All the Right Moves

With the best and brightest ready to bolt, CFOs will have to step lively if they hope to retain their top talent.

Many finance executives are keen to boost staff morale, but few can rival Clyde Hosein’s creative — and potentially humiliating — effort. Last December, the CFO of Marvell Technology Group strutted his stuff, literally. Inspired by the choreographed “mob dance” that a Chicago crowd performed with the band Black-Eyed Peas on The Oprah Winfrey Show last September, Hosein took the stage at the finance department’s year-end meeting and performed what he describes as a “funky ’70s thing” in front of more than 200 employees.

And his direct reports joined in.

It wasn’t completely spontaneous. In fact, Hosein hired a professional dancer to teach him and more than 15 of his direct reports a routine that they could perform as a surprise for the rest of the staff.

Although the team practiced after-hours and in the hallways for more than a week, Hosein wasn’t concerned about how much talent they might display on stage. Rather, his goal was to get in touch with the talent in his firm. “I’m giving the message that my management team is willing to take risks and be vulnerable,” he says. “It’s time to make the workplace a more fun place.”

After a year of gut-wrenching layoffs, extra work, and few financial rewards, it’s no wonder CFOs are starting to ramp up efforts to reinvigorate employee morale. Grateful for a steady income, many employees have been content to cling to their jobs, but that may not last for long. Several polls find that 50% to 60% of employees plan to jump ship as soon as the economy rebounds.

Yet not every morale-boosting strategy will hit its mark; some can even have an alienating effect. “It’s okay to do something simple, but if that’s all you do, it’s going to look superficial,” says Bob Nelson, author of Keeping Up in a Down Economy and 1001 Ways to Reward Employees.

There are several smart (and affordable) ways to keep employees from waltzing away. They don’t require fancy managerial footwork, but they do demand a level of attention and humility not often found in the corporate world.

Speak Clearly, Listen Well

Nearly every company says it is trying to communicate more with employees to give them some reassurance during these turbulent times. A hefty 83% of executives responding to a recent Towers Watson survey, in fact, claimed to be taking this approach to engage employees, far outstripping any other. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the quarterly town-hall-type meetings are effective.

“They’re a good start if done well, but I’ve seen a lot of these kinds of presentations, and sometimes they’re incomprehensible to the average employee,” says Ilene Gochman, director of Towers Watson’s organization-effectiveness practice. She says the biggest sin executives commit is lapsing into “business-school jargon,” including terms like “EBITDA” and “SG&A.” A second one is including too much information. Even if finance employees understand those terms and avidly scan PowerPoint projections of spreadsheets, she says, CFOs aren’t setting a good example for them in how to communicate to broader audiences.

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