Millennial talent strategy for CFOs

Millennial talent strategy for CFOs


By Shilpa Pai Mizar

CFOs in international organisations are dealing with the complex challenges of driving business growth amidst digital disruption and a tumultuous global environment.

Leading and motivating cohesive, rightly skilled teams is more crucial now than ever before to stay ahead. As the Millennial generation of employees has come on board, they have brought new talents and new priorities.

Our experts share how to work with these employees for your benefit and theirs.

Who are they?

According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016, Millennials form the largest segment of the workforce in some of the biggest markets in the world, including India and the US. As a connected generation, they have commonalties across regions that make them crucial to the current business environment, which demands innovation and digital savvy.

“More than 50% of my team are Millennials,” said Bhavesh Shah, global process owner of FP&A and vice president of finance for One SEA at Johnson & Johnson. “We bring in a lot of Millennials with different skillsets, such as analytics. It is something that we are looking for. We want Millennials to come in and change the way we think.”

According to CEB’s 2016 Global Labor Market Survey, Millennials make up more than one-third of finance teams, and only 25% of them are likely to stay with a company long term. Millennials are hungry for information and seek varied experiences.

While they tend to be far more engaged with their organisations than earlier generations were, they are also less likely to be loyal and will move on if they are not challenged – a conundrum for employers. “This clearly signals a departure from the traditional psychological contract. There is an engagement paradox,” said Kate Bravery, global solutions leader, talent business, at Mercer.

Organisations must partner with their Millennial employees in building compelling careers if they are to be retained, added Bravery.

Coming on board

During interviews, Millennials tend to ask as many questions as they answer. They are clear about their career expectations. And unlike earlier generations, they don’t hesitate to bring them up. “Earlier, we looked at academic qualifications and the ability to think on one’s feet, especially when hiring graduates out of campus,” said Neelamani MuthuKumar, group CFO at Olam International Limited. “But we now need to be more nuanced about how we approach Millennials, and there is no one-shoe-fits-all solution.”

According to Steven Williams, practice leader at CEB, Millennials are more likely than previous generations to turn down a position with a company whose culture doesn’t mesh with their values and expectations. “CFOs should be sure that hiring managers and interviewers clearly explain the company’s values in job descriptions and interviews,” Williams noted.

Help them stay connected

Millennials have lived a large portion of their digital lives on social networks. “For Millennials, the world outside the workplace is very different from the one inside,” Shah said. “This is why they get restless. This is the major issue of discontent for Millennials working with multinational corporations.”

Large organisations are cognisant of this disconnect and are going some way in providing Millennials with internal platforms that facilitate the spontaneity and collaboration they are accustomed to on social media. IBM, for instance, has online networks for touchpoints across the employee journey.

IBM’s Soon 2 B Blue community provides a platform for candidates who have accepted IBM offers to stay connected with IBM, said Chandrasekar Thyagarajan, vice president of finance and CFO of IBM India/South Asia. “On IBM InnovationJam, we bring together the IBM leadership team and our entire workforce on a single chat platform for free-flow conversations on a range of topics. Participants ‘jam’ by contributing their expertise and opinion in various areas, mixing it up with others to create a powerful voice. We also have internal social forums such as IBM Connections Chat Cloud.”

Organisations also turn to enterprise social networks such as Yammer and Workplace by Facebook to fulfil Millennials’ need to be connected. WhatsApp groups for workplace teams are commonplace now. It is equally important for managers and leaders to be active and available on these office networks, sending the message that the organisation truly encourages openness and collaboration.

On the same front, organisations may need to further relax a few set-in-stone rules to accommodate Millennials’ desire to be heard and seen on social networks. “Personal branding is something progressive companies are actually leveraging,” Bravery said of organisations that are permitting their employees to talk about current work projects on external networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

“The solid walls that used to exist between corporations and the external world have started to evaporate, and smart organisations are tapping into Millennials’ sense of personal pride by fostering a one-to-one relationship with their online persona,” Bravery added.

