Leadership

Talent strategies take center stage at CFO summit

People management is now a top priority for CFOs.
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· 3 min read

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CFOs have a lot to be worried about in the world right now. Inflation, rising interest rates, geopolitical instability, supply-chain disruptions, and the escalating climate crisis are all competing for finance professionals’ attention.

While addressing those issues is mission critical for CFOs, there was one concern to rule them all underlying the MIT Sloan CFO Summit in Boston last Thursday: talent.

To be clear, digital transformation, financial management, and business strategy are all still very important. But for many CFOs right now, the job starts and ends with people, whether it’s recruiting and retaining talent, nurturing the next generation of leaders, or developing a culture of organizational purpose.

“The war for talent is continuing despite the challenges we see in the environment. How do you build and motivate employees, given the hybrid work environment we live in?” said Ankar Agrawal, partner at McKinsey. “That’s an important part of the role and is getting a lot of their focus.”

Here are some of the top takeaways from the summit:

Get it together. Cross-functional collaboration is becoming increasingly important as the CFO role expands to cover a wider range of responsibilities.

“I spend only a small sliver of my day focusing on actually managing the finance function,” Don Halsted, CFO of Ionic Materials, which develops polymer technology, said in a panel discussion. “My time is spent in partnership with my CEO, and with our functional managers, and the key people in the teams.”

And because the CFO now sits at the intersection of so many parts of the business, building a “foundation for the communication” throughout a company is critically important, according to Halsted.

“One of the roles the CFO has to have is being a chief communicator internally,” he said.

All aboard. Another common theme among panelists is the key role CFOs are playing in developing new talent recruitment and retention strategies within organizations, engaging with everything from revamping compensation schemes to building diversity and inclusion efforts.

Cynthia Chu, chief financial officer and growth officer at Audible, is also adding early promotional schemes, job rotation, and mentorship programs for high-potential talent within the organization.

“Apart from those techniques, what I found useful for retention is that we really focus on building a positive team culture,” Chu said.

Growth potential. It’s not just about keeping talent either. At a panel discussion about leadership, Eli Lilly’s CFO Anat Ashkenazi said today’s financial officers are also being tasked with developing the next generation of organizational leaders to build resilience and continuity. That means sponsoring and mentoring high-potential talent, helping them move up in the organization and in their careers.

“As senior executives, I think we’re talent scouts…We have to identify that top talent, develop and grow them with the organization, and make sure they succeed in more senior roles, so that when I walk out and when I retire at some point, there’s a great bench behind me,” Ashkenazi said.—DA

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