Return of the Jedi (auditor)

Sometimes, people make mistakes. Recog­nizing when it happens and moving decisively to fix the situation is an important life skill, I think.

Three years ago, I left a building materials company to start work for a Canadian retail company. At the time, I thought it was a good move for my career. The Canadian retailer was based in Toronto and I thought there would be oppor­tu­nities to move up or laterally. I assumed that the culture, at least within the internal audit department, would be similar to the team I was leaving.

I was wrong. The culture of the department, and the company, was very different. I think it has something to do with the industry, and probably the centralized structure. But whatever it was and in what propor­tions, it wasn’t a place where I felt like I fit in.

This is why pencils have erasers, people. Back in August, I returned to the building materials company and the first internal audit team I ever knew. And so far, it’s been like I never left.

Let this be a lesson to never burn your bridges! I kept in touch with several colleagues via email and Facebook over the years, and when I finally decided to go for it, they were able to refer me to the relevant people who could get the ball rolling.

So, in conclusion, you can go home again. And I did.

12/19/13 Update: HBR says Never Say Goodbye to a Great Employee!

North Shore sunset

CFOs crave soft skills, but aren’t providing training

I caught the following tweet recently, and it reminded me of my most recent blog post on a survey that found finance people lacking in “value creation” skills:

The tweet links to a story that is based on a survey conducted by Robert Half. Here’s the actual survey release.

The first thing you notice is three out of ten say a lack of soft skills is the biggest factor holding back finance profes­sionals from advancement. Okay, that makes sense.

Strangely the next question asks where training is planned, but appar­ently only allowed one answer. It really should’ve allowed more, because companies can provide training in multiple areas. Respon­dents probably picked the area receiving the most attention, which might explain why soft skills garnered only 19% of the vote.

I had several paragraphs written where I specu­lated on why soft skills weren’t getting training dollars when clearly there is a need, and now that I analyze the poll questions themselves, I can’t use them!

However, I do wonder if “poor inter­per­sonal skills” is code for something else? Maybe a culture fit issue? Maybe some other career-limiting move? Sometimes it might be the other person who lacks people skills, and is projecting!

Up the silo

Finance managers are human has brought to my attention a survey conducted by the CEB of finance managers. They asked finance managers whether they believe their direct reports are “effective in the behaviors and skills that drive excellent perfor­mance by the finance function.” The title of’s article gave away the answer: Finance Leaders Bemoan Talent Shortage. Not only that, but they’re good at the stuff that sucks and suck at the stuff that’s good:

And on average, finance workers are more skilled in the areas that have the least positive impact on value creation.

You know how everyone likes to think they’re above average? Above average driver, above average intel­li­gence, etc.? This is that. Finance managers believe they’re above average at their jobs, therefore those around them are likely below them, and possibly even below average. It’s OK. They’re human.

I also think there’s an element of confir­mation bias at play. They’re finance managers, so they must be above average and have the skills and behav­iours that the survey indicates is important.

But back to those hapless direct reports: First, who hired them? If it was those selfsame finance managers, shouldn’t that reflect poorly on their ability to assess compe­tence and develop talent? Whose respon­si­bility is it to put in place succession and training plans? (HR’s, they’d probably say, if surveyed about it.)

Overall, finance managers appear quite dissat­isfied with the talent levels on their teams. [The CEB] 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.

I’m not surprised either. This is never going to stop, until robots run companies completely. Even then we’ll probably sneak a “dissat­isfied with direct report talent levels” easter egg into the code, just so robot CEB surveyors can have something to write about. What a chilling dystopian vision; I think the living will envy the dead.

Merci­lessly, it continues:

Effective delegating is a capability many finance depart­ments sorely need. “After the financial crisis, finance is overwhelmed with ad-hoc requests,” the report states.

If you’re delegating to staff that you don’t have (because they were all downsized during the recession), it isn’t going to be very effective. Perhaps that’s the reason they’re feeling overwhelmed?

There’s a reason why great people are hard to find: they’re scarce. And once found, smart managers do every­thing they can to keep them. As well, it’s highly likely those yearned-for “persuaders, strate­gists and builders” recognize a good situation when they have it. Perhaps that’s the most important takeaway here for finance managers. Build it, and they will come.

Hawaiian cardinal

Light’s effect on integrity and honesty

Following an earlier post about how clean smells were corre­lated with more ethically minded decision making is this HBR post about good lighting encour­aging the same thing:

In one laboratory exper­iment, we placed partic­i­pants in a dimly or well-lit room and asked them to complete 20 math problems under time pressure. The partic­i­pants received a cash bonus for every correct answer. Since we were inter­ested in whether darkness affects cheating rates, we left it up to the partic­i­pants to score their own work and to pay themselves from a supply of money they had received at the beginning of the study. While there was no difference in actual perfor­mance on the math problems, almost 61 percent of the partic­i­pants in the slightly dim room cheated while “only” 24 percent of those in a well-lit room did. Eight additional fluorescent lights in the room where the study took place reduced dishonesty by about 37 percent.

They also performed the test based on the perception of lighting levels using sunglasses, and had similar results.

I anxiously await the results of a combi­nation of smell and lighting!

But why stop there? What else in the sensory-ethics world can we adjust and test? Sounds? Tastes? Should we all be chewing mint gum every day and listening to waves crashing onto the shore?

The question is: could this be taken too far? How brutally honest do we want our co-workers to be with us? At least in the interests of getting along, perhaps some things are better left in the dark.

Museum station

Canada’s government announces Start-Up Visa Program

Canada’s federal government recently announced a Start-Up Visa Program aimed at attracting inter­na­tional entre­pre­neurs to the country.

Overall it is sending the right message to global entre­pre­neurs, that Canada welcomes them and their ideas in the hopes of creating jobs in here in an area of growth.

I hope it won’t create an uneven playing field against homegrown entre­pre­neurs, but my contacts in the industry think it’ll be a net positive. Deal flow will increase in Canada, which will benefit existing start-ups and innovators. The rising tide of more money sloshing around this part of the economy will lift all the boats, as it were.

Existing companies stand to benefit from at least one of the explicit goals of the Program, which is to bring in motivated individuals from around the world, deepening the talent pool for all companies.

What do you think?

From external to internal audit