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.

Assigning high-potential employees to special, often cross-functional projects with executive-level visibility can also provide a much-needed morale boost. “These kinds of special assignments, as opposed to the routine taking over of a job, are terrific,” says Gochman. Employees “get to work with others, present to others, and if you do it right, you can make it a developmental experience, too.”

You might succeed too well. Alberico just lost one of his high-performing staff accountants to the IT department after the employee excelled in a special project helping a customer restructure its billing in ways that opened up new business opportunities for Odyssey. “My controller wasn’t that happy,” Alberico says with a laugh, “but the employee really benefited; it propelled him into a promotional opportunity.”

Although the recession may seem like the worst possible time to create or expand job-rotation programs — after all, there may be no new positions for those more-well-trained employees to move into — experts say that, in fact, the rotations send a strong signal that the firm cares about developing individuals’ talents. Grant Barber, CFO at Hughes Communications, has moved four senior employees to very different roles in the past year, and is planning to increase that number. “If I had my perfect plan, I’d move a third of my senior direct reports every year,” with rotations occurring twice-yearly, he says.

There are also less-formal (and cost-free) ways to cross-pollinate. At Aspect Software, an outsourced provider of customer relationship technology, more than 60 of the 77 people in finance have attended each of the first four monthly “Be Better Informed” sessions, half-hour mini-lectures that use internal speakers on such topics as credit and collections, the order-management process, and product development. “They’ve been a huge enhancement,” says Cathy Trainor, a senior finance manager at Aspect who liked the idea enough to volunteer to coordinate the sessions. “They really break down barriers between different parts of the [finance] department,” she says, and, at 30 minutes, “they’re not extremely time-consuming; you get enough and can follow up if you want more.”

Fame, If Not Fortune

With bonuses in short supply, many companies are looking for quick and inexpensive fixes in the form of gift cards and trophies. Nearly 30% of companies surveyed by Towers Watson said they were planning to expand their use of such programs. The downside, of course, is that “if you give something to one person, the other good people say, ‘Why didn’t I get one?’,” Hosein says. “But if you give it to too many people, it loses something, too.” Hosein says he is ambivalent about instituting such a formal program.

Last year, Aspect Software doubled the number of spot awards it gives each quarter, from 20 to 40, and plans to boost the number within finance even further this year. While too many rewards can certainly dilute their effectiveness, CFO Michael Provenzano says that getting a reward (which can range from $250 to $1,000) “still holds a lot of weight” with employees who win, since they must be nominated by a peer (rather than management), “and we’re still pretty stringent in terms of the criteria” to receive one. Of the finance employees who have received one, he says, most of the nominations came from outside the function, such as from business-unit managers.

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