FROM hyper-connectivity and the customer expectations it spawns, to a global middle class that is set to grow by a billion by 2020, this is an age of transformation.
These megatrends open up a combination of untold commercial possibilities and disruptive opportunities and threats. The impact of digital distribution on music, travel and retail is a clear case in point, spurring the rise of new corporate empires and seeing others fall by the wayside. Similarly, if the increasingly affluent consumers of Asia, Africa and Latin America are the prize, moves into new and unfamiliar markets can also bring new risks.
Boards and business teams are looking to finance to make sense of this upheaval and plot the way forward. As we see in Unilever Global Business Services, a key part of this ‘high stakes’ strategic advice centres on finance’s ability to turn a profusion of diffuse data into actionable business insights.
What kind of people are needed to meet these evolving business demands? In our experience, the most successful finance teams bring together a diverse range of talents. What Jaimie Lowe of Unilever describes as “thought leaders and provokers” are clearly crucial in this time of strategic review and re-orientation, calling for people with agile minds and commercial-savvy. But we shouldn’t forget about the importance of core technical skills in controlling today’s new and unfamiliar risks. Indeed, these core skills are often in shortest supply now that a lot of routine tasks have been outsourced. One of the most crucial elements of any new talent strategy will therefore be how to attract and retain enough proficient technicians.
Other key priorities include seeking fresh ideas and experiences by bringing in people from a broader set of backgrounds than has been common within finance. As we’ve found, apprenticeships can be an effective way to widen the talent pool. As analytics becomes increasingly crucial, you may also want to augment your team with people from IT and specialist start-ups.
The disruptive developments include the generational shifts in attitudes to work. Our research shows that millennials are looking for greater challenge and meaning in their work. The corollary is that they’re unlikely to stay with an organisation for more than a few years as they seek out faster career progression and more varied experiences.
A more customised employment ‘deal’ may therefore be needed to ensure that recruits can gain the specific training and experience they want from you and ensure you can get the most from them in the brief time available. Retention strategies will have to be pragmatic, focusing most closely on the talent you most want and can realistically expect to stay. Others can be kept close as part of an ‘alumni network’, providing a source of talent for future recruitment once they’ve gained experience elsewhere.
New centre of gravity
The shift in global economic power creates further challenges. Qualified finance professionals are likely to be in short supply in the emerging markets you’re targeting for growth.
Relying on expats is financially unsustainable. Investing in local talent is not only a more cost-efficient option, it will also ensure that you have people who understand the culture and risks within their markets. Investment priorities include forging close links with universities. It’s also important to ensure that local recruits have access to opportunities in the wider organisation. This will not only strengthen retention, but also ensure your leadership pipeline reflects the changing market focus of your company.
Technology and data proliferation cut across these talent demands. While automation and artificial intelligence (AI) could make many finance jobs surplus to requirements, they can also free up more time to devote to higher value activities. As analytics, automation and new forms of AI become core elements of the operation, a key priority will be how to manage both human and virtual/machine capabilities side-by-side.
While many finance teams are looking closely at what systems and processes are needed to keep pace with changing business demands, it’s actually talent that will make the biggest difference. The balance of competencies you need and how to attract and retain them have never been more complex. So it’s important to develop a well-thought through talent strategy with the help of dedicated, ideally embedded, HR support.
Sam Waller is a director at PwC