Each year, I talk to business owners and CFOs all over the country, and when I ask them what their biggest challenge is, the answer is almost always the same: How do I find and keep the best talent? Especially for businesses that are looking to scale operations but maintain the ethos and culture that got them to where they are today, answering that question can be particularly difficult.
Defining Your Culture
To scale effectively, you can’t just hire people based on their skillset. Whether someone can do the work should only be part of the equation. During the hiring process, it’s arguably more important to know that an applicant aligns with your company’s core values. Unfortunately, most businesses have not officially defined the culture or values that have made their business successful, and if they have, these values are often just represented in a flashy poster on their wall as opposed to actually informing everyday operations.
From my experience, it’s critical to hire individuals who fit your company’s mold—in other words, you should always be hiring for the person, not the position. Even for more technical roles, CFOs need to hire people who will become company leaders and consistently push forward their culture of success.
To define these core values, you should start by identifying commonalities between your existing top performers and leaders. What type of person has been successful at your business? Conversely, what type of person has been unsuccessful? At my company we look for people who are highly driven, competitive, self-motivated, collaborative, transparent and high-energy. We are especially not looking for people who just want a job and will quietly sit in a corner, no matter the extent of their technical capabilities. CFOs and other executives who simply put bodies in seats just because they’re short staffed will quickly end up catering to low performers, diluting their culture and accelerating their company’s downfall.
Interviewing for Culture, Not Just Skills
I’ve found that most CFOs interview for skillset and personality. You hear the same questions over and over: “Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What’s your greatest weakness? How would you describe yourself?” After years of hiring, we all know most candidates will just give you the answer they think you want to hear.
To combat this, we like to interview using role plays. We’ll often lay out a common but difficult scenario and ask a candidate how they would go about navigating it. Usually, candidates are not expecting these types of questions, so you can avoid the typical canned responses and get to the root of their work ethic and problem-solving skills.
For instance, one of our core values is being “active, not passive.” So, in a typical interview we’ll ask something like: “You’re in marketing and you’ve delivered a fantastic lead to someone in business development, but that person hasn’t followed up on the lead in over a week. What do you do?”
Usually, we’ll get a passive answer, “I would ask if there is a reason why they didn’t follow up?” We would then inquire further, “What if after you talked to them, they still haven’t followed up a week later?” How they answer this follow-up question is where you really start to get past the interviewee veneer and determine whether they have a leader’s mindset.
My firm also values transparent and outspoken individuals, so instead of just asking an applicant if they’re an outspoken person, we’ll ask, “It’s your first day and you’re in a crowded room with 30 people, including C-suite executives, talking about an initiative you are quite familiar with. Are you the type of person to sit back and soak it all in before speaking up, or would you speak up and actively participate in the dialogue?”
This culturally oriented interview style will help ensure you are hiring the right people who consistently embody the core tenants of success at your company.
Consistently Investing in People
Every executive says they have a people-first mindset. But CFOs should ask themselves and their managers how much time they actually spend with their individual staff members on a daily basis. At most companies, management will assign tasks and do quarterly reviews at most, but how are you going to retain your best people if you only catch up with them four times a year? If executives want to hold on to their top talents, they need to constantly be investing time and attention into their employees’ success and growth.
When I say people first, I mean most of my day, every day, is spent investing in my top performers and high potential talents. In fact, the top cultural tenet of our firm is “invest in people.” I am of the belief that the best ideas, the ideas that will truly drive my business forward, are going to come from these new and hungry individuals, so it’s worth me taking time out of my day to maximize their productivity.
It’s always my goal to make sure that the best performers are having their ideas and concerns heard by senior management. I want them to know that there’s a clear plan for upward mobility for them with actionable items that will get them closer to their career goals. When people feel this support from CEOs, CFOs and other top executives, they are much more likely to stay and see that advancement is readily available to them. Likewise, CFOs need to spend time challenging their top people to get out of their comfort zone—aside from measuring their technical work, executives need to encourage their employees to think big picture, take ownership of initiatives and maintain a leadership mindset.
Fostering a Company-Wide Culture of Success
Of course, CFOs and senior management should not be the only ones investing in a company’s workforce. As managers prioritize investment in their direct reports, coworkers also spend a great deal of time investing in each other in group settings. Seeing how your employees interact in collaborative meetings and bounce ideas off each other is a good indicator for how they will lead teams and carry out your company’s core values and tenants of success.