It’s easy for a company to say that employee learning is vital to its success. It’s also easy to say that learning is one of an organization’s core values, and to place that statement on bulletin boards, executive letterhead, and email signatures.
But when a learning environment is required—not just provided—for employees, how does that change the development dynamic?
Companies are increasing learning and development opportunities in response to skills gaps, according to Bersin by Deloitte research. And that’s a wise strategy for some organizations, which are facing retention issues as many younger and midcareer professionals are seeking development opportunities or looking for other jobs.
Baker Hughes, a multinational provider of services, products, and technology to the oil and gas industry, has the luxury, but also the foresight, to invest heavily in the development of its 61,000 employees. The drive to grow the knowledge of existing employees is especially apparent in its financial planning and analysis (FP&A) department.
The company works to develop well-rounded FP&A professionals through a three-step process in which participation in the training is expected. Those steps include: (1) identifying competencies; (2) offering tools for learning; and (3) holding employees accountable for their performance.
“The individual is responsible for developing their competencies while the company is responsible for providing an avenue to get there,” said Michael Kinney, CPA, director of FP&A for the Gulf of Mexico Geomarket at Baker Hughes. “Learning is a core value at Baker Hughes; therefore, it is expected that everybody in the organization participates, including FP&A. We don’t accept the status quo, so we continue learning and development that fuels the success of the organization.”
Competencies and levels defined
At Baker Hughes, finance employees are encouraged to have 21 competencies. Those competencies are divided into four categories: (1) soft skills; (2) customer focus and business partnership; (3) technical skills; and (4) company and industry acumen. For each competency, employees are placed in one of four levels: beginner, functional, skilled, or advanced.
This sort of competency framework is not unique to Baker Hughes, though the company refers to its set of competencies as a playbook instead of a framework. It focuses on many of the same themes as the CGMA Competency Framework, which was released in 2014 after consultation with businesses around the world.
The CGMA Competency Framework, for instance, lists its four categories as technical skills, business skills, people skills, and leadership skills. Such frameworks can serve companies, employees, and others well. They give employees a guide for the assessment of skills needed for current and future jobs. They provide employers a way to benchmark competencies and write better job descriptions. And they offer academic leaders relevant curriculum topics.
At Baker Hughes, a new FP&A employee’s competency level is assessed after six months on the job, once the employee understands the expectations for his or her job and once the manager can better gauge the employee’s competency levels. For existing employees, it’s part of an annual process.
In the assessment process, the employee and manager each rate the employee on the 21 competencies, assigning a level for each, such as “beginner” or “functional.” If there is a discrepancy in the ratings, the employee and manager meet to discuss those differences and come to a consensus as to how the employee is rated. Once that’s done, employees are guided to a set of tools to help hone their skills, with the focus on making progress, and not necessarily jumping immediately to the next level.
The Finance Academy and mentoring
The tools at Baker Hughes are on an intranet site called the Finance Academy and come in a variety of formats: self-study, recorded and live webinars, and live instructional sessions at learning centers in Texas and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The tools can be sorted by subject matter (e.g., supply chain management) or by level. The Finance Academy has sections devoted to specific departments, such as tax, treasury, audit, FP&A, and others. One example of an intermediate Finance Academy course for a manager or supervisor is “Analyzing Profitability Ratios for Effective Decision Making.”
The tools, many of which may be counted toward CPE requirements, can be tailored to an employee’s specific career aspirations, the same way someone might take courses specific to a college major.
“If an employee has ambitions to move from FP&A to tax, we will be able to anticipate possible hurdles and design a development program to help the employee broadly understand Baker Hughes’s tax organization,” Kinney said.
Formal mentoring is also available. This mentoring program is aimed at higher-performing individuals—about 10% to 20% of the FP&A employees. An employee is matched with an executive—not necessarily someone not in finance. “This executive may be halfway around the world,” Kinney said.
The goal is for the employee and the executive to meet (face to face or virtually) six times a year. These meetings allow the FP&A employee to start to think about the business in a broader sense, interacting with a higher level of management from a different arm of the company.
Another tool Baker Hughes uses is a rotation system. All managers in FP&A are required to rotate into a new position every two to three years. Kinney, for example, has been at the company 14 years and has held six positions.
“As a manager, you’re expected to rotate every couple of years,” he said. “This is a development program to deliver new experiences, share knowledge, and create new energy.”
The third part of the professional development process is performance, where annual goals are set. An employee’s annual bonus is at least partially tied to accomplishing those goals.
The employee and supervisor develop a performance contract, which includes four goals tied to current-year objectives. They also discuss development goals for the future and what competency training or mentoring will occur. At the end of the year, the employee’s Finance Academy profile is updated to reflect progress and a path for the future.
“The FP&A organization plays an important role as a key business partner to the entire organization,” Kinney said. “We are sought out by operational and functional groups to enable the best business decision.”
Finance Academy “graduates” are not only making a difference in finance, but also are working more directly with other departments. Some, for example, have advanced to roles with nonfinance responsibilities, such as one FP&A alumnus who is now in charge of Baker Hughes’s operations in Norway.
Organizations are responding to skills gaps by increasing their efforts to train and develop existing workers. One such company investing in its FP&A department is multinational oil and gas services provider Baker Hughes.
Baker Hughes follows a three-step process to develop a more versatile FP&A staff. The three steps are (1) identifying competencies, (2) offering learning tools, and (3) holding employees accountable for performance.
Employees are encouraged to have 21 competencies in four areas: soft skills; customer focus and business partnership; technical skills; and company and industry acumen. Each FP&A employee is rated and placed in one of four levels for each competency.
Online and other learning tools help employees improve on specific competencies. The company also uses a rotation system with FP&A staff to ensure employees are exposed to other departments and managers. This helps develop a well-rounded employee who has the opportunity to take on a role outside of finance.
Neil Amato is a JofA senior editor. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact him at email@example.com or 919-402-2187.
- “Six Techniques for Building a Strategic Finance Department,” Oct. 1, 2013
- “How to Effectively Lead and Develop Talent,” June 2013, page 31
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