Financial leaders across the Serent portfolio gathered virtually to share the successes, insights, and challenges that exist within the CFO role.
“The CFO is in the perfect chair to orchestrate the definition and tracking of targets to gauge progress toward company goals.”
Each year Serent Capital hosts the Chief Financial Officer Summit where portfolio company leaders convene to discuss the role of the CFO at both the strategic and applied levels. This year, of course, we also discussed COVID-19’s impact on company operations and the post-pandemic recovery during the virtual summit.
CFOs and other finance professionals shared best practices and lessons-learned in themed group presentations, one-on-one sessions, and break-out groups. This year’s key takeaways included the following:
- The CFO plays a critical role in developing a “management cadence,” in which key metrics track progress toward corporate goals at all levels of the company and are continuously communicated through regular reporting. When performance deviates from the plan, the CFO helps address challenges or opportunities.
- A primary tactical challenge for CFOs is determining the proper financial package to use. One CFO shared lessons on selecting and implementing a successor system, noting the importance of allowing adequate time for the effort. Another discussed the choice to outsource the accounting system, and the need to remain involved.
- In planning for the post-COVID recovery, CFOs find remote work is here to stay and the future of work will likely be a hybrid environment of both office and remote.
Establishing a management cadence
The CFO plays a critical role in assessing the success of corporate strategies by defining the relevant metrics, aligning management compensation with them, and tracking the company’s progress toward achieving them. CFO attendees shared a variety of process and tools they use to effectively manage success.
The EVP and CFO of TalentWave, a provider of independent contractor compliance and contingent workforce management solutions, shared how they define and use targets to achieve the company’s goals. The EVP and CFO of TalentWave shared a terrific description of how the company implemented such a process, observing: “The CFO is in the perfect chair to orchestrate the development and application of company targets to track …on a regular cadence to gauge progress.”
At TalentWave, the management cadence starts with choosing high-level targets to support the company’s goals; these targets are also linked to executive compensation. The targets are then broken down for different functional areas. However, to ensure cohesion at the leadership level, the top three metrics apply to all members of the senior leadership team.
Once the leadership targets are defined, functional leaders develop metrics for their areas, providing group and individual targets that support the corporate goals. Each week, groups meet to report on their progress, and the group information is combined at the corporate level. The CFO plays an important role in identifying gaps in weekly performance metrics and supporting senior team members in addressing them.
To measure the progress towards achieving the annual targets, the CFO and senior leadership at TalentWave identify “rocks” for each quarter, or projects that can help progress toward the annual goals. Each quarter, the CFO works with colleagues to achieve insights into deviations of performance from plan.
Through this target-based process, the CFO plays a collaborative, not a punitive, role. The CFO is able to add value by pointing out trends and highlights, as well as “shine a light on potential issues” and helps groups address challenges and opportunities. In addition, the CFO is viewed as the ‘bible’ for accurate, immediate information” that is widely available across the company. This ability to be the “straw that stirs the drink” provides significant value in helping all the elements of a company feel integrated as they work toward their goals.
This collaborative approach requires real commitment. As the TalentWave CFO noted in closing, “It takes a lot of time to ensure the company stays focused on the goals.”
CFOs must provide current and complete financial information. Therefore, a critical responsibility for a CFO is choosing and implementing the proper financial system. The CFOs of two of our companies shared their experiences in assessing their current systems and took two different, but equally successful, paths forward.
The CFO of Revinate, a guest data management and intelligence platform, described their process in detail.
The first step was to understand the “desired end-state” by taking “a step back to reimagine our policies, processes, systems, and architecture.” This exercise identified the project’s high-level goal as “drastically simplify internal processing, eliminate constant needs for external consultants, [and] improve the customer payment experience.” This included finding a system that had online access to invoices, automated payment functionality, and the ability to automate account shutdown for non-payment – all core to achieving the high-level goal. The CFO and team selected a package based on these requirements and spent approximately 17 weeks implementing it.
Among Revinate’s lessons learned during implementation was the importance of breaking the project into multiple phases, assigned to six different task forces. Each phase had interim goals, which meant the teams could celebrate “wins,” show progress, and boost morale.
Another major lesson was the importance of properly resourcing the effort. As part of this effort, daily stand-up meetings and weekly huddles kept the project on track, allowing flexible responses to challenges. Four individuals spent at least 80% of their time on the project during implementation.
And no job is over until “the paperwork is done.” Testing, documentation, and training the users must occur before the system can go live.
Another portfolio company Compeat, a provider of restaurant management software, took a different approach. Rather than replace their complex ERP system, Compeat outsourced the accounting function altogether.
Even with outsourcing, though, the CFO was deeply involved. “We were responsible for getting everything in the new system correctly,” Compeat’s CFO said. But the effort was worth it. “We have gotten to a better place faster,” he said. The new system dramatically improved flexibility, streamlined information processing, and generated annual savings of 15%. Moreover, said the CFO, “We finally know what products are at which location for a certain customer, and we are functioning better with a smaller team.”
Impact of COVID
In small groups, our companies shared their thoughts, concerns, and questions about the impact of COVID on various elements of their businesses.
A major question concerned the work environment. None of our participants considered remaining 100% remote permanently, but one company anticipated increasing its proportion of remote workers relative to the pre-COVID level. On the other hand, the Vice President of Finance at Professional Health Care Network (PHCN), provider of home health management solutions, found that productivity in remote work declined in roles where the work was more mechanical or had a process-oriented hands-on component, and the company intended to bring people in those roles back when health guidelines allow. In both space decisions and the re-entry timeline, though, PHCN urged attendees to find expert guidance, saying “Don’t try to be an expert—a broker can really help inform your thinking, even about a re-entry program.”