Job Swapping and Career Development

As a middle market CFO, one aspect of my past experience at large corporations that I miss is the ability to develop talent throughout the accounting and finance team through job swapping and promoting from within.  In fast growing middle market businesses, there is ample opportunity for career development, but it stems from the growth of the company and the need for each person to wear multiple hats.  In larger corporations, you need to rotate people through different positions to diversify their skills, improve operations and prevent boredom.  In middle market companies, it’s not as easy or as necessary, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

If there aren’t enough positions within your accounting and finance team to make it happen, consider temporary job swaps with other departments.   Your financial folks might bring a new perspective to the sales or operations divisions and vice versa.  It will promote better teamwork, develop your talent pool and keep people engaged, just like it does at large corporations.

Follow Up on Social Media Metrics

PrintA few weeks ago I posted an entry titled “Do Social Media KPI’s belong on the Management Dashboard?”  As a follow up, I refer to a recent post on the Gooddata blog that highlights six key marketing metrics to track and report.

They list them in the infographic to the left.  A few of the key KPI’s they list include:

  • Engagement: Not just the number of followers or friends, but how much engagement are you getting in terms of the number of shares, likes and comments.
  • Conversion Rate: Not just the number of visitors to your website, but the rate at which the visits are converted to sales.
  • Click Through: Not the number of emails you sent out, but the number that responded to the emails by clicking through to the website.
  • Cost per Customer: Not cost per click or cost per lead but cost per customer, or better yet, cost per dollar of sales.

In addition to picking the correct social media KPI’s, as with all KPI’s, it is important to report them on a consistent basis and track the results over time compared to targets.

Your Company Is Only as Good as Your Writing

HBRAn article from the Harvard Business Review on the importance of good technical writing skills and why it should be a company-wide endeavor.  It even comes with a complete handbook.  No time for all that?  Here’s the shorter version:

  • Know your subject matter & your audience
  • Be clear, concise and well-organized
  • A picture is worth a thousand words
  • Review your work, edit and omit needless words

Win a free registration in Excel University Vol 1 online training – a $399 value

excel_university_logo_100A few weeks ago I blogged about the Microsoft Excel tips I had learned at a meeting of the Los Angeles chapter of the Institute of Management Accountants.  The presenter at that meeting, Jeff Lenning of Click Consulting, just notified me they have converted the content of Excel University Volume 1 into an interactive, self-paced training format, and it is now available through their online learning management system (LMS).  Click here for details.

The original blog entry was quite popular and generated many comments on the blog and in various LinkedIn discussion groups as well as many clicks through to the Click Consulting website.  As a thank you, Click Consulting has offered me the opportunity to give away one free enrollment in the new Excel University Vol 1 online training, a $399 value (currently on sale for $299).  To enter, simply join the LinkedIn Discussion Group “Middle Market CFO” on or before 7/31/13.  One member of that group will be chosen at random on 8/1/13 and the winner will be announced right there, in the Middle Market CFO discussion group on LinkedIn.  Good luck!

How the CFO Can Become the CEO’s Collaborator in Growth

How the CFO Can Become the CEO’s Collaborator in Growth

Great article by Robert Sher in CFO magazine about how CFO’s at fast growing middle market companies should spend less time on accounting and more time building the leadership infrastructure to allow the firm to scale.  For the full article, click here.

Communicating Financial Info to Non-Financial Folks

Clear communicationMany highly intelligent employees who are skilled and passionate in their area of expertise will glaze over like Jessica Simpson listening to Robert Plant when you try to talk to them about financial information.  The following tips will help you talk about finances so non-financial management and staff will listen and understand.

  • If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now.  It’s just a spring clean for the May queen.  No idea what I’m talking about?  That’s what we sometimes sound like when we are talking financials to non-financial people.  CFO’s are so accustomed to abbreviations like EBITDA and ROI; or to phrases like Working Capital and Discounted Cash Flows; or even to words like Accruals and Amortization, we forget these words sound like gobbledygook to some of our non-financial peers.  Do not assume they will ask for the definition of terms they don’t understand as they may be too embarrassed.  By keeping your jargon in check and stopping to explain the meaning of confusing terms, you will keep them engaged and win their trust.
  • Speaking of trust, build it, ’cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.  Non-financial people are often intimidated by financial discussions and they may feel you are trying to fool them.  Once you have built their trust, they become far more interested and responsive in financial discussions.  Getting to know your audience will help you build their trust.  Go to lunch with them or activities outside of work.  Give them credit for their accomplishments in front of others.  Admit something self-deprecating like your love of Led Zeppelin.  Most importantly, don’t do anything to erode their trust.
  • Numbers are intimidating, but with a word she can get what she came for. Most CFO’s can look at a page of numbers in a detailed financial statement and quickly extract all the important information.  Non-financial people do better with words and, better yet, graphics.  The ability to create easy-to-understand graphics is a skill CFO’s need to master.
  • Yes there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, your message will be better received when you use consistent metrics.  If you are constantly changing the metrics or not reviewing them on a consistent and frequent basis, they may not spend the time to figure out the message.  When they see the same metrics over and over on a routine basis, they become comfortable with them, they learn how to quickly absorb the key information and they will review them as part of their regular routine.

