3 ways to keep your finance team engaged

Craig Harnett, CPA, CGMA

Craig Harnett, CPA, CGMA, who is in his 20th year as CFO of the National Hockey League (NHL), is focused on developing talent within the organisation’s finance function — something he thinks is vital to the success of the league of 30 teams in North America.

And for the finance team, that means more than just spending a day shadowing the boss.

Here are three strategies Harnett uses to engage his finance team of 44 employees in New York City and Montreal:

  • Better alignment, better analysis. Some companies refer to the concept as “embedding” finance in the business units. Harnett prefers “alignment” between the members of his business analysis group and the business units. One example: Working as part of the events department, the group that organises multi-day productions such as the annual NHL Winter Classic outdoor game or the Stanley Cup Final season-end-championship, the finance employee is on-site at events. “Their job is to understand those business units, to work with them closely on their forecasts and business plans, so that everybody understands, when you’re doing a deal, what that might mean for the financial statements,” Harnett said.
  • Working on special projects. Harnett gives newer employees the chance to assist him on projects. The strategy gives him more insight into how the staff member interacts with senior executives and what competencies the staff member possesses. It also provides the employee invaluable exposure to the rest of the organisation. For example, Harnett asked a general accounting manager, whose regular duties include reconciling accounts, to analyse the league’s insurance programmes. He had a payroll employee work with him on benchmarking the league’s medical benefits against those in other industries.
  • Encouraging independent, solution-based thinking. The ability to point out problems is valued, but Harnett wants the finance team to go one step further. “We have people analyse a problem and present solutions, not just walk into their supervisor’s office and say, ‘I have a problem. What should I do?’ ” Harnett said. “When people come into my office with an issue, I expect them to have a couple of potential solutions for those issues. I may have my own view on what the solution might be, but I require them to present their solutions first and to discuss that and understand how they came to those potential solutions before we talk about what I think is right or wrong.” The workers who offer solutions are more likely to be strong analysts. They develop credibility with department heads because they’re thinking through an issue, not just raising one. “They have developed credibility because they can explain or predict successfully what various decisions will mean to [the business unit’s] financial results,” Harnett said.

Also read "Developing finance leaders," where Veronica McCann, ACMA, CGMA, a former division CFO at Commerzbank in Singapore, shares tips on developing future finance leaders.