The FD’s FD: what price talent?

You face complicated decisions on many fronts on a daily basis. Knowing how
to proceed at any given time is harder than it looks. For example, should you
grow finance to deliver more business value or should you hunker down to protect
profits? Do you lead your finance function to find innovative solutions to
conserve cash or plan to invest for future growth, capitalising on instability
to gain market share? There are few right answers to the big questions.

One such question is around talent. In tough times, companies will shed
underperformers. But many find their best talent also heading for the door,
picked away by competition looking to consolidate power during the downturn so
that they can come out fighting when the economy starts warming up again. That
is why it is important to have a strategy for identifying, retaining and
recruiting the best talent during this time.

It’s not just about filling an empty slot. In this environment, possibly more
than any other, you need people with the right skills and capabilities to help
you accomplish your objectives. So, here lies the rub. Do you hire for current
skills or for future potential?

You may think that hiring for long-term potential is a luxury you can’t
afford. The majority of what you do may require deep, specialised knowledge.
What you need is somebody right now to work down a list of unreconciled accounts
or undertaking daily monitoring of cash movements. But what happens when the
world changes and you need them to do something else? You also may be left
without any room to develop people, increasing the likelihood they will move.

So what if you invest in potential instead? This can give you people who are
more versatile, giving you flexibility in deploying staff and an opportunity to
produce leaders for the future.

Plus, there is the cost of training and question of whether these folk can
learn to perform specialist tasks. And how do you justify this to your
colleagues who are taking out heads and cutting swathes of cost from their

The point is, of course, that ideally you need a mix of experience and
potential. Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and focus on the bigger
picture, rather than the individual boxes in an organisational chart. This
environment will present opportunities to have the team you have dreamt of – but
possibly at a cost.

Margaret Ewing is partner and vice-chairman of Deloitte. She formerly
served as CFO of BAA

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