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Thriving in the New World Operator 1

Thriving in the New World Operator

In this series of Thriving in the New World, The CFO Center explores what exactly it means to be an operator in the “new world” and essential elements that allow your business to thrive.

Most owner-operated businesses would agree that increased cash and more access to capital would help them exceed their business objectives.   Recent societal and economic realities have strained or even exhausted cash resources for many companies.   Even those companies enjoying unprecedented growth are scrambling to fund unexpected expansion.   The essential building block for liquidity has always been Operational Excellence, defined as consistent and reliable execution of each business’ unique processes to acquire and satisfy customers.

High performing operations processes have always been the foundation for generating cash from within the business.  Equally important for those business owners seeking to thrive in a post Covid world is the critical need to demonstrate operational excellence to third party financing sources.  Seeking to expand your credit line with your bank or pursuing additional investors will require the business owner to present a clear and compelling story for how the company will produce profits, cash and sufficient return on capital.

The traditional role for a CFO in Operational Excellence is to provide accurate financial information and act as leading voice in cost reduction.   Creating a truly reliable foundation for generating cash and profits; often requires financial leaders to contribute more than they have ever before.  The experience, attributes and mindset of many CFO’s positions them to act as a catalyst for delivering cash and profit maximization across the full range of business processes.

Fix the Finance Foundation

The processes and practices of the finance function must be viewed as rock solid by the owner and the rest of the organization to create a path for participation or preferably leadership of broader operational improvement initiatives.

There are three key functional outcomes that must be in place to give the finance team the credibility to extend its involvement to other operational processes.  Without these deliverables in place, the organization’s ability to undertake deeper process review will be severely impaired.

The first base level capability is timely, accurate and useful financial reporting.  If the leaders of the company are not receiving this level of financial reporting, then it is unlikely that the finance leader has earned the right to apply their team’s expertise to general operating processes.

The second must have competency from the finance team is an understanding of the cost drivers for the business. The understanding of costs does not have to be perfect; however, there must be a methodology in place to capture and analyze the complete range of items that form the cost of  products or services

The third requirement for finance team effectiveness is to have a solid grasp of the company strategies that will drive future growth and success.   If your finance staff are seen just as number crunchers it will be difficult for them to contribute to operational initiatives.   The first installment of our CFO contribution series suggests a practical approach to engage your finance leader in developing future proofing strategies.

Own Cash Flow

The responsibility of generating positive cash flow clearly belongs to the CEO and the entire organization; however, expanding the mindset of your financial leader to thinking and acting as the owner of cash flow can be a powerful tool.   Finance and accounting staff have historically only been tasked with producing cash flow forecasts based on inputs from other leaders.

We suggest making a clear organization signal showing reliance on the finance team to go beyond analyzing cash inputs and outputs. The new expectation should include concrete actions aimed at increasing the amount or timing of cash inputs while reducing the amount or timing of cash outputs.  One example of a high impact cash inflow recommendation is to convert the finance team’s experience with both external and internal obstacles to timely collection of receivables into operational practices that eliminate these obstacles in advance.

Refine and Revolutionize Business Processes

Each organization varies in complexity of business processes, capabilities of process analysis, and often very different levels of CEO interest or prioritization of process improvement initiatives.  Given the nature of many small to medium-sized organizations, there can often be aptitude and attitude gaps leading to under prioritizing  detailed data-driven process review work.

Even a small finance team can become the internal champions for generating improved results achieved through documenting and enhancing your most critical processes.   Elevating the CFO to, at minimum, a shared level of ownership with the firm’s operational leaders will apply complementary expertise to process review efforts.  Converting process improvements into additional cash and profit can often involve just a few additional questions that may be missed by other functional areas.

Create Compelling Capital Acquisition Content

There is a high probability that pursuing operational excellence will lead to capturing more cash from optimized processes and deliver positive returns in the short term.

The longer-term benefit of intense CFO involvement in the operational aspects of the company is the ability to work with the owner to put a more convincing investment case forward to potential sources of debt or equity financing.   Revenue growth is understandably the primary focal point for future investment; however,  the business case is significantly strengthened by a tangible action plan showcasing gross margin enhancement, profit improvement and positive cash generation.

Reviewing, examining and revising processes has always been part of running a successful enterprise.  Although most companies have made improvements over the life of their business; there is often a substantial opportunity to further optimize the organization’s capability to convert every dollar of revenue into more profit and more cash.   One of the positive byproducts of the turmoil related to the pandemic is that business owners, management and employees are more aware and likely more open to the need for change than ever before.   The time is right for businesses to count on their CFO to bring a thorough, disciplined methodology to deliver operational excellence and improved financial results. Uncover more.

