How to Build a World-class Finance Team

  • Jitesh Patel, Group AP manager at Soldo

  • 21.12.2022 02:15 pm
  • CFOs

Every CFO wants to hire the best of the best. Top notch technical skills are undoubtedly important. But when building a team, they're not actually the full story.

Team chemistry matters, too. Chemistry with one another – but also the wider organisation. Your people need to be able to work well with others and communicate effectively.

So how do you strike the right balance of skills, experience, and youthful enthusiasm? What do you look out for to gauge potential and evaluate whether somebody would be the right fit for a role? 

And, most importantly, how do you ensure your carefully-chosen team members continue to be invested and engaged enough to stick around?

Your hiring needs

First step is identifying what roles you need to fill and who is best-placed to fill them. 

Do you need a senior person with a track-record in that specific area? Or could someone more junior step in and blossom in the role? 

Soldo podcast guest Ada's Long Dinh believes it all depends on which stage the business is in. "It's really important to understand and be aware of what the company needs at different stages of its lifecycle," he says.

"Before I joined Ada, we outsourced finance to a virtual CFO and virtual controller. And that's a very common model for early-stage startups… But when we grew from 10 to 30 people, we quickly realised the demand and complexity meant we needed somebody to be there in-house."

Naturally, as the company grows, so will the finance team. The best way to gauge how big your team should be is with benchmarking. Imply's Tony Russo uses competitors as a benchmark.

"One of the things I've starting doing more of over the last five years is to look at… companies at our stage (or close to it) in our space," he explains. "This helps me figure out if we're under-staffed or under-resourced."

Getting the balance right

Once you identify a gap, it's tempting to plump for the candidate who has the most impressive technical abilities. Or perhaps you can overemphasise experience.

But, without "diminish[ing] the importance of… understanding things like treasury, accounting, and taxation…" says Deloitte's Steve Gallucci, "that needs to be augmented and enabled with [other] capabilities."

In a recent webinar Soldo hosted in partnership with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), Flinder's Alastair Barlow observed that soft skills take on a paramount importance the higher up you move on the career ladder. 

When you reach managerial level, "you've proved yourself technically". To succeed in a more senior role, you need to know "how to coach… how to manage people… how to manage projects." 

But its not just senior roles where soft skills are increasingly relevant. The finance function is becoming an ever more strategic role. Soft skills are critical at every level of the hierarchy. 

"If you choose data analytics, which is quite a new field within finance," Barlow continues, "you need really technical skill sets… And then you'll also need people who can relay what's going on to the business in a non-technical way".

The right fit

So how do you evaluate whether a candidate balances hard and soft skills? For 1Password's Jeannie De Guzman, it often boils down to what she calls the "lunch test". 

"I like to hire people I could go to lunch with and just have a conversation with," she explains. The conversation needn’t be about finance. Instead, its the manner in which the person expresses themselves tells her a lot about their skill set. 

"There are people who are very long-winded [and] go into a tonne of detail," she continues. "And then there's people that are really concise. I tend to lean towards concise when I'm looking at a role that will be talking to the business, while those who are detailed may be great for technical roles where that don't need to talk to others."

How to boost employee retention

When highly-motivated people feel stifled, they’ll move on. So a CFO’s job is to remove the obstacles that stand in these people's ways. 

This means creating space for your staff to develop. This doesn't necessarily have to mean continuous upward movement. But "you have to create opportunities for [people] to continue to grow," says Picsart's Craig Foster.  

But while career advancement is an important incentive, Jeannie De Guzman believes it will only go so far, particularly given the stresses of working in finance. Staff members, she argues, also need to feel supported in more practical ways. 

"Oftentimes, the finance teams get slammed with a lot of overtime," she says. "So an empathetic culture… is really important…

"We work a lot on morale… providing wellness days [finance team members] can actually take — and not watch the rest of the company take… [and] adjusting deadlines to make sure the team gets the rest they need." 

Only as good as the people who make it

Today the finance team is no longer the stereotypical person with a calculator telling different departments how much they can or can't spend (or what they can or can't spend money on). 

Finance is an increasingly important strategic partner that helps the business move forward and achieve its goals. And that requires a much broader set of skills than just the ability to work a spreadsheet. 

"The days of siloed roles focused on one single domain are coming to an end…" says Steve Gallucci. The modern finance function, he argues, requires people who are effective communicators, have "tech fluency…[and] are able to understand… multiple aspects of finance, not just one particular area."

More to the point, the work doesn't stop once new hires sign on the dotted line. If you want to retain them, you need to create the conditions in which they can thrive.

 

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