one check-ins, ask your team about where they’re spending their time. Not to suggest they’re spending in the wrong areas necessarily, but whether it’s making the best use of their skills. Explore where they feel they could be making a greater contribution. Think about what kind of tools can best support them.
2. Conduct a skills audit to inform career development and hiring strategies
For some organizations, turnover in finance and accounting may be the one place where they’re not trying to trim back personnel. Challenging economic headwinds are forcing leaders in every industry to consider the people and skills they have in place, and whether it’s sufficient to meet business needs.
As a recent article in Fortune pointed out, the mass layoffs we’re reading about in the news could be the beginning of a transformation in who gets hired in accounting and finance roles.
“While most finance organizations were built with folks that have backgrounds similar to mine—accounting, risk, controls—what CFOs are now looking for are people with a much greater degree of tech fluency, data analytics skills,” said one of the CFOs interviewed for the piece, which predicted a rise in the use of cloud computing, artificial intelligence and more automation in general.
While you’re keeping an eye out for those future stars, begin building up those you already employ. That may require looking at automation too, so you can free them up from the manual and error-prone tasks that may make it impossible for them to reskill and upskill as they should.
3. Align your workforce around functional and organizational goals
Regardless of industry or size of company, finance leaders are pretty consistent in where they want to modernize operations: the close.
Just look at the results of a 2022 CFO survey from market research firm Gartner, which showed the most common goals included a faster, real-time close (86%), a cheaper close (68%) and an error-free close (64%). The future, in this case, isn’t very far away: these were all goals finance leaders expected to reach by 2025.
Even Gartner admitted that a fully autonomous close is unlikely to happen anytime soon. However the purpose-built, finance-owned solution finance and accounting teams need to achieve those other targets is here today. The challenge with technology, though, is that most organizations are still leveraging legacy solutions or worse yet, still relying on Excel. These outdated tools tend to perpetuate the need for repetitive, mundane tasks and inhibits their ability to do ‘meaningful work’. Arming your workforce with modern tools that are easy to use and maintain is the first step in preparing them for what’s ahead and enabling your team to do ‘meaningful work’.
Conclusion: The value of working definitions
What is a future-ready finance workforce? A team whose leaders make the work feel meaningful. A group where everyone is motivated to continually develop their skills in response to business changes. A department equipped with the modern tools to tackle the biggest organizational ambitions.
That’s how I’d define it today. If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, though, it’s that the future evolves in highly unexpected ways. And it’s going to be critical for CFOs to modernize their office of finance with a future-ready workforce in order to be prepared for whatever comes next.
If you’re interested in hearing what modern finance looks like today for other finance leaders and industry experts, Fluence recently conducted a webinar with the experts at Dresner Advisory as well as Fairfield-Maxwell on what modern CFOs need to know. You can watch the webinar on demand here.