Many finance leaders have started the new year wondering if they will be able to recruit the talent they need to meet planned business objectives. In a recent Robert Half survey, 62 percent of CFOs said it is challenging to find skilled candidates for professional-level positions. A separate survey by our company found that it can take up to five weeks to fill a management-level position in finance and accounting.

Low unemployment, persistent demand for skilled talent and increasing baby boomer retirements are all factors contributing to hiring challenges for many finance teams. About 10,000 baby boomers are retiring every day, according to the Pew Research Center. Even though many baby boomers are delaying retirement, businesses still need to prepare for the inevitable departure of these highly experienced and difficult-to-replace professionals — many of whom serve in leadership positions.

Preparing millennial talent for leadership roles is one strategy, of course. Millennials are the largest generation in today’s workforce and many are working in management positions already. However, according to a recent report from Robert Half, the Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF) and author Michael S. Seaver — Creating a Leadership Pipeline: Developing the Millennial Generation Into Finance Leaders — some finance leaders “have trouble seeing this generation as the executives of tomorrow.”

Millennial must-haves: a customized work environment and personalized career

The report suggests that some finance executives may initially overlook millennials as a solution to a looming leadership shortage because they don’t see these workers taking a traditional path to senior-level roles (that is, a path similar to one they followed when they entered the profession). But the Robert Half and FERF report also offers this insight to finance executives: The secret to grooming tomorrow’s leaders is to not confine these professionals to traditional career paths or ways of working.

So, what do millennials want? The report says a customized work environment and personalized careers are two must-haves for professionals in this demographic group, which includes Generation Y and Generation Z. A “one-size-fits-all culture” is not likely to inspire millennial workers to contribute their talents to an employer.

How can finance leaders foster the type of workplace environment that will nurture millennial talent, and promote the knowledge transfer necessary to prepare this next generation of leaders for tomorrow’s challenges? Here are four tips, based on the research and guidance presented in Creating a Leadership Pipeline: Developing the Millennial Generation Into Finance Leaders:

Tip #1. Promote work-life balance

Most finance leaders have heard this advice before. Regardless, it’s worth repeating that millennials greatly value work-life balance (and, increasingly, the idea of work-life integration). Businesses therefore need to offer an array of work-life balance options if they want engaged and motivated millennial professionals who are likely to stay with the firm and aspire to become finance leaders. Telecommuting, flextime options, on-site day care, casual dress codes, and wellness programs are just some ideas to consider.

Tip #2. Provide 360-degree feedback

According to the Robert Half and FERF report, “Millennials desire to be pushed and encouraged by their employers.” Finance leaders should therefore take care to provide objective, frequent and meaningful feedback to their team members so they understand the impact that their specific contributions make. The report suggests that executives “have candid talks without hype and with a sense of humor.” In addition, they should “ensure roles and responsibilities are well-defined and written for all generations.”

Tip #3. Focus on education

Millennials are “obsessed with information and constant learning,” the report says. So, if employers want to hire and retain millennials and develop them into future leaders, they need to provide training and education. Consider bringing in speakers on the topic of generational differences, providing awareness training and partnering with local colleges to provide millennial workers with behavioral guidelines and help them meet expectations in the workplace.

Professionals from the millennial demographic also seem to have a mindset of working smarter, not harder. This means finance leaders need to shift how they assess employee performance, focusing more on the quality of work produced and less on how much time was devoted to completing the task.

Tip #4. Create a mentoring program

In an article for Financial Executives International, Robert Half senior executive director Paul McDonald notes that “all up-and-coming leaders need mentors.” He recommends that mentoring arrangements be designed to help employees “build both their technical and nontechnical skills.” McDonald also suggests that managing be a key area of focus, “including offering guidance on how to motivate people with differing personalities and preferences.”

When developing a mentoring program that will help to shape millennial talent into effective leaders, finance executives should strive to make the learning as experiential (learning by doing) and as unique to the individual as possible. The Robert Half and FERF report suggests that finance leaders consider following these steps:

  • Set objectives. Begin by developing a structure for the mentoring program. Be sure to define what successful outcomes look like, both quantifiably and qualitatively.
  • Pair the mentor and mentee. Millennials will want to contribute to the process and should be involved in choosing their mentor. One strategy for ensuring a good fit is for the mentee to submit an application describing why he or she wants to work with a specific mentor.
  • Provide education. Mentors and mentees should both be trained on the basics and value of mentorship and reverse mentorship. They should also be given an overview of the various types of behavioral and communication styles and reciprocal motivators.
  • Determine the meeting format. At the start of the relationship, both parties should agree on expectations of behavior, time commitment and communication channels. From here, the mentor can help the mentee define a clear plan and tasks for achieving goals.

The above information is just an overview of the framework outlined in Creating a Leadership Pipeline: Developing the Millennial Generation Into Finance Leaders. See the full report for additional guidance on setting up an effective mentoring program, as well as other insights that can help executives to prepare millennial workers for leadership roles in finance.