Custom Fit

In finance training, one size may not suit all.

When it comes to doling out development dollars for finance training, CFOs have a range of choices, from in-house classes and personal coaching to outside seminars and continuing education. They must also decide how to balance training with formal job-rotation programs and more ad hoc efforts to provide on-the-job experience.

Bill Augat says it’s a task CFOs should take seriously. “I sit with each individual and talk about careers and what training needs they require,” says Augat, CFO of Fort Worth–based defense contractor Elbit Systems of America LLC. “They may want to take their CPE credits in specific areas that interest them.”

Like Augat, many finance chiefs and companies prefer a more personal approach to finance training, crafting programs to fit individual career needs and goals. A number of experts recommend this approach. “Having individual skills-based development plans is the best practice,” says Jonathan Schiff, an accounting professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “If you try to fit everyone into the same model, it doesn’t work.”

Besides, CFOs “do not always know what the best training is” for their employees, says Schiff. Often, they find out only by getting to know the specific needs and interests of staffers. “We have global companies and smaller companies that use this model,” says Schiff. “They find that they retain the best employees, recruit more effectively, and have more-transparent succession planning.”

The Personal Touch

One global company, Minneapolis-based food giant General Mills, adopted a personalized approach to finance training about six years ago. Its program includes in-house classroom training, a job-rotation plan, and mentoring by senior management, says CFO Donal Mulligan. The company’s finance staffers sit down twice a year with their managers to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, define career goals, and draw up individual development plans.

Those plans are based on whether a staffer is a new hire or in mid-career. All new hires first go through a structured job-rotation program, which is overseen by a team of finance managers; subsequently, they can rotate to available positions via an online job-posting board. “At the higher level, if someone has aspirations to be a divisional CFO and they don’t have the experience, we’ll make sure they get it,” says Mulligan. Thanks to the training program, he adds, staffers move up the finance-team ladder at a pace driven by their talents and ambitions.

Agilent Technologies Inc., a Santa Clara, California-based measurement-products company, identifies high-potential staffers and invests more of its development dollars in them, says CFO Adrian Dillon. But 90 percent of Agilent’s employee development comes through on-the-job training, he notes. That could involve working in overseas assignments. “As a global company, the biggest challenge we have is to develop truly superior leadership in various countries,” says Dillon.

How does Agilent identify the high performers? Each year, managers use scorecards to rank employees on job performance and career potential. When a job-rotation opportunity comes up, Dillon and other managers pull out the scorecards and discuss who should be chosen.

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