The company has also stripped out much of the standardized classroom curriculum and large group conferences that it used to require. “We don’t have a lot of book learning,” says Beer. “You learn on the job.” Still, Ford encourages recruits to go on for an MBA with 100 percent tuition reimbursement.
The biggest change at Ford, in fact, is a decision to focus recruiting efforts on undergrads rather than MBAs. “We’ll be hiring 60 to 70 percent undergrads this year, whereas we used to hire 60 to 70 percent MBAs,” says Pruett. Hiring undergrads is not only cheaper and more appropriate to the available openings, it also gives the company better prospects of diversity, since the proportion of women and minorities in undergrad classes tend to be higher than those in MBA programs. Another compelling reason, according to Pruett: “We can get the best of the best at undergrads, whereas we’re competing with investment banks and others at the MBA level.”
Job rotation does have well-known difficulties, including matching employees with appropriate jobs on a regular basis, and getting managers to devote extra attention to their trainees. Such challenges have typically made job rotations difficult to achieve at small and midsize companies, where finance staffs tend to be leaner and positions fewer.
But at least one small-company CFO has found that documenting processes for Section 404 compliance has made it easier to give her staff the variety of experiences that many seek through rotational programs at big companies. “Once these processes become more documented, there’s still expertise involved, but it becomes a little bit easier to swap them,” says Melissa Cruz, CFO of Concord Communications Inc., a Marlboro, Massachusetts-based software company.
Based on the job catalog that 404 work has produced, along with twice-annual career-planning meetings between staff members and their managers, Cruz promotes lateral swaps among her 20-person finance staff to prevent boredom and build new skills. Recently, that meant the group doing travel-and-entertainment expense reporting traded another group for sales-tax processing, with each group teaching the other in its area of expertise. In another corner of the department, the manager who oversaw order administration cross-trained her group by having them fill in for finance staffers who handled licensing agreements when they went on vacation. That eventually allowed both groups to do both jobs — and boosted the manager’s responsibilities.
“It is highly motivating, because it gives them an opportunity to do new things on a regular basis,” says Concord vice president of finance Roger Blanchette, who often switches up the operational areas that his three senior financial analysts support. “There’s not always a manager position open, but this gives them a way to continue to build their skills.”
The swaps do take extra management time — both in the planning and execution — but they are well worth it, according to Concord executives, especially with turnover rates running below 5 percent in the past year. The swaps “improve our bench strength and create natural backups,” says Cruz.