‘Talent Is Agile Whether A Company Is Or Is Not’

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Employees are restless, says Eric Dutcher, CFO of MBO Partners. To attract them to the finance department, you need a “sprinter mindset.”

Increasingly, talent is no longer loyal to a particular company—and that’s especially true for younger employees, says chief finance officer Eric Dutcher. To lure—and keep—them, you need to shift your perspective.

Dutcher is CFO of MBO Partners, an Ashburn, Virginia-based company that provides an independent workforce management platform. Previously, he was an executive in corporate financial planning and analysis with CoreLogic, a publicly traded information services and XaaS company, and spent eight years with international payments platform MoneyGram International.

Dutcher spoke with StrategicCFO360 about how to combine long-term vision with short-term focus and why his new hires need understand data science as well as GAAP.

What are the unique challenges that the CFO’s office faces in the modern workforce?

Talent is agile whether a company is or is not. As such, a CFO must either decide to run with the pack or be left behind. The broken promise of the 1980s reduced workers with a defined benefit plan from 60 percent down to just 4 percent today. As part of that change, workers aren’t seeking to retire in the jersey of the same company from which they were first recruited. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees now change jobs every three to four years, with the duration decreasing in younger generations. The challenge now is no longer how do we secure our talent with a long and compelling contract, but how do we win at free agency?

How can CFOs manage competing priorities and demands in the midst of the labor shortage? 

Managing competing priorities takes long-term vision and short-term focus. For example, in an Ironman race, you create the environment that will help you complete the long-term vision of finishing the race. But in the short term, you just focus on making that next stroke, wheel revolution or step. In all cases, sequencing matters.

Placing that in a business perspective, CFOs must have the long-term vision of what the future state will be—macroenvironment, microenvironment and internal structure. Then, by breaking the steps into discrete projects and sequencing them to minimize wasted effort, the CFO organization can set up scrum teams to complete those sprints much like a modern IT organization. Agile finance can eliminate the binding cycle of inertial reporting, through organizational design.

What are the fundamental shifts that CFOs should be making today to prepare for the future of work?

As of today, more than 51 million workers have chosen to pursue independent work. More than 7 million of these workers are what we call “independent services professionals,” meaning they provide full-time labor for large enterprise organizations.  

In today’s world of extreme talent shortages in core skill areas, CFOs can leap past competitors by focusing on strategic engagement of these valuable, agile and ready-to-deploy assets. Doing so will save cost, enable pipelines for future talent growth and rally an organization for agile, future scale. How? Organizations must create a workforce optimization strategy to best leverage talent based on the strategic needs of the organization.

An example: Need to act quickly on the next M&A target? If you have 10 people in your talent pool already aware of your standard M&A procedures, then you can choose your favorite four who are available to work the deal, deploy them almost immediately, and feel confident that no time or cost will be wasted on re-educating net new resources about how your organization functions.

At the same time, you are establishing a relationship with an in-demand skill set, enabling a virtuous cycle for future growth and engagement. Leveraging this model, it’s simple to scale up for growth while at the same time establishing corporate controls over cost and resource use. Establishing these practices and relationships today, whether your organization is a startup or an S&P 500, will ensure that you stay at the front of the pack in the future.

What role will data science play in the finance operation?

Democratization of data plays a big role in helping companies make quicker and more effective decisions. However, just sharing data elements won’t lead to intended outcomes. We ask every person who joins the CFO team about their understanding of data science. Each entry-level analyst must understand both data science and GAAP.

The finance operation has always been designed to create strategic insights to its internal clients. Today, finance teams must also be able to act like keen prospectors: know where to dig, sift through what is irrelevant, point to trends that indicate that precious insights are just one more workflow, data mining, AI or algorithm away. Teaching every corporate citizen the ropes and acting as guides is the only true path to data democratization.

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