How to hire great finance leaders through economic uncertainty

It seems that almost every TV and radio advertisement is using the slogan “now more than ever” at the moment.  Now more than ever, we should be shopping at Aldi.  Now more than ever, we should be dying our grey roots…  Well, now more than ever, organisations need to think hard about how they can recruit the very best finance leaders.  

The role of Finance Director or Chief Financial Officer is not only an essential part of a charity’s mitigation of negative risk; great FDs are trusted partners to the Board and Senior Management Team as they assess the healthy risks required to capitalise on new opportunities in a challenging market.  Below are our observations on how charities can hire the very best talent first time.

  • Start with your Board.  The role of the Finance, Audit & Risk Committee is quite rightly to provide scrutiny over the charity’s financial activities, internal processes and governance to protect it from being in a weak or exposed financial position.  However, ensuring that there is also sufficient strategic finance knowledge on your Board will promote best practice within the charity through appropriate levels of financial analysis and challenge power.
  • Not all CFOs are the same.  What is right for a £500m charity, is not necessarily right for a £50m charity. That is not to say that the individuals within those organisations could not be inter-changeable, though the requirements may not be the same.  When recruiting, you will need to think about what is most important to your own organisation and tailor the brief accordingly.
  • Beware of your own unconscious bias when interviewing.  Removing unhelpful or irrelevant criteria or judgements about where an individual has studied or worked previously will help you attract a broad shortlist of the best FDs; it is also the only way that the Sector can truly hire diverse talent.  Do not be afraid to ask searching questions about what made someone choose the path they have – you might just be surprised at the response and it shows you actually care about their personal motivations and career plans.
  • Test creativity in thinking.  Finance leaders should be providing challenge, promoting innovation and supporting non finance professionals right across their organisation.  Ask candidates what their personal legacy will be in their current organisation and what opportunities they have spotted for yours.  This will ensure your new FD has the biggest and most positive impact on your charity when they join. 
  • Do not be afraid to hire on potential. Fulfilling potential is one of the most powerful ways of developing diverse talent pools for the future. Charities can be understandably nervous about appointing first-time FDs who may not bring the same breadth of experience in areas such as influencing Boards, but this does not mean they can’t do it.  Test the candidate’s thinking around how they might tackle a situation, rather than look for examples of times where they have done it.  Consider the support they may need and whether your culture and working practices provide the right conditions for them to develop in role. Understanding what innovation and fresh thinking they bring will also offer a platform for them to stand out from others in an interview – and potentially in role. This is especially important for today’s rising talent amongst senior finance professionals, many of whom can be characterised by a strong commitment to continuous professional development. This cohort of rising FDs has developed through senior management experience gained during the tough times: they can be creative, engaged, curious and forward-thinking. 

The evolution of the Finance Director across the Social Sector over the past decade has empowered and enabled finance leaders to operate in a genuinely advisory capacity at the heart of decision making.  Only by having a great finance leader can an organisation really achieve its ambitions in an intelligent, well-managed and sustainable way. Do not be afraid of taking appropriate risks when hiring any great leader; be sure to challenge your own thinking and perceptions when you meet an impressive candidate who does not 100% meet your initial brief.  Not only will lateral thinking open up the doors to a wider and more diverse talent pool, it will probably also get you and your Board thinking differently too.

Starfish Search provides senior executive search and interim management services to create strong and diverse leadership teams. Our focus is on developing effective leadership by enabling people to fulfil their potential. We promote individuals from all backgrounds and want new leaders to be encouraged to enter the frame. As trusted partners, we provide balanced, thoughtful recruitment advice based on intelligence and insight and ask the difficult questions that help clients appoint the best, not the predictable.