Stress caused by new demands on under-resourced finance functions is all too commonplace, but how does your CFO access support to achieve more?
We know that demand on the CFO / FD role has increased over recent years, with the seat having to be responsible for a growing list of deliverables, including operational improvement, on / off shored shared services, scenario modelling, risk management, M&A activity, and many more. Add to that a growing list of stakeholders, increased demand from Unit & Support Services Heads, short-termism and more commercial headwinds, all within a shrinking finance to revenue cost base and suddenly the pressure points start to creak then leak.
“Do more with less” is great mantra, but only if systems, processes, and people are performing at their optimum, 100% of the time. A need for: seamless and cyber secure ERP ecosystems on a 24/7 basis; processes that are understood, documented, communicated, monitored and risk-free, together with happy empowered people, eager to add value through the day job as well as managing a growing list of time-consuming ad-hoc projects with flexible priorities. The pandemic did not change contracts of employment which still read commitment to working a 7-hour day and perhaps some flex at month-end, whereas in reality people are consistently working much longer from home.
Should or can this last?
Finance was just about doing its best to keep the lights on and providing what all stakeholders required to add value, and then BOOM the environment changed.
Demand and speed of turnaround accelerated, priorities changed, suddenly the here and now was key, daily monitoring of triggers for falling off a cliff became vogue, working capital and funding was under the spotlight, FP&A analysts were in demand to re-model or at least kick the tyres on old, trusted and “reliable” forecasting processes and tools, many still in spreadsheets with known or unknown bugs. Projects were placed on hold, and whilst revenue was always vanity, profit sanity and cash king, overnight cash became SUPERKING, and then some. Indeed, hourly, daily and weekly KPIs and further MI was needed. A lot of work was done off-line as systems and processes could not cope or be changed with haste.
As leaders re-visited what we do and how we do it, there was hurried and rapid transformation, sometimes several times a day or week, affecting organisation design and target operating models. Some finance functions have had to reflect these changes in their existing systems, re-mapping and re-stating historic and forecast data several times a day or week. Throw onto that new overhead allocations, transfer pricing, volatile money markets, home working and a need to re-evaluate facilities and capacity issues, you begin to realise the pressures on the existing CFO / FD. This forced some organisations who were lean, short of skills sets and with sub-optimal systems, to hire additional resource, both short and long-term but also as part-time, especially SMEs who perhaps were not used to using full-time interim managers. More portfolio work will exist in the future, as will post IR35 demand for projects, feasibly managed under statements of work and possibly even with value / profit sharing upon stages of delivery.
Other learnings during this period include finance staff enhancing their own skills by leading through adversity, even those businesses that did not previously measure pipeline are doing so now, culture became vital as did the employee experience (net better off). Finance staff raised their game and shone, a credit to their profession.
As we are eased out of full lockdown, market and commercial demand for goods and services will increase but it may take a while to revert to pre 2020 or even 2008 levels. However, the volume of new and additional roles is beginning to increase and 2021 started off with a flourish, perhaps the Brexit deal raised confidence levels or perhaps business needed to just crack on.
Some restructured businesses are now coming through with turnaround work to be done, PE house are still sat on dry powder from recent funding rounds, IPOs are copious, investment in technology and health sectors is set to return a vast ROI, markets are doing well, and vaccines are maturing.
Interestingly, new roles have been created at the C-suite as Chief Officer of Culture, Data, Insight, Digital and Information. It has all become about the RE-X; re-imagine, re-shape, re-invest, re-invent, re-activate, re-prioritise, re-open, re-set, re-visit, re-new, resilience, respond, recover, and retire. Under this super-highway of exceptional ‘load’, what was urgent is now super urgent, what was important is mega important. The one-page Board agenda is now twice as long.
These myriad of new and additional demands on the CFO / FD will only continue as company Boards get “back to normal” and realise that the Finance function must get involved with much more. The problem is existing finance staff are already exhausted from the extra workload arising due to the pandemic and working indoors through winter. Add to the mix, Brexit teething problems, robotics, AI, everything digital, remote everywhere, immersed reality, wearables, agile ways of working, health and well-being, new ways of working with customers, demand for interfaced ERP ecosystems, demand for radar led insights to drive decision-making, culture change, growing yet hidden issues linked to delayed staff attrition, thinking outside-in, innovation roadmaps, and old / new pressures continue to absorb finite staff time and highlight the need for extra capacity and resource.
Recently, I have been involved in upskilling and modernising finance, optimising systems, TOM, growth strategies, turnaround, governance, new reporting packs, and building a new forecast tool within 10 days, with interfaced P&L, cash flow and balance sheets; this became an extremely useful mini-investment at the time and has remained an agile and insightful tool since.
For judging what is urgent and important, my old scale of 1 to 10 is now re-calibrated as 1 to 100 as everything cannot possibly all be judged as a 9 or 10. Hence, as demand grows and time is scarce, business partnering means keeping thirty plates spinning simultaneously to achieve a positive or maximum outcome for each and every initiative.
The CFO/ FD should know we are here to support you to “do more with less” and “achieve more by doing less”, but with a bucket full of tasks you sometimes just need more quality, readily available, tried and tested resource to execute the strategy at pace and keep stakeholders off your back.
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