Engaging talent by valorizing and developing people skills

18 May 2022

Interview with Pieter Mortier, CFO Joris Ide

For three decades, Joris Ide has been a strong international player in the steel industry. With 1,000+ employees and operations in more than 15 countries, the company offers steel solutions to different industries such as agriculture, industry, residential projects, and more.

Pieter Mortier has been Finance Director at Joris Ide since 2018. He heads a large team of finance professionals. In this interview, Pieter discusses the skills he looks for when assessing new employees, and the ways he develops top skills in his team.

Human skills are becoming more important because of the growing role of finance as a facilitator in the company

Pieter Mortier, Finance Director @ Joris Ide

As valuable as technical know-how

What skills do you like to see in your employees?

Pieter Mortier: ‘I am a strong believer in communication, willingness to listen, and adaptability. I really appreciate a hands-on attitude, a willingness to get things done, learning to understand complex ideas by asking the right questions, and taking the initiative to keep projects on track. I am absolutely certain that these qualities are as valuable as technical know-how.’

‘It is also key for employees to fit in. Teamwork is essential for us. To guarantee a good working atmosphere, we appreciate a sense of being part of a tight-knit group and transparent communication, both internally and with external partners. Team fit is essential for social cohesion. It certainly is a building block in completing projects successfully together. We don’t only check if a candidate has the technical know-how, but also if there is a fit with the team. If there is no click, the chances that we hire the candidate are pretty small.’

What kind of impact do these skills have on Finance, and on the organization as a whole?

Pieter Mortier: ‘Human skills are increasingly important. The role of finance as a facilitator is growing. Finance people build bridges between the various departments because they are closely involved in a number of internal processes when exchanging data reports.

‘The traditional role of simply generating and analyzing data is long gone. Finance is often asked to reconcile apparently conflicting interests, which is why empathy and clear communication are now indispensable. At the same time, we have to adapt quickly to our internal interlocutors because we often have to explain complex information in layman's terms. The ability to communicate at different levels of the company, from line operator to board member, is a major asset.’

Team fit is essential for social cohesion. It certainly is a building block in completing projects successfully together.

Pieter Mortier, Finance Director @ Joris Ide

How human skills have become important over the years

How have human skills developed over recent years?

Pieter Mortier: ‘Human skills have always been important. In my former positions, I was lucky enough to have a good mentor, who understood the importance of these personal skills and their continued development.

Technical skills lose ground to human skills, for instance, when organizations outsource more of the business activities that rely on very specific hard skills. A company or department is sometimes better served by employees who act as facilitators who know where to find the exact technical knowledge that is necessary to create added value. For some roles, that has caused a shift from specialist to generalist knowledge. But let’s be clear, some roles cannot be executed without hard knowledge. I’m thinking of people working in the legal department or accounting for instance. Overall, a healthy combination of hard and soft skills is the best mix to offer people a nice professional growth trajectory.’

‘When recruiting young graduates, we give full consideration to this mix of technical know-how and human skills. Young potentials that lack extensive knowledge of finance can still develop into talented employees if they have the drive to learn and make something happen in the organization. We put our best effort into enabling knowledge sharing between colleagues, with team leaders facilitating that process.'

How has your own role as a manager changed? And what would your colleagues say are important human skills for a team leader?

Pieter Mortier: ‘In my previous roles, I used to act as a kind of confidant, taking care of people, and giving advice. Today, as a manager, I have to actively look for what concerns employees and what they are up against.

‘Not everyone has the strength or attitude to discuss problems themselves. In addition, a well-structured follow-up and evaluation of employees is essential, so that everyone on our extensive finance team - with colleagues in accounting and controlling - is sufficiently supervised.’

‘My colleagues find empathy, clear communication, and commitment important human skills in any leader. They ask for clear guidelines on what is expected of them, and some also appreciate that team leaders collaborate on complex tasks. Others prefer to handle finance issues independently. My job is to assess this properly for each employee and to create an environment in which colleagues feel comfortable. This certainly includes keeping a finger on the pulse and knowing what’s bothering people, also privately. Our company attaches great value to a healthy work-life balance. I see it as my task as a manager to be a listening ear and to help where possible.’

I focus mostly on personal skills, asking candidates how they deal with thorny issues at home or in the workplace, or tensions in the team, and what they have learned about situations that cannot be resolved.

Pieter Mortier, Finance Director, Joris Ide

Assessing new employees

What steps do you take to develop the team's human skills?

Pieter Mortier: ‘When recruiting new recruits, we do not actively pursue mentoring. This does not mean that people are left to their own devices, on the contrary! New recruits end up in a close-knit team of financial experts who are happy to share their knowledge, even in an informal way. Our spacious offices invite questions and the exchange of new ideas. Physically sitting together creates not only a strong culture of knowledge sharing but also a warm atmosphere among colleagues. This organic approach makes employees grow and motivates them to give their best.’

‘At the same time, we want to challenge people on a regular basis by working in a different department. Finance colleagues, for example, can spend time in procurement to explore new perspectives on the company, sharpening their human skills. Taking people out of their comfort zone is healthy. It broadens their horizons and expands their knowledge.'

‘The corona pandemic taught us that informal communication and active listening have become more important than ever. Calling each other or speaking face-to-face is so much more valuable than communicating via email. Face-to-face communication provides more accurate information, allows for nuance, and creates a better bond between colleagues. As a leader, I too try to set a good example by actively seeking people out.’

What human skills do you think will become more important in the years to come? And how will you assess new employees?

Pieter Mortier: ‘Personally, I see skills such as eagerness to learn and proactivity becoming more important. Positivity and drive remain a plus. Our rapidly evolving economy, organizations, and systems, make agility and openness to change into important assets.

We often hire young graduates. So we will screen for these skills. Technical skills are still really important, but people can learn them ‘on the job’. At recruitment interviews with candidates, I leave it up to the immediate supervisor to screen for specialist know-how. I focus primarily on personal skills, asking candidates how they deal with thorny issues at home or in the workplace, or tensions in the team, and what they have learned about situations that cannot be resolved. The answers to these questions tell me a lot about how a potential employee can grow in our business.'