For public consumption, finance executives are happy to talk about what wonderful teams they have. In private, most are not very impressed with the talent at their disposal.
Finance managers rate few of their direct reports as effective in the behaviors and skills that drive excellent performance by the finance function, according to new research by CEB. And on average, finance workers are more skilled in the areas that have the least positive impact on value creation.
CEB, a subscription-based research and consulting organization with thousands of corporate clients, recently interviewed 673 finance managers at 78 global companies. The managers rated their direct reports – there were a total of 1,884 of them – on about 75 technical skills and 90 “soft” skills. The ratings were on a 1 to 7 scale, with seven equating to “very effective.” Researchers grouped all the skills and behaviors into five areas of competency particular to people it characterized as learners, doers, persuaders, strategists and builders.
Learner competencies include things like seeking feedback on performance, looking for opportunities to improve and willingness to change opinion. Doers have strong functional expertise, and they also take initiative, execute independently and break down problems into manageable tasks.
The skills that typify doers and learners may sound like important ones for finance professionals, and they are. But they are “table stakes,” says Kruti Bharucha, a CEB senior director who oversaw the research. “It’s not that they’re not important, but everyone in finance has to have functional expertise; that’s not negotiable.”
Given that perspective, the survey results are fairly remarkable. In the survey, managers assigned a six (“effective”) or seven rating for doer competencies to only 28 percent of their direct reports. Just 17 percent met that level when it came to learner competencies.
Still, ratings were even lower – much lower – for the other three competencies. A paltry 5 percent of those rated were considered “effective” persuaders, who articulate views clearly, simplify complex ideas, tailor communication styles as needed and challenge business assumptions. For “strategist” competencies – like strong understanding of business operations and emerging technology, as well as the ability to discuss financial performance in terms of key value drivers for the business – a mere 7 percent were rated effective.
Eleven percent were considered effective at builder competencies, which include creating vision, fostering buy-in, setting business-aligned goals for their teams, developing talent pools and challenging unethical behavior in others.
Overall, finance managers appear quite dissatisfied with the talent levels on their teams. Bharucha acknowledges as much. “We weren’t particularly surprised that the ratings were so low,” she says. In fact, she adds, one reason CEB did a report on talent is that when it conducted its annual interviews with CFOs last year, 85 percent said talent was a major concern.