How Finance Can Help When Business Is Bad
Let’s be honest, when you think of your finance function you still see them as the naysayers, the ones that sit in the corner and try not to disturb the business and only raises their voice when things are getting out of hand. When the CFO is involved in strategic decisions it is to make the rest of the management team more realistic instead of adding further optimism to what could be seen as unrealistic plans. However, your finance function could be so much more and add so much more value to your business.
Finance only gets credit when times are tough
When times are tough it’s the CFO that leads the onslaught on costs and makes sure that the business gets trimmed, however, as soon as the crisis is over s(he) again retreats to the corner or the role of the naysayer which really isn’t where Finance belongs. Most people would now proclaim that crisis is over especially in the US, but even in Europe, you see signs of life. Companies have cut costs and those that survived the crisis are now trimmed more than ever. It is clear though that despite the crisis being over it is somewhat unrealistic to see growth rates of the past. 3% would seem good enough in the US, 2% the same in Europe and even in China they are adjusting to much lower growth rates around 6-7%. So in some way, you could say that times are still tough.
Finance as the facilitator
Finance no longer holds a central role though in driving forward the business. It is Sales and Marketing that is now leading the onslaught for growth, market share and world domination. As long as Operations can ensure them the capacity then everything is rosy and Finance really only needs to manage performance and make sure that information is available on the effects of what Sales and Marketing are doing. However if growth rates are not returning to booming levels in the economies overall then neither is it returning to business. So quickly what should have been a period of strong growth turns into a dogfight between frontline functions on who is not delivering rather than making a focused and joint effort for bringing the company forward. It is here Finance has a significant role to play as the neutral facilitator. As a finance professional, you should not be satisfied simply doing performance management. You need to be out in the business talking to frontline managers about what they need to return the business back to growth. Surely there will be differing views, however, being able to see the issues from multiple perspectives or better yet a neutral perspective puts you in a much better position to make arguments of counterparts heard by each other.
View from the top and across
In fact, you can see things from the top i.e. the combined results of the frontline’s efforts and you can see across business units, geographies, product lines etc. and share best practices. Remember that no one expects you to come up with the ideas, but if you fill this role well you will soon hold more ideas than any frontline individual because you gather them from all the stakeholders you deal with. Suddenly you are in a very powerful position where you can make stakeholders collaborate, share ideas across the business and play an integral part in bringing your business back to growth and out of the tough times. This should be the role of Finance and, in particular, your finance business partners. So get out of that corner you have retreated back into on the back of the crisis and get out there and talk to frontline managers.
What role do you play as a finance professional? Have you managed to make multiple functions collaborate and create bottom-line value? It’s not easy, but it can be done and if you succeed your company will suddenly see how much value the finance function can really add!