Following these tips may not help you climb the stairway to heaven, but they will make you a more popular CFO.  More importantly, it will help you keep your company’s non-financial employees better informed so they can do their jobs more effectively.  If you want an idea of how nonsensical financial jargon can sound, check out this hilarious random financial phrase generator.  If you like this blog post, please share it with your connections and discussion groups on LinkedIn, or on Twitter or Facebook using the icons below.

Do Social Media KPI’s Belong on the Management Dashboard?

CC Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license

CC Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license

Should you include Social Media KPI’s on your dashboard reporting?  The answer for many consumer-focused middle market companies is increasingly becoming “Yes”.

Social media is growing and evolving at an incredible pace.  While many companies now realize the importance of having a social media strategy, some have been slower to realize the importance of measuring their social media activity and including social media KPI’s in their dashboard reporting alongside things like sales, margins, inventory, cashflow and key financial ratios.  Dashboard reporting is custom tailored to the needs of each organization, so the KPI’s to include will vary.  They could be as simple as the number of visitors and page views on your blog, the number of followers on twitter, or fans on Facebook.  You can track these statistics over time and compare them to goals, or to your competition.  On more detailed reports, you can measure the effectiveness of your campaign showing which efforts were most and least successful and how the social media activity translates to sales.  You can mine demographical information and highlight significant fans and followers or significant mentions, good or bad, that appear throughout the social media world.  And, of course, you can report how much you are spending on your social media strategy and calculate your ROI.

There are middle market companies for whom a social media strategy is not important, so not every company should include social media KPI’s in their dashboard reports.  But if you are a CFO at a company where your social media strategy is key, consider adding social media KPI’s into your dashboard and other reports.

What do you think?

Three Things CFO’s Can Learn From le Tour de France

Logo-Le-Tour-de-France-100thI am a huge fan of football and most other popular sports, but my favorite televised sport of the year is the Tour de France.  It’s a grueling three-week, 2,000 mile test of skill, stamina and teamwork that often comes down to who wants it more.  It’s beautiful to watch the sweeping helicopter views of the peloton careening through switchbacks on the side of a gorgeous mountain or splitting a roundabout in a quaint European village before weaving back together at high speed like a school of fish.  On top of all that, it’s steeped in tradition, the fans are nuts, the crashes horrific, the announcers (Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin) are British-accented poets, there’s something for everyone really.

Another nice feature is due to the time difference you can watch it live each morning in California before you start your work day.  This got me thinking about what lessons I could learn from the Tour de France and apply in my role as a CFO.  Here are three:

  • When climbing a mountain or a mountainous task at work, break it into manageable sections.  The top of the mountain may seem insurmountable, but getting around the next turn never seems so bad.  The same is often true for CFO’s in work situations such as a merger or ERP implementation.
  • Know the road ahead and understand your competitive environment.  Tour riders need to know the course and their competition so they can respond to an attack or take advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself.  CFO’s need to position their company to be able to respond in the same way.  That’s why financial planning, forecasting, benchmarking and SWOT analysis are so critical.
  • Work as a team and recognize the efforts of your teammates.  Team members block the wind, keep each other fed and hydrated, hand over their bike in the event of a mechanical breakdown or crash, or whatever it takes to get their team leader to the finish line.  The guy wearing the yellow jersey is always quick to acknowledge the contributions of his team and share the glory with them.  CFO’s need to do the same and encourage that type of teamwork throughout their organization.

Remember these three tips and they’ll be kissing babies and throwing soft cheeses on the Champs-Élysées in no time.

Inspiration can come from many places.  For me, each July, it comes from the Tour de France. What inspires you?

Management By Dumpster Diving

ManagementByDumpsterDivingI met with a middle market company last week.  It was owned by two charming brothers who had grown it over 20 years into a successful $30 million manufacturing business.  We were discussing preparing the company for outside investment.   If you ever listen to the NPR radio show Car Talk hosted by the venerable, Peabody-Award winning Tappit Brothers, Click and Clack, you have an idea of the type of guys who owned this business and how much fun I had talking to them.

While touring the facilities, one of the owners was talking about their differing management styles and said his brother practiced what he called ‘Management By Dumpster Diving’.  Each morning, he would tour the facilities and each time he passed a dumpster or waste can, he would poke his head in to see what was there.  It was a 24-7 operation, so this was his primary way of determining the waste and efficiency of the operation the night before.  The dumpster diving brother claimed he learned a lot of interesting information about his company and employees over the years.  The other brother claimed he was preparing for a future life on the streets!

This highlights what I love about entrepreneurs and why they need to make changes when they bring in outside investors.  Entrepreneurs are there everyday, doing whatever they need to do to grow the business, taking risks, getting dirty if necessary, inventing their own methods and solutions that fit their unique business and personal management style.  Private equity groups are not going to go dumpster diving to determine the previous day’s waste.  Larger companies with offsite ownership need systems and policies in place to measure and report KPI’s such as raw material usage analysis and production efficiency.  It’s not necessarily better or worse than the dumpster diving approach.  It’s just a good example of how a management process that works for a company at a particular stage of it’s development will not work as effectively as it grows and the ownership structure changes.

As an interim CFO for companies like this, I can help identify the necessary changes and implement them, before or after the change in ownership.  Please contact me directly if I can help your company or private equity group in this capacity.  For 7 tips on being successful as an interim CFO at private equity portfolio companies, click here.  And feel free to share any interesting management techniques you’ve come across and post them in the comments below or tweet them to me @middlemarketCFO with hashtag #ManagementByDumpsterDiving.