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.