When faced with challenges of retaining talent, there are a number of ways to approach the issue.

June 26, 2018

When it comes to retaining talent, accounting and finance leaders are faced with a number of challenges, from how to keep staff engaged to how to fill the right roles with the right people as the company grows and changes. These challenges and how to solve for them were discussed at the Illinois Chief Accounting Officer (CAO) Forum on June 6 hosted by Stout and Riveron Consulting. The purpose of forum is to provide a platform for in-house accounting and finance professionals to exchange insights and enhance their professional development in a peer setting.

The roundtable discussion included 10 senior-level accounting and finance professionals at some of the largest companies in the Chicago area, representing a range of industries such as food, flowers, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and public relations. Megan Rattigan, Vice President and Controller at JBT Corp. moderated the discussion and kicked off the conversation by asking a question that got everyone around the table thinking and talking:

“Many of us face similar challenges around how to keep employees engaged, but let’s flip that question around. What makes you stay in your job? What do you want your management team to know?

The answers were similar in nature and revolved around the key themes of continual learning, being challenged, and receiving quality feedback. Understanding their own motivations for staying in a role helped the group collectively understand that similar reasons may also keep their highest-performing employees engaged, as well.

From there, the discussion shifted to how they could take those same ideas and apply them to their teams. Here are the takeaways from that conversation.

1. Ask your team

Team members may be motivated by or value different things. Thus, it is important to get to know your teams on an individual basis. Finding out what each person on your team wants to learn, what challenges inspire them, or what motivates them is as simple as asking them, noted Luyan Li, Director of Finance at Medac Pharma. Jim Majernik, Head of Corporate Accounting at Kraft Heinz, suggested conducting what he calls a “stay interview,” which focuses on regular one-on-one conversations with each employee to understand their satisfaction level and likelihood of leaving. The questions for a “stay interview” include:

  • What do you look forward to each day when you get ready to work?
  • What are you learning here, and what do you want to learn?
  • Why do you stay here?
  • When is the last time you thought about doing something else and what prompted it?
  • What can I do as your manager to make work here better for you?

2. Expose your staff to new areas for development

While all managers may not be able to develop a career path for their direct reports, they can help them uncover new areas that may spark interest, enhance an existing skillset, and give them exposure to senior management. This could include having top performers participate in meetings with the C-suite, having key employees lead meetings, or giving staff “stretch” projects. Another idea that was discussed was implementing informal mentoring programs that enable junior employees the chance to proactively reach out to various senior-level leaders based on their own interests. This could take various formats such as “Breakfast with the CEO” or a “Coffee Chat with the CFO.”

3. Actively demonstrate your trust in your team

Another way for employees to learn and be challenged is to demonstrate your trust in them. While the previous idea focused on giving your team more opportunities, this idea is focused on removing yourself from the equation so that employees can freely lead and implement projects as they see fit. Ideas include not attending specific meetings, asking for updates rather than getting into the details of a specific project, or asking your team to help solve a problem with you. These ideas show your team that you have faith in them, gives them the chance to provide input, and stretches them beyond what they might already be doing.

4. Institute formal reviews/evaluations

While most companies have a formal review and evaluation process in place, the group discussed the importance of making sure that, rather than just checking the box on their task lists, their teams are active participants in the process. This includes taking the time to think about and write out their goals, ensuring their goals are aligned with the overall company goals, conducting a self-evaluation, and determining if roles and responsibilities are clear. Similar to the “stay interview,” this information provides valuable insight into what employees are thinking, what direction they would like their career to move in, and how, as a manager, you can help them.

5. Help bridge the gap between executive and staff

Finally, the group discussed the importance of bridging the gap between the executive level and staff level to ensure that everyone feels aligned with the strategy. Ideas included being transparent and sharing information often, holding regular and frequent meetings to share information, and inviting executives to staff meetings so employees can interact directly with senior leaders.

Finding the Right Approach

While accounting and finance managers face similar challenges in keeping their teams engaged, there are a number of ways to approach the issue, as discussed here. Attendees at the Illinois CAO Forum discussed a number of ideas that they can try with their own teams.