The Big Idea - how finance leaders are solving the talent problem

Terrance Wampler Profile picture for user Terrance Wampler September 7, 2022
In the third article in this series from Workday exploring some of the biggest challenges facing today’s finance organizations, Terrance Wampler outlines how a modern experience is needed to support, attract and retain a high-performing team.

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(© eamesBot - Shutterstock)

It is certainly a challenging time to be a hiring manager, as we go through the Great Resignation and continue to face the effects of pandemic staff shortages. Those individuals looking for a new job find themselves in hot demand. The latest data from the US jobs market shows there were 11.25 million vacancies in May, up from 9.5 million in May 2021.

Finance organizations are keenly feeling the effects of the labor shortages. According to a Deloitte survey, CFOs cited talent and retention as their chief risk concern, above inflation and supply chain shortages. When it comes to their 2022 priorities, talent and labor was again top of the list, outpacing growth nearly two to one in terms of frequency cited.

The situation is only likely to become more challenging for CFOs trying to attract and retain the best talent as fewer people enter the finance sector and more jobs are added. According to the American Institute of CPAs, the number of accounting graduates has dropped almost seven percent since the number of students earning degrees peaked in 2012. Meanwhile, finance and accounting vacancies are expected to increase at a rate faster than the average occupation, growing eight percent on average by 2030, which will add 750,000 new jobs to the field.

So how can finance organizations stand out as a fantastic place to work in light of the above challenges? The answer will increasingly be the technology finance organizations make available to employees and the change mindset these organizations have when it comes to embracing technology.

When Dell surveyed 12,000 Gen-Z students – a group that are soon to enter the workforce or will make up the next generation of workers – 80% said they aspire to work with cutting-edge technology. Furthermore, 91% said that technology would influence their job choice among similar employment offers. 

The message for employers is loud and clear – technology needs to appeal to your potential and existing staff, from the hiring process through to their daily work experience.

Elevating the employee experience at Aurecon

Design and engineering firm Aurecon was keenly aware of the disconnect between the technology its 5,500 staff were using in the office compared to the innovation they were driving for clients out in the field. Developing a solar-powered system to provide clean water to remote communities, working on a multi-national project to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope – and then being faced with Excel spreadsheets and a clunky, outdated timesheet system.

Aurecon knew it would not be able to keep attracting and retaining the best people if it did not elevate the technology at work to match these ground-breaking client projects. To create a modern workplace experience, with unified data that made it easier for employees to make and support decisions, the company opted for Workday HR, finance and projects technology. As Andrew Muller, CRO at Aurecon, explains:

It allows our people more time to spend on projects with their clients, rather than trying to grapple with a complex system environment.

What stands out for our people has been the simplicity. Our systems are intuitive and easy to use – you’re not fighting the system.”

With the data all in one place, finance teams know they are getting a single version of the truth, making it easier and more efficient to make decisions. The new technology has also sped up the timesheet and expenses process for staff, leaving them more time to focus on innovative client projects rather than routine business tasks.

Keen to foster employee engagement, Aurecon also invested in employee feedback technology, which went live in 2020, just as the business was moving to a fully remote workforce. Liam Hayes, Chief People Officer, adds: 

We received more than 2,000 comments, which all fed into our strategy around the new world of work.

Workday Peakon Employee Voice stops us from making assumptions and helps us prioritize. It gives incredible insight into what our people are feeling and thinking—prompting important discussions around our executive table.”

The employee engagement platform is another critical tool in offering staff a modern experience. Giving staff a voice and actively listening to their comments, concerns and complaints makes it much easier to respond and resolve problems. It is only by doing so that you can build a finance team that will enable your organization to rise up the rankings for attracting and retaining the best talent.

Attracting the best talent to WSU

When Washington State University (WSU) wanted to break into the top 25 of the prestigious R1 Carnegie Classification list, it realized that updating its technology infrastructure was key. The list ranks institutions based on the resources they provide for research and how many people are conducting research at their organization.

WSU was already investing hundreds of millions of dollars into research every year. To attract the most talented staff and students, thus increasing its opportunities to solve the world’s toughest challenges, WSU needed to drive greater efficiencies and offer a more modern user experience.

This objective was at odds, however, with the institution’s 40-year-old mainframe running administrative workflows.

Attracting new administrative staff was a challenge, as the existence of the mainframe was discouraging people from seeing a career path. The individual who knew how to get the creaking system working again when it went down was almost at retirement age. Added to this, financial reports were managed by individual departments, with no overarching, comprehensive view of the organization’s performance.

WSU wanted to invest in a technology foundation appropriate for an R1-level institution, so it could support a modern research strategy based on agile business processes and planning. Ultimately this would offer a better experience for its 30,000 students and 8,000 staff. It selected a unified Workday system on which to build its new administrative foundation and move away from the mainframe, including finance, HR, payroll and recruiting modules. Stacy Pearson, chief financial officer at WSU, explains:

It was an ambitious plan — and I should have more grey hairs — but we went live on time and on budget by leaning into Workday and their other university customers for guidance.

The switch of technology has moved the university away from paper-based processes and complex mainframe applications, to user-friendly finance and HR tasks based on automated workflows. Staff get real-time insights into financial performance, instead of having to wait 30 days for static reports.

Most importantly, moving to a mobile, native cloud-based system with modern workflows is helping WSU attract the next generation of talent. Pearson adds:

People who come in to interview think it’s great that we use Workday. They know they can use the tools and workflows they learn here in any industry.

A modern experience

CFOs are faced with stiff competition to attract and retain the best talent. The situation is only going to get worse as finance organizations open up more job roles, and the next generation of job seekers become more picky about the experience their employer provides.

Upgrading your finance system to offer staff a modern experience is critical to recruiting the best talent in the market, which in turn will enable you to establish a finance team that will lead business growth and create greater value.

Other articles in this three-part series have outlined how to solve the insight problem by building a trusted source of data and how to solve the adaptability problem with flexible, secure processes that support change.

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