The Little Things

How CFOs reenergize their finance staffs.

Every year finance departments put themselves through the wringer, racing to meet an endless parade of deadlines. The crunch has intensified recently as finance teams labor to comply with new regulatory requirements even as they try to keep up with routine tasks such as quarterly and annual Securities and Exchange Commission filings and special projects like acquisitions or stock offerings. As a result, many finance staffers are simply exhausted. With still more work to do, how can CFOs motivate their most important assets to gear up again?

That question has plagued Wendy DiCicco, CFO of Kensey Nash Corp., a $61 million medical-device maker based in Exton, Pennsylvania, in recent months. “My team had the toughest year since I’ve been here,” says DiCicco, who estimates her finance staff worked an average of 25 percent overtime over the course of the year. In addition to successfully achieving Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, her department completed a large-scale Oracle software implementation, supported the introduction of the company’s first direct-to-market product, and began handling the finances of a new sales team. “A lot of people were feeling the burden of the heavy workload. I’ve had to really try to keep the morale going,” says DiCicco.

The simplest way to reward a hardworking and high-performing finance staff would seem to be with generous bonus checks. But it’s not always that easy, says Leonard Greenhalgh, a professor of management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. Bonuses can raise questions of fairness among team members, resulting in the demoralization of those not rewarded as generously as others, he says. “Another problem is that when you give financial rewards, they tend to be expected the next time around,” Greenhalgh adds. A bonus at year-end can also seem a long way off to a team that is pushing hard on a deal in June.

While Greenhalgh believes that CFOs in general tend to be less aware of the importance of motivational gestures than other managers, some do understand the role that small rewards can play. Regular recognition — as well as the boss’s appreciative attitude — is the secret to keeping a finance team happy, motivated, and willing to put in the long hours that are often required, say finance executives.

Beyond the Bonus

Doling out big bonuses as a reward for her staff wasn’t an option for DiCicco, as the company’s fiscal year ended flat in June 2005 and the first quarter of 2006 showed the weakest results in five years, so she had to be creative. The CFO tried to show appreciation for her team by arranging regular lunches, happy hours, and a departmental holiday celebration.

DiCicco also distributes rewards such as gift certificates to acknowledge particular contributions. “Even though they’re small amounts — maybe $50 or $100 gift certificates to a spa, a local restaurant, or Home Depot — I try to pepper them throughout the year so that people realize they’re appreciated,” she says.

Bill Augat, CFO of Elbit Systems Ltd., an Israeli defense electronics manufacturer with U.S. offices in Texas, Alabama, and New Hampshire, also looked for creative ways to encourage his team after a rough period last year. Augat had to scramble to keep his finance staff on track when his controller left the company two days into the close of the second quarter. To foster a sense of camaraderie in the newly depleted department, he had team T-shirts made and treated each finance staffer to a dinner for two after the company successfully closed its books on time.


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