Despite the tough economy, the Greater Washington, DC area remains a competitive market for recruiting and retaining top talent. That’s true as well in government contracting. Whether you’re hiring at the entry level or higher, you need to keep your employees engaged and challenged. But how? For ideas, ExecutiveBiz recently spoke with Marci Finney, financial controller for Harris IT Services, a leading systems integrator that provides IT transformation, managed solutions, and information assurance services to defense, intelligence, homeland security, civilian, and commercial enterprises. Backed by 20 years’ experience at the company’s corporate and divisional levels, Finney recently shared her approach to strengthening internal financial teams while keeping an eye on strategy development.
ExecutiveBiz: How do you attract and retain new hires to your finance team?
Marc Finney: How do we make the world of finance exciting, right?! First, our entrepreneurial culture and expanding business base at Harris IT Services offers the freedom to create, test, and implement new ideas and solutions. Secondly, we don’t pigeonhole people. We don’t have them only do pricing, or program support, for example. We rotate our employees between business, program, and functional teams, encouraging them to interact and partner with organizations across the business. That’s the kind of opportunity that helps people get stronger in what they do and helps retain them. We also provide mentorship opportunities. Finally, we understand the importance of recognizing and rewarding outstanding performance. We may do this at a training class, in the office, or at one of our team events. The president of IT Services is an eager proponent of recognizing individuals and teams, and often joins me in presenting awards.
ExecutiveBiz: Tell us about some of your training and development programs.
Marci Finney: To date, we’ve been successful in implementing various training and development programs, covering all disciplines. We initiate new early-career team members into our billing function, where they’re responsible for compiling accurate invoices and they learn to navigate PeopleSoft. The process they experience touches all areas of the business, giving them a good overall understanding of how the company works. Within 18 to 24 months, they typically move to a program or proposal team, providing billing, pricing, and financial support. Alternately, if an individual has an accounting background, they could then advance into a more traditional accounting role.
ExecutiveBiz: What other continual learning opportunities do you provide?
Marci Finney: Continual learning is an integral focus, and we conduct regular lunchtime learning sessions, at least once a week, in which finance and accounting personnel teach and mentor their colleagues. Topics include accounting for non-accountants, allowability rules from a government compliance perspective, financial forecasting, and general accounting rules. Attendance is not restricted at these sessions; team members can participate even if they are not engaged in that particular subject in their current role. The result of these training and development programs is that those who learn quickly and have high aptitude rapidly advance. We also hire at the entry level for some of our programs, with the individual joining an experienced finance team and receiving mentoring along the way.
ExecutiveBiz: What successes have your recruiting and retention efforts brought?
Marci Finney: One of our most successful hires was a new graduate from the University of Maryland. He joined us about three years ago at the entry level and is now a key member of our financial planning team. Basically, he was recognized as a high achiever early and advanced from the most junior to the second most senior finance position on the program team he supported. He now provides financial planning analysis for the entire IT Services operation.
ExecutiveBiz: Based upon your experience, what advice would you give other CFOs to recruit and retain top talent?
Marci Finney: Offer a long-term career path through learning and development. You will quickly see the high achievers rise through this process, and they will more likely stay with you. Also, when hiring, look outside the industry. Government business is generally well-understood, but in terms of financing a deal, recognizing revenue, invoicing, and supporting the customer, there are many other variables on the commercial side. It is important to have diverse expertise and discipline on the team if you plan to expand into commercial markets. I believe it strengthens the organization to broaden our perspective and be exposed to new ideas and approaches. Interestingly, one of our more successful accountants is someone who had no government accounting experience coming in. He offered a very broad background, to include being an accountant for a circus at one time. He is a great researcher, knows the accounting field, and is able to apply his knowledge to our circumstance. Today, he holds one of the most critical positions in our company, and is a great mentor to our finance and accounting employees.
ExecutiveBiz: What’s something most people don’t know about you personally?
Marci Finney: My husband and I like to travel, and we particularly like walking and hiking. I’m goal-oriented, and like to take part in marathons: 10K and 5K walks. My challenge is to routinely integrate the walking that I need to stay in shape for the marathons into both my vacations and daily life!