Positive environment Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007

Are businesses more or less confident these days? Robert Half Management Resources recently took the pulse of U.S. companies and discovered that 40 percent of chief financial officers (CFOs) were more confident in their companies’ technology capabilities today than three years ago. One-third (34 percent) said they also are more optimistic about the accuracy of their companies’ financial reporting, and 28 percent were more confident about the loyalty of their employees.

The survey, developed by Robert Half Management Resources, was conducted by an independent research firm and included responses from 1,400 CFOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.

“Four or five years ago, companies would not have responded this way,” says Cecil Gregg, president of Robert Half International’s Southwest District, based in Houston. “The economy has been doing well and businesses are benefiting. Overall, businesses can spend more to support their accounting and technology departments and also are able to compensate their employees competitively.”

Smart Business spoke with Gregg about the reasons companies are feeling a surge of confidence in the areas of technology, financial reporting and employee loyalty, and how businesses can best take advantage of this positive environment.

Confidence in technology ranked the highest in the survey (40 percent). What factors have contributed this?

With economic downturn in 2000 and 2001, there were many technology initiatives. The problem was that businesses were not in a position to be able to afford new technology. Today, not only is there a better economic environment, but advanced technology now allows for greater customization.

In years past, software firms would come out with a package that would be very generic, but now so many of the tools are expected to have the ability to be customized to an individual business.

Businesses have been able to drive this innovation, and there is no question that businesses have the money now to buy it. So as businesses purchase these customized tools, they are feeling more confident about the way technology is implemented in their companies.

Another factor is that companies are growing and they need to accommodate the increase in personnel, particularly in finance and accounting because of the increased need to meet compliance regulations brought about by the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. As a result, there has been a need to upgrade computer systems.

How are companies improving to ensure greater accuracy in financial reporting?

Because of Sarbanes-Oxley, all public — and some private — companies have worked to improve best practices, including the way they handle and track purchasing, inventory, credit management, collection, disbursement and accounts receivables. Old processes have been meticulously reviewed and improved in order to avoid costly errors and fraud. This is happening across the board in not only a company’s internal network but with vendors and clients as well.

Why do you think 28 percent of CFOs are more confident about employee loyalty in today’s market?

Businesses are acutely aware of the increased competition for financial and accounting talent. In fact, the demand for these professionals has never been higher.

With that said, we are definitely seeing that more companies are becoming savvy in attracting and retaining employees and have increased pay and bonus packages, training commitment and working options (such as flex time and telecommuting). The 28 percent that do feel confident have stepped up to the plate and are doing what it takes to attract and retain the best people.

In light of the competitive employment market, how are employers improving their retention practices?

Employers are putting more measuring tools in place and giving enhanced recognition to outstanding performance. The recognition can be done in a number of ways — for individuals, a team or departments, and can be given monthly, quarterly or annually. We are seeing employers offer more tangible rewards, such as iPods, cash and vacation getaways. We’re also seeing cash bonuses at year-end being enhanced or augmented.

Managers need to make sure their staff is not overloaded with work. Some companies bring in consultants to buffer the workload and augment the staff during busy or stressful times.

Having work-life balance is very important to today’s professionals, so offering benefits such as flexible schedules, telecommuting and additional time off can be an excellent retention strategy.

Another key practice is for company managers to sit down with their employees on a regular basis to make sure that job satisfaction is understood and supported.

CECIL GREGG is the president of the Southwest District of Robert Half International. Robert Half International (www.rhi.com) is the world's first and largest specialized consulting and staffing services firm with six branches in the Houston area. Contact Gregg at Cecil.gregg@rhi.com or 281-296-2812.