In the not so distant past, the role of the CFO was much more easily defined and there was a heavy focus on maintaining the company finances. In recent years, however, we have seen the role evolve to become more of an operational position, with many CFOs now also holding the post of COO.
Since taking up the position of CFO and head of operations at KPMG in the UK last year, I have come to realise just how much of a people-focus is needed to ensure the firm is operating to the best of its abilities.
From the outside looking in it would be easy to assume that the role of CFO is to ensure the finances of the organisation are in order and to manage the business’s operations. It may not be immediately apparent that one of my main responsibilities is the allocation of resources – and the main resource in our business is our people.
It is so important for organisations to prioritise the welfare of their employees. Only when individuals are able to be themselves in the workplace, without risk of discrimination or bias, are they able to work to the best of their abilities.
Motivation, in its many forms, is also incredibly important. Fully understanding the make-up of an organisation and being able to recognise what motivates staff not only enables business leaders to create an inclusive, creative and productive working environment, it also helps with recruitment processes.
The publication of the recent Social Mobility Barometer, a survey of almost 5,000 young people by the Social Mobility Commission, has shone a light on how young people perceive their futures, and the results are troubling.
The research shows that young people are increasingly pessimistic about their ability to succeed. Many believe that their future prospects will see them worse off than their parents, with little job security and poor housing prospects.
Businesses have an important part to play in dispelling this belief amongst future talent and pushing the message that all organisations should be hiring based on aptitude, regardless of background.
Ensuring young people know that they can achieve a better future is essential to the UK economy if we want to ensure our talent does not go elsewhere. With uncertain times ahead post-Brexit, it is more important than ever for businesses to safeguard the future of their organisations by attracting and retaining young people who have the aptitude to drive their organisations forward.
The people a business recruits have a huge impact on all aspects of the organisation and can be a defining factor in whether an organisation is able to remain competitive. Offering different entry routes into the business will widen the talent pool a company recruits from and potentially attract untapped talent that may not have previously considered working within the business.
Attracting a diverse range of talented people is an important strand of commercial strategy: diversity of thought and background can improve innovation and the ability to form relationships with clients and communities. However, it is critical to also have the right processes in place to enable recruits to learn and train on the job so they can progress and better understand the areas in which they work.
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Fully investing in understanding the make-up of a workforce better equips CFOs to effectively motivate and recruit the right “resources” for their organisation, which in turn improves productivity and create an inclusive, and productive working environment.
The role of the CFO will continue to evolve as business priorities and practices change in line with society and the global economy. Every day we see new technologies emerging, which can be viewed as both an opportunity and a threat.
One thing that will remain consistent, however, is the need for talented individuals who are able to drive an organisation forward. Technology may change the way in which we work and compete in the marketplace, and it may also change the way in which we manage finances and operations, but people will always be the most valuable resource to any organisation.
CFOs need to continue to invest in the recruitment and development of their workforce and truly understand the wants and needs of their people. It is only through doing this that we can encourage individuals to be the best versions of themselves, both individually and collectively.
Sarah Willows is CFO and head of operations at KPMG in the UK.