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BLOG: Learning from 'The Close'

Lisa Yoon | Sept. 7, 2011
A Google-style look at finance talent management, courtesy of CFO Patrick Pichette.

As CFOs wrap up the August books, it might be an apt occasion to reflect on the symbiotic relationship between the CFO and the finance team. For some companies, "the close" is, after all, a reflection of the organization's culture.

Much of my last post, on the how-to of strategic finance, dealt with the way finance leaders manage finance talent, and what they get (or don't get) from their teams as a result of their talent-management strategies. Running a first-rate finance organization, however, is as much about what CFOs give to their teams, as what they get from them. Finance chiefs with the most admired finance organizations give their people fascinating work, in an environment that lets them apply their strengths at a high level. Finance employees then deliver top performance and value.

It's important to note that, far from being a one-time transaction, this give-and-take between CFO and finance is a constantly renewing exchange. Google Inc. CFO Patrick Pichette alludes to that special form of communication in an interview in the August edition of the McKinsey Quarterly. Noting that Google attracts "immensely high-caliber talent," Pichette explains that their employees' "expectation is that they're going to have a job that's immensely interesting."

He continues: "We naturally attract people who want their financial forecasts to work, and they're going to work like mad to make sure that this only takes one day of their week. Then they're going to spend the other four days of the week reinventing the business, doing crazy analyses that are going to be deeply fact-based, in order to find key insights."

The implication, of course, is that Pichette lets them do the crazy analyses, and find the key insights. It's workplaces such as these, at once intellectually challenging and fertile, that afford companies like Google their pick of star finance talent. "And because we have them," Pichette adds, "I can close the books in three days....All of my team is saying, 'Alright, we're done. Let's go back to the cool stuff'."

For other CFOs, the struggle to hold on to their most valuable people is neither new nor unusual. In its Global Financial Employment Monitor released earlier this month, the hiring specialist Robert Half International reported that 43 percent of U.S. finance executives cited key-talent retention concerns—up 15 percent from last year's survey. Of course, most companies do not share the same talent pool that Google taps.Fortunately, there's no magic in Pichette's talent management. Acknowledging employees' expectations and providing and environment in which to thrive is well within any CFO's reach.

 

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