Finance managers are human

CFO.com 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 CFO.com’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.

Top traits of an effective internal auditor

The President of the IIA shares what he sees as the top seven attributes of an effective internal auditor, and in general I agree, with a few distinctions.

The most important attribute is referred to as business acumen, but the description that accompanies it has more to do with having an in-depth knowledge of the business the auditor works for. Splitting hairs I guess, but acumen is the ability to make good decisions and exercise sound judgment. A strong understanding of what is driving the success of the business is important to cultivate, as is staying on top of developments within the industry in which it operates. I think both are important, but one is easier to develop than the other.

Communication skills come next, and I would broaden that to be people skills in general. The ability to read people and adapt to any given situation and personality is very helpful, so both the outward skills like communicating clearly and succinctly and the inward skills like listening actively and processing information quickly will come in handy when dealing with people within the organization.

Integrity comes in at 3rd, and is critical to establishing and maintaining your reputation as a professional. Being consistently honest and forthright in your interactions with your “customers” will allow you to build strong working relationships across the business.

Experience is next, and it’s not a subject I feel especially qualified to discuss, since I’m only in my third year as an internal auditor, sixth as an auditor. What I will say is that each day I strive to learn and get better at my job, and working with staff that have, among them, decades more experience than I provides a constant reminder of the value of that experience.

Number five on the list is a solid grasp of business risks, which to me means the exact same thing as the first item. Let’s just put them both together at the top and shorten the list to six, shall we? After that is talent development skills, which is important to have once you reach a certain level and have people reporting up to you. I could make the case that this is essentially a subset of people skills.

Last (but not least in my opinion) is courage and that’s important for auditors whether they’re external or internal. Part of the job is being the bearer of bad news and you’ve got have the stones to deliver it straight!