Future Proof Your Business

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Thriving in a New World Strategist

Thriving in a New World Strategist

In the introduction to our CFO Contribution Series, Thriving In the New World Strategist, we suggested that most business owners may not be well served by high-level, third party driven, divergent strategic exercises. Certainly, there is significant value in undertaking far reaching, blue sky thinking. Most small to medium size organizations will be better served by incorporating their own foresight into targeted, most probable future scenarios developed by highly engaged participants directly linked to the success of the business.

There can be no doubt the Covid-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented change for most businesses. Revenue levels have plunged for some firms while others are experiencing unexpected increases in new customers and unforecasted demand levels. Supply Chains have been disrupted. Optimizing employee productivity and satisfaction have become more art than science. Short-term cash availability and long term capital requirements are highly uncertain. Even the most confident experts are reluctant to make a call on the economic climate we are likely to experience a year from now or even six months from now.

Success in this uncharted New World requires business owners to make effective decisions to address today’s challenges and to establish a strong market position in an uncertain future. We call this Future Proofing your business. The path forward will be unique for every enterprise. For most businesses, the contribution of an integrated senior financial leader can be a major factor in making the best decisions for steering the business towards a successful future.

Owner operators will particularly benefit by injecting their full time or part time CFO into idea

generation and implementation planning to future proof their business using the following four-step process.

Developing Most Probable Future Scenarios

The insight of the CEO along with sales and market-oriented management will understandably be essential to develop and select three or four most likely market scenarios. Important dimensions for assessing your business’ future would include revenue outlook, new revenue sources, changes in access to customers or preferences of customers, competitive forces, regulatory factors and assessment of staff effectiveness. Identifying these factors specific to your business and your industry should be considered in conjunction with the team’s projections of potential future operating environments.

Involving a holistic professional with the ability to stretch the team’s future thinking to include the full spectrum of potential obstacles often leads to more robust, more complete future scenarios. Team members should expect the organization’s financial leader to embrace the uncertainties inherent in guessing at potential futures while also expecting them to act as a catalyst to describe the leading scenarios with sufficient clarity to facilitate resiliency testing and implementation planning.

Leveraging Emerging Technology

The pace of change over the past five to ten years combined with the recent accelerated societal and economic changes linked to the pandemic forces all businesses to adapt and respond quicker and more intensively than ever before. Adapting and responding effectively requires timely and appropriate application of emerging technology solutions to uncover new connections to customers and to unlock methods to streamline and enhance business processes.

A few of the more pervasive and perhaps highest potential technology trends destined to shape the future are Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain Technology and Internet of Things. Finance leaders bring essential analytical skills, as well as opportunity and risk assessment expertise. These attributes will help the business select the most advantageous solutions and deploy these applications to deliver favourable returns.

Stress Testing Scenarios and Strategies

Once the business has collaboratively generated their high probability future scenarios and articulated corresponding strategies to maximize results; a critical need emerges for disciplined evaluation to ensure the selected paths forward can stand up to expected obstacles and deviations.

The CFO’s involvement in scenario testing is likely to be most accepted and welcomed by the business owner and the future proofing team. A New World CFO is one that passionately embraces uncertainties and optimism while maintaining their proven ability to rigorously apply a check and balance approach to the team’s chosen future scenarios and strategies.

Commitment to Highest Impact Initiatives

The hardest decision for many organizations undertaking future proofing activities during today’s tumultuous environment will be to commit the necessary financial and human resources to those chosen few initiatives expected to best position the business over the next six months to five years.

Creating the internal and external confidence to act now often hinges on the development of concise, compelling business cases to define the initiative, its costs and expected profits. The involvement of your financial leader in the entire future proofing process will significantly enhance the quality and effectiveness of these strategic business cases. In situations where the organization is seeking external financing or participation from partnering organizations; the voice of an informed, engaged, credible CFO will be a significant factor in securing the desired external support.

Business owners and their management teams have the responsibility to navigate the firm through today’s urgent challenges and opportunities. They also bear the greater responsibility to establish direction and take action to prepare the organization to succeed for many years ahead. A New World CFO welcomes this responsibility and possesses the knowledge and dedication needed to deliver results today and in the future. Discover more.

Future Proof Your Business

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