Three steps to building a future-fit finance team – and how to keep them

By James Keating, Chief Marketing Officer, Pleo

Just as Europe’s economy had started to look promising, the European Commission revised its growth forecast – saying that the trading bloc is now expected to grow by 0.8% this year, as opposed to the 1% that was projected. The change in confidence comes from a combination of natural disasters, the ongoing war in Ukraine and stubbornly high inflation.

While there is still growth momentum, this latest revision is symptomatic of the rollercoaster businesses across Europe have been on since the days of the pandemic. The European business landscape has had its fair share of instability and weary leaders are understandably now hoping for a happy finale to 2023.

Yet, as mentioned above, these are not factors that businesses have control over. And if they are to ensure they start 2024 in an increased position of resilience, then they must take control of their own destiny. One way of doing this is through their finance teams. Below, I explore three ways to build a future-fit finance team – and then, together with Pleo’s People and Culture Domain lead, Fie Fisker, three more on how to retain them.

Building the right finance team at the right time

The incentive behind having a good finance team isn’t just about balancing the books. Nor is it about having the right team to parachute in at a time of crisis. Spending is something all businesses do, yet too often they think of their finance teams as penny pushers. When instead they can steady a ship through smart spending and can define what your spending culture is – one, we hope, is heavy on autonomy and trust. So, when it comes to building yours, how can you get started?

1.    Get your employer brand, on brand

Remember that right now, it’s a job seeker’s market, so the ball is in their court. This means that your employer brand needs to be authentic and on point if you want to attract high-quality talent. If people look at your website, will they be impressed or put off? Is your messaging consistent and aligned? And further, is your brand genuine? This last point covers everything from outlining what your business stands for, your credentials, the causes you support, and even the website photos of your people.

2.    Rebrand control

Defining and navigating what it means to be forward-thinking at work is an ongoing evolution. But forward-thinking finance leaders should recognise that control doesn’t have to be something restrictive – in fact, it should be quite the opposite. Control is a necessary part of the job and a way for companies to achieve readiness, agility and peace of mind. Limiting control to a select few will not help finance teams, or the wider business, and decentralisation is the answer. This approach to control can dispel preconceived, and perhaps dreaded, notions about business finance and help bring the right innovation-minded talent onboard.

3.    Give people what they want and need

As we mentioned above, right now it is a job seeker’s market. And while you shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep, you should set out your stall when it comes to the flexibility your employees can expect. Is your organisation remote, hybrid or in-person only? Are you using tools and AI to drive automation and efficiency or is your digital transformation in its early stages? What sort of purpose can your team expect from your business? The answers to all these questions will vary from business to business – but what’s key is that you have them.

Holding on to your people

It’s one thing building the team of your business dreams, but in today’s climate it’s becoming quite another to hang on to them. McKinsey & Co. found that towards the end of 2022, one in three European workers considered quitting their job, with France, Poland and Switzerland the worst affected. Whether it’s sticking to what you promised, or going above and beyond to engage with your employees to understand what they want – businesses must do more to convince their people to stick around. This is something Pleo’s People and Culture Domain lead, Fie Fisker knows a lot about and below, she shares her insights on how businesses can invest in retention.

1.    Use technology to support the people function

“Technology is the workplace equivalent of a Rorschach inkblot. Say it out loud and, depending on people’s preconceptions, they could be excited, worry they don’t have the requisite skills or fear for their job. Your role as an employer is to show them that it can be easy to use, make their job easier and save them heaps of time; that it is there to enable them, not replace them. Giving your team the right technology is key. Tech such as spending management platforms and automation tools that can help drive productivity, a better work-life balance and a common data environment that everyone can use. The people function won’t decrease, so investing in tools that support this will go a long way to ensuring your team sticks around, that they don’t find their OKRs an impossible ask or that they get weighed down by manual, time-draining tasks that lead to a lack of motivation.”

2.    Invest in people – not just employees

“Right now, employees want purpose and engagement. It can go a long way to assuring them that they are growing and that your business has the proper ecosystem for them as people – not just employees. Often, training and development can be the first budget to be slashed, but for cash-strapped companies, it’s worth their time to keep this part of the business alive. Not only will it encourage people to remain at your business, but you stand to see the long-term benefits and become increasingly resilient to external challenges as your team scales. Just remember to bake in psychological safety and build a learning environment where mistakes are okay to be made.”

3.    Ensure your finance function is human-centric

“Investing in a positive working culture is a must for any business, but when it comes to finance teams, more effort is required to ensure human centricity. What can help this is thinking about the recognition your finance team gets within the business. As a leader, you should work hard to ensure the wider organisation sees the value this team is adding. Not just from a praise point of view, but so others understand the finance role in more detail and exactly how they can collaborate with them. Recognition and collaboration? Now, that sounds like something worth sticking around for.”

What you do, you do with people

However future-fit you think your company is, you won’t drive success unless you are investing in hiring and retaining the right talent. It could be that you already have a great team in place – if so, then skip straight to phase two and ensure you’re doing everything to keep them.

With the right talent, businesses can not only overcome the challenges today’s business world throws at them, but overcome those in the future – and even alchemise them into some serious opportunities. There are no losers in creating an ecosystem for talent to thrive – least of all, you.