Challenge them, engage them

Employees have always sought to learn and grow. Millennials are no different but bring their own spin to the process. They expect their workplaces to offer constant novelty and stimulation. “Millennials need to do something new every couple of weeks or months,” Shah said.

Involving Millennial employees in demanding and pivotal projects that involve out-of-the-box thinking, digital skills, and interaction with key managers is one route organisations can take to keep them engaged. Finance teams also need to stay ahead of the curve in terms of technology and best practices, or Millennials will simply look elsewhere.

Regular training initiatives are another route to engage Millennials. But here, too, Millennials have higher expectations. According to Mercer’s 2016 Generational Talent Trends Report, nearly 70% said their employers were doing enough to help them gain marketable skills, but nearly half said their employers could do more. Clearly, off-the-shelf modules are not sufficient, and organisations should constantly talk to Millennials about the skillsets they want to acquire and customise their programmes accordingly.

“Millennials believe analytical skills, inspirational leadership, and innovation/design thinking will be most in demand in the next 12 months,” Bravery said. “So, focusing on building these skills is likely to hit the button, outside of technical competence.” According to Bravery, unconventional initiatives such as reverse coaching are also seeing some success with Millennials, who seek to be visible and empowered in the workplace.

Training has also gone digital and mobile, with apps and gamification that reach out to Millennial employees. But manager-led coaching is far more effective with finance teams than traditional training, according to CEB. So CFOs should aim to find the right balance with their training programmes.

Spotlight on real-time feedback and varied growth journeys

Millennials’ need for constant information spills over into their career planning. Organisations are beginning to move away from traditional annual reviews in response. A well-known example is IBM’s new Checkpoint appraisal system that helps employees set short-term goals and offers multiple reviews in a year.

It is coupled with the ACE app (Appreciation, Coaching, and Evaluation), which allows employees to give and receive feedback across the organisation on an ongoing basis. “This is a milestone in our cultural transformation where we are leveraging a new way to give and receive feedback,” Thyagarajan said.

In terms of career paths, Millennials look for diversity alongside predictable linear growth to round out their résumés. Finance teams in some large organisations have always provided their employees with exposure in areas across the function. Some even encourage their employees to take up roles in other teams and geographies. These rotational programmes are now seen as essential by some Millennials, who value professional development highly, and finance leaders should not delay putting together structured initiatives that can be offered at the hiring stage itself.

“Finance people, like any technical discipline, need breadth at senior levels,” Bravery said. “Therefore, it is in both the individual’s and the organisation’s best interests to find ways, especially at the beginning of the employees’ careers, to make their experiences as diverse and rich as possible.”

Dealing with differences

While this hyperlinked generation displays global similarities, there are local nuances employers need to be aware of.

According to Mercer, charismatic leadership and flexible work schedules are more valued by Millennials in the US, while Millennial employees in Asia and Latin America show a greater desire to be involved in innovation.

The Asian hubs of Singapore and Hong Kong see Millennials demanding higher pay packages, while Millennials in the rest of Asia seek growth through what they do and whom they work with.

Millennials are possibly the first generation to push organisations to disrupt themselves to accommodate employee career needs and goals.

Being digitally native, Millennials also hasten digitisation across the workplace. Not always open to routine, manual tasks, Millennials in finance teams seek to automate every problem and process so they can focus on value addition and analysis.

If CFOs wish to attract and retain Millennial talent, they need to rapidly shape and implement a strategy that includes:

  • A connected, collaborative work environment that supports innovation.
  • An engaging career development process that incorporates tailored learning and continuous feedback.
  • Strong rotational programmes.

“Engage in an effective partnership with the chief human resources officer or ensure an effective HR function and partner in your company,” said Ajit Kambil, global director of research and transition initiatives at Deloitte’s CFO programme. “Make talent management a key imperative for all managers in finance. To effectively maintain employee engagement and especially Millennial engagement, they need to see clear paths for progression in their careers. As a CFO, you should foster a culture across all your managers to own talent development and frame progression plans for their teams, especially for high potentials, to engage them through growth.”

—Shilpa Pai Mizar is a freelance writer based in Singapore.