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As the world of work continues changing, Chief Financial Officers are finding themselves thrust into many different challenges, beyond making sure the company checkbook balances each month. One of the biggest challenges in today’s market is that of human capital, which took center stage at the CFO Forum Atlanta Q3 event: Improving Growth & Performance by Attracting & Retaining Top Talent.

Our panel discussion on September 27th, led by Scott Sands, Global Practice Leader of Sales Force Effectiveness at Aon Hewitt, gave a full scope of the recruitment and retention issues impacting finance teams. Our panel consisted of a mix between CFOs and CHROs, including:

  • Doug Kline, CFO Jackson Healthcare
  • Mirko Schueppel, CFO Siemens Energy Management
  • Andrea Darweesh, CHRO Americold Logistics
  • Sherri Nadeau, Senior Adviser, Cerberus Capital Management & Chief Human Resources Officer, FirstKey Homes

State of the Economy’s Impact

Our panel of experts dove straight into an interactive Q&A session, giving an overview of how their companies were fairing with the unique situation our economy is currently in. Sands asked:

Overall in the economy, earnings are growing but revenue is not. How is this issue reflected in your company—are you feeling it or not?

  • Kline shared that the employees of his company are not feeling these effects: “We’ve been successful at growing revenue, and can attribute it to good top management, as well as a really strong culture. We’ve put a lot of effort into hiring the right people who are compatible with our culture and our values, which makes them stay longer and be happier. Over time, we have more experienced employees with deeper client relationships, which translates to success and growth.”
  • Darweesh explained how her company is in fact feeling the tightness of market share: “There’s definitely a strain from a revenue perspective. Other companies are getting better at what we do, or providing quicker delivery/better service, and they can lure customers in to take up some of the market share.”
  • Schueppel’s company also feels the slowdown of the market: “There’s the issue of the energy market not growing, but demand growing a few percentage points each year. While we’re trying to figure out how to improve our market share, we’re also dealing with the struggle of attracting the right candidates and retaining them.”
  • Though Nadeau’s current company she’s working with isn’t feeling the pinch, she’s seen it at her previous company, Yellow Pages: “There was a shift from the 1990s when they couldn’t keep customers away, to dealing with a little thing called Google. They had to reposition the sales team to be active sellers rather than order takers.”

From healthcare and energy, to data and manual labor, each industry on the panel is affected differently by the current economy and each is presented with its own challenges.

Company Culture and Leadership

With the tone set, Sands moved the conversation towards what factors companies should be focusing on in order to grow:

Either the market grows and companies can grow with it, or, in our current case, if the market isn’t growing, companies can take shares. In order to drive organic growth, that means holding onto customers, expanding existing accounts through upselling or introducing new products, and landing new customers—which of these aspects are the most important?

  • Nadeau reminded us that there are different levers for different businesses, but some truths are universal: “For the Yellow Pages sales team, it was about looking at educating the team and pinpointing the different characteristics you need to build a team for the future. We had to start giving great training and establishing a new sales culture, but when you’re doing these things it’s important to remember it’s everyone’s job. These changes have to start with senior leadership.”
  • Schueppel took the customer-centered approach in looking at how company culture needs to change: “When looking at what customers want from you, it’s twofold. You need to look at the market and figure out what products you can create, and you need to provide excellent customer service, because even if customers like the products but they aren’t getting good service, they won’t stick around. So we are finding younger employees who bring new and fresh ideas to the team. You have to have the patience to hear them out and you have to want to invest in their ideas.”
  • Darweesh shared a consulting tool (pictured below) she’s used for companies in the past that addresses the concept of change, growth and how it’s related to culture: “Most companies will tell you they want to go from incremental change/return strategy to transformational change/growth strategy. The problem is you can’t operate in those two quadrants with the same type of people. The two things you need to move from one quadrant to another are courage and curiosity in your people and in yourself, because it starts with leadership. Courage is usually lacking, especially when asking people to operate differently. It’s got to be in the language, culture, and leadership.”
 Incremental Change
Return Strategy Growth Strategy


Sands continued down Darweesh’s line of thinking by digging into the topic of leadership starting company culture shifts.

It’s important to start at the top by bringing in the right leadership talent. Tell the story of why people want to be here, what the company challenges them to do, and bring in courage as a behavioral trait. It has to start with leadership and follow with other candidates.

  • Nadeau built upon the importance of leadership in saying: “Just like culture has to start at the top, the need for change and desire for change has to start at the top. So many leadership teams say we want to change how one team performs, but we’re not going to change anything at the top. You have to have courage and curiosity, but also the ability to be a catalyst.”
  • Kline told the benefits he’s seen within his own company of egalitarian transformation: “Our founder and CEO is a risk taker and drives that in the culture, encouraging everyone to take risks. We’re innovators and try to stay ahead of the curve. Leadership in organizations is imperative for growth, because innovation starts at the top.”

