Culture of Learning
Building finance skills through such rotating assignments isn’t necessary to satisfy auditors about the soundness of internal controls, though. In fact, the presence of any type of skills assessment and training program is generally a positive indicator of a strong control environment, according to Deloitte’s Wagner (see “Passing the 404 Test,” at the end of this article). “It’s not just that there is a training program that can be pulled off the shelf, but that the organization has a commitment to [training]; that it is socialized into the culture,” he says.
Many companies are starting from the ground up, taking inventory of skills at all levels in order to better tailor training to their staffs’ needs. “People used to sit in a room and decide what the training should be and tell everyone they should schedule it,” says Jonathan Schiff. “Now it’s more targeted — people like development tied to their own career objectives.”
One example of how the targeted approach can work: JP Morgan (a Schiff client) recently rewrote finance role profiles and installed a database that has staff members assess their skills and competencies against the profiles for their current positions, as well as ones they might hope to have in the future. “Before, we didn’t spell out what was required for each individual job,” says Jose Zeilstra, a vice president in JP Morgan’s audit department. “Now, with the competency model, it gets it down to a much more granular level, so that people know exactly what’s expected of them.” Managers can get a report of the skills gaps their groups face, she says, and plan appropriate training from there.
Citigroup embarked on a similar course in developing its CFO University curriculum, but with a twist. Concerned that he “had no way to know if people are qualified to fill the CFO roles” when then-corporate CFO Todd Thomson asked for new internal candidates, finance learning and development director Robert Gimbl developed an online module dubbed CFO Simulation. The 15-hour simulation requires participants to navigate a series of challenges, such as balance-sheet problems and Regulation FD violations. The simulation is by invitation only, “a sort of self-evaluation” for high-potential staffers, according to Gimbl. At press time, more than 30 employees, including all country-level CFOs, were in the process of going through the test, in part to identify areas of training for current finance leaders.
The effectiveness of training is always difficult to measure — particularly in the short term, since the hope is to keep program graduates for years, in order to fill top executive ranks. For Gimbl, a clear sign of success is that 33 of the 35 openings for Citigroup CFOs in the past year have been filled internally, with nearly twice the number of senior finance staff members making career moves in 2003 than did so in 2002. At AT&T, the 50 percent retention rate of its Financial Leadership Program is testimony to its effectiveness — as is the loyalty of employees like investor relations vice president Rich Sullivan, an FLPer who returned to the company in 2002 after leaving to get his MBA.