From an unpredictable stock market, to inflation, to budget cuts, executives today are grappling with economic uncertainty and what it means for their business. In fact, according to a global survey of more than 700 CEOs and executives, the no.1 concern for 2023 is a potential recession.
To help leaders navigate this economic challenge, Chief spoke to Chief Financial Officers from Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, BrightAI, and Brinkmann Constructors about how leaders today can keep top employees in place, while also hitting company goals amid financial uncertainty.
Doing More With Less Resources
When it comes to weathering financial storms, Chief Member Christina Fisher, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, says the first step is to perform a full inventory and evaluation of all your daily activities. “Is there anything you can stop doing, even if it is a temporary pause?” she asks. “This question is a hard one to answer for all of us, but critical during these challenging times. There are implications to be considered, so make sure you proactively communicate with your stakeholders to assist with the decision.”
The key is pausing work that won’t cause the business to be in a worse position down the line.
Separate to stopping costs, Chief Member Samantha Cook, CFO at Brinkmann Constructors, says you can also figure out cost-saving measures by streamlining workflows and thereby increasing efficiencies. “You can consider implementing technology solutions or engage with your employees and ask for their ideas on how to do more with less. They are likely to have valuable insights on how to improve processes or cut costs, and in turn will feel empowered by being part of the solution.”
Cook adds that her biggest advice for leaders trying to do more amid budget cuts is to “approach it with a proactive mindset.”
“Focus on what you can control and identify opportunities to improve your operations and optimize your resources,” she says. “By doing so, you can help your organization weather these uncertain times and emerge stronger on the other side.”
How to Set Long-Term Goals Amid Economic Instability
Establishing long-term goals when the future of your budget is tight or uncertain can be challenging, but Cook says it’s not impossible. “To set realistic long-term growth goals, executives must have a clear understanding of the market in which they operate,” she says. “This includes factors such as customer needs, competition, and economic trends. Rather than just chasing revenue growth, focus on creating value for customers. By delivering value, companies can build customer loyalty, helping to drive long-term growth.”
During times of economic uncertainty, Chief Member Jingjing Xu, CFO at BrightAI, says that “focusing on flexibility and adaptability” is key, adding that now is the best time to take smart risks and try new things.
“Economic instability can also create new market opportunities,” she says. “So encourage your team to think outside the box to help grow the business.”
Advice for Maintaining Team Morale and Culture
When faced with increased goals and tighter budgets, it’s easy for executives and staff to feel stressed about their workload and the future of their company. To maintain a good culture, Xu says leaders should increase their level of communication about long-term growth goals and strategies in order to build trust and alignment with their employees. Also, she advises executives to “celebrate wins more often” in order to place greater focus on the positive and show staff how valued they are at the company.
Cook adds that retaining and nurturing talent during challenging times also requires leaders to support rest. “Economic uncertainty can create a sense of urgency to work longer hours and push harder, but this can lead to burnout,” she says. “Encourage your team to prioritize work-life balance and take time off when needed.” Additionally, she advises leaders to invest in professional development programs and training so that employees can build new skills and stay motivated to work at your company. “Finally, you should lead by example,” she says. “Model the behavior and values that you want to see in your team, and be willing to roll up your sleeves and work alongside them.”
Biggest Lesson Learned as a Finance Executive
Leading during times of uncertainty can feel like a true career test. And for Fisher, she says she’s learned throughout her career that a “finance executive sits in the bird’s eye seat of an organization.” Therefore, it’s important for finance leaders to be “master storytellers, leveraging data and rich perspectives to enable prudent decision-making, and building trust with the employee base, while maintaining the confidence of external stakeholders.”
For Xu, she says she’s learned that CFOs are the glue to an organization and it’s critical that they don’t work in a silo or vacuum. “Finance teams play a critical role in providing financial insights and guidance to other functions, but in order to be effective, they must have strong relationships with key stakeholders throughout the organization,” she says.
Cook, who has worked as a finance leader for more than a decade, says the biggest lesson she’s learned is to be adaptable and to have a good team in place.
“Firstly, the business environment is constantly changing, and as an executive, I have to be ready to pivot quickly and adjust plans as needed to respond to new opportunities or challenges,” she says. “This requires a willingness to take risks, experiment with new ideas, and embrace change. Secondly, building and maintaining a strong team is vital. As an executive, you are only as strong as the people around you, so even in times of stress, it is necessary to invest in your team.”
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