Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gettin’ on the Bus

Someone asked me today whether a Big 4 (i.e. one of the major accounting firms) employee would be considered an acceptable employment candidate for an organization’s Treasury group.
If we picture this employee doing what they currently do, researching appropriate accounting treatments, massaging spreadsheets and enterprise systems to achieve balance, seems a little at odds with dealing with banks and capital market players, forex traders, and risk managers. The Treasury person is the one who knows it’s how much cash we have in the bank, not how it’s accounted for, that makes the difference. A lot of accounting folks don’t entirely understand that.
If, instead, we picture this employee as being smart, bright, interactive, with a good grasp of numbers, able to pick up things as they go, it is not altogether inconceivable they could be a great Treasury person.
Jim Collins, in Good to Great, used the phrase getting the right people on the bus as being of prime importance for companies who made the transitions subject to his study. In fact, he said get the right people on the bus, then figure out where you want to go.
In other words, figuring out where we want to go is easy once we get the right people on the bus.
Another great book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths”, discusses the difference between strengths and skills. Skills can be taught so long as people are able to learn. Skills are easy to pass around and replicate. It is strengths that are more difficult, because they take a longer time to develop.
Yet, many businesses hire on the basis of skills - “this position involves a lot of foreign exchange, so we are going to need someone with 5 years of experience”. High forex involved roles entail knowledge of tax codes in different countries, local banking system rules, hedging strategies, and multi-currency cash forecasting techniques among other things. But these are mostly skills and knowledge. These can be learned by anyone capable of learning.
The problem when we hire on the basis of needed skills is that we get the wrong people on the bus. If we are an innovative, progressive organization that values people who can learn new things, think outside the box, adapt well to change, and collaborate well, then we will have problems when we hire the professional forex person who (without a doubt will “hit the ground running”) possesses strengths in individualism and love of protocol and ritual. Long-term they are a poor organizational fit.
What do we need to do to get the right people on the bus?
Make sure “right” is right – the right person in one company will not be the right one for another. A strong ego and thick skin and ability to take initiative are important to succeed in the Apprentice, whereas in a lot of companies ability to subsume ego to become part of a team is the required strength.
Figure out how to figure it out – when I first learned about behavioral based interviewing I thought “this is the ticket”. We now have a method to ascertain those that have a quality vs. those that don’t. When I got involved in a company that bureaucratized the entire process I realized that it was not the silver bullet in all circumstances I thought it was. It is a tool that can be used. On-line assessment tools are another. Strengthsfinder testing from the authors of the aforementioned book, or the viasurvey are two. There are/will be others, some free, some that cost. There are professionals who can administer other tests, some that have been around for quite some time, which might attest to their usefulness.
Give ‘em some Slack – if we are going to hire the right people, but teach them skills, then we need enough capacity in the system to absorb the time requirements training and learning entail. If the right people need to rotate through numerous positions their first year or two or three at the company, we need to be able to accommodate this from a staffing perspective. It might not look good on any FTE benchmark survey now, but five years from now we will be kickin’ you-know-what! Once systematized, it won’t show up no matter when the benchmark survey is conducted!
I would love to hear your thoughts about getting the right people into your organization or your stories on this topic if you have them.
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