The Supply and Demand of Talent

 Another important piece of the recruiting/retention puzzle for finance teams is the current imbalance between supply and demand of talent on the market. Sands asked:

 The demand for talent is much higher than supply these days—whereas a few years ago you could hire an experienced Baby Boomer, today it’s much more likely you’re hiring a Millennial fresh on the job market. Are your organizations taking risks to make sure you have the right people for the right roles?

Darweesh shared an impactful statement that sums up how everyone should think about the supply and demand of talent: “Unemployment has never impeded the ability of any organization I’ve been at from getting the talent that they need. As CFOs, you should be recruiting talent that’s already employed, and if you’ve got the right leaders, people should want to come work for you.”

Nadeau took a look at the generational split, and how you should use different recruiting tactics for different groups: “You have to know your audience when you’re hiring. Having the ability to get different groups what they want is imperative because, between Baby Boomers and Millennials, those groups want different things.”

Schueppel shared his company’s struggle in dealing not so much with a decrease in talent supply, but with high attrition: “It’s not just being a good company, because there’s tons of those—it’s differentiating your company from the rest. You can do tricks like build new offices, offer work from home days, provide wellness programs, but those aren’t working as well as they should be. Our main struggle is keeping millennials around and keeping them motivated. You invest in them and they’re gone 3 years later.”

Nadeau ran with Schueppel’s comment and reminded us: “The days of someone joining a company and spending 20 years there just doesn’t happen anymore.”

What Employees Value

 Due to the shortage of talent, it’s more important than ever to identify what your employee’s value is and make sure you’re tapping into those when recruiting. Sands led the conversation here by asking:

Have you looked at your employer value propositions and assessed which ones are best for your employees and candidates?

Kline explained the ways in which his company checks in on their workforce: “We have a dedicated person who performs periodical surveys of our employees, clients and industry to get a regular, good sense of what’s important. One big thing we’ve found is that Millennials love that we’re philanthropic and do good work in our community. We encourage volunteerism and have a robust wellness program, but also set them up to be successful. A key factor is continuing to think of new ways to get better. A new big focus for us is developing talent. We just created a new position, SVP of Talent Development, to lead the charge on that.”

Kline’s comments led Sands to observe the following:

It seems like these things millennials value might be what all employees value, but those things have been squeezed out of the budget over the last 30 years. So, is there really a difference in your workforce, between generations or functions, in what they value?

  • Schueppel’s organization also utilizes surveys, but he observed less differences in generations than might be expected: “Millennials are different from other generations, but also different within their generation. Differences are everywhere, but it’s not Millennial-specific—it’s more about young versus tenured employees, so you need to look at those differences. Every few years we do a survey and ask what our employees value. Many of our people—young and old—like to help the community. It’s not always about throwing money at the problem, but helping employees to help others. They want to feel good about work they’re doing.”
  • Darweesh rounded out the question with an important observation on how employees decide to stick around: “The philanthropic piece is important, and knowing companies invest in the communities they serve is important. But it’s the smaller things that matter most. When people join our organization, we need to tie ropes around them, meaning you have to connect with people to make them want to grow in an organization. Employees make a decision about whether or not they want to stay within 60 days, even if they don’t immediately leave. In any survey at any company, people want better managers who personally care about them.”

Q&A From the Room

During our end-of-session Q&A, two audience members asked questions regarding CFOs’ roles as motivators of their teams and leaders of their organizations.

Q: In an environment where revenue growth is slow but earnings are growing, how do you keep employee engagement and morale high to drive that revenue growth when you’re also trying to keep costs down?

  • Nadeau: It depends on how you get that cost reduction. If you’re leveraging tech, show how great it is to your people. Remind them that change is constant anywhere you go, so if you don’t like the change that’s here, there’s still going to be change happening at your next job, but we’ll commit to you having better skills. Most people will buy that if you’re honest on the front end.
  • Schueppel: Motivate people by moving them into other roles for a certain time period so they can see all angles of the job and appreciate what’s going on behind the scenes.
  • Sands: Provide employees with stock options so they can feel personally invested in making things run smoother.
  • Darweesh: Layoffs aren’t easy, but telling the story of what’s happening to your people and letting them know why things are happening to the whole company helps employees understand what the bigger picture is.

Q: Finance people are no longer the numbers guys. On top of numbers, it’s dealing with tech/HR/marketing. How are you developing teams that are underneath you and operating as a “Chief Everything Officer”?

  • Kline: Show how you’re developing people on your team and make it very prominent in the company—even in their faces—so everyone knows the efforts you’re making.
  • Sands: Take tasks that are challenging for you and give someone else the opportunity to fail at it so they can learn that failure is something that happens. It puts your employees in a situation where they’ll learn.

Attracting and retaining talent are problems that aren’t going anywhere, but listening to your employees, promoting the right kind of employer value propositions to candidates, and making sure all cultural changes start at the top are ways to get ahead of the talent curve.

Thanks to our panel moderator, Scott Sands, and to all of our panelists for their unique insights they shared with the audience!


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