Marcia Passos Duffy

Friday, 24 November 2006 19:00

Competitive salaries

Accounting and finance professionals are in strong demand today, a trend that will continue into next year, according to the recently released “2007 Salary Guide from Robert Half International,” a specialized consulting and staffing services firm. The company has published its yearly salary data based on an analysis of the thousands of job placements managed by its U.S. offices.

High demand means higher salaries, the guide reports. Base salaries are projected to increase, on average, by 3.8 percent in 2007. Among those that will see the greatest gains in base pay are compliance professionals, internal auditors, financial analysts and public accountants.

“Finance and accounting professionals are in high demand for two reasons: business expansion and compliance initiatives,” says Andrea Dunn, division director for Robert Half Finance and Accounting in Columbus.

Smart Business spoke with Dunn about the details of the salary increases for accounting and finance employees, and what businesses can do to attract and retain these professionals.

What is happening with the finance and accounting talent pool?

Businesses, particularly public companies, are demanding more professionals with knowledge of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) report requirements to help maintain their compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and other regulations. These professionals can expect the highest increases in salary in 2007.

The average starting salary for a chief compliance officer will rise 14.4 percent in 2007 — that’s $132,500 to $181,250 a year. Those with internal auditing skills in large companies will see an increase in starting salaries of 5.8 percent over 2006 — that’s between $77,500 and $101,500 a year.

What about entry-level positions? Are people for those positions in high demand as well?

Yes, there is also a high demand for staff positions. Our guide shows that entry-level accounting professionals at small firms can expect a 5.1 percent increase in average starting salaries — that’s in a range of $38,000 to $44,000 per year. And all other positions in between, as well, can expect healthy increases in compensation.

What are the top areas that are experiencing the most acute shortage?

The top three are in internal audit and compliance, financial analysis and public accounting. Combined auditing principals and technology are particularly a very sought-after skill set at the moment. Information technology audit managers at large companies will see average starting salaries increase by 5 percent over 2006 levels — that is an $85,500 to $114,500 annual salary.

What are companies doing to attract these accounting and finance professionals?

It is important that companies know how to price starting salaries in order to remain competitive and attract these professionals. So the first way to attract a top candidate is to know exactly what the going compensation rate is at the moment for a particular profession.

Companies are also offering signing bonuses for new recruits — and also for the existing staff members. There are also other creative options such as offering flexible work schedules, part-time work, enhancing benefit packages and other perks, and telecommuting.

I suspect that while companies are offering more compensation, other steps could be taken to help retain talent. Companies need to find other creative ways to increase the satisfaction of their employees in order to keep them.

Are salaries similarly rising nationwide?

It is important to note that these numbers are averages and that compensation can vary region to region. You can be sure that salaries for a position on the East Coast won’t be the same as for the Midwest. But the demand — regardless of region — will continue to be high in 2007. Industry-wide, the demand will be particularly strong in financial services, manufacturing and commercial real estate sectors.

Is your salary guide available to the public?

Yes. Free copies are available from Robert Half International by visiting the Web site www.roberthalf.com or by phoning (800) 474-4253.

ANDREA DUNN is division director for Robert Half Finance and Accounting specializing in full-time placement. Robert Half International has more than 350 locations throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and offers online job search services at www.rhi.com. Reach Dunn at (614) 221-9300 or andrea.dunn@roberthalf.com.

Friday, 24 November 2006 19:00

Competitive salaries

A strong demand for accounting and finance professionals, coupled with the shortage of skilled accountants, has driven up base salaries, according to the recently released “2007 Salary Guide” from Robert Half International, which is a specialized consulting and staffing services firm that publishes its annual salary data based on an analysis of the thousands of job placements managed by the company’s U.S. offices.

Base salaries for accounting and finance professionals are projected to increase, on average, by 3.8 percent in 2007. Among those who will see the greatest gains in base pay include compliance professionals, internal auditors, financial analysts and public accountants.

“It’s useful for businesses to know if they are in the ballpark with hiring salaries so they can remain competitive,” says Tom May, branch manager for Accountemps in Cleveland, which is the temporary accounting staffing services arm of Robert Half International.

Smart Business spoke with May about the details of the findings of the salary guide and what businesses can do to attract and retain these professionals.

Is your salary guide available to the public?

Any company or individual can get a free copy of the ‘2007 Salary Guide’ from Robert Half International by visiting www.roberthalf.com or phoning (800) 474-4253.

What does the guide contain?

The data for the guide is gathered through our permanent and temporary placement in the U.S. throughout the year. The company has been putting this information into a yearly free guide since 1948, and it is invaluable when companies are looking to determine salary ranges in the accounting and financial services industry. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics references this guide when preparing its ‘Occupational Outlook Handbook.’

The latest salary guide highlights a trend that has been evolving for the past couple of years: the shortage of accounting personnel and the increased need for finance and accounting workers. The reasons for these trends are two-fold: business expansion and increased regulations, notably the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The prospects for accounting and finance professionals are bright because of these two factors, which have lifted base salaries considerably.

Which areas of expertise will see the most dramatic salary increases in 2007?

According to the guide, chief compliance officers can expect starting salaries to increase by 14.4 percent. Senior manager and director positions at public accounting firms can expect starting salary increases to climb to 7.6 percent. In the banking and financial services sector, business analysts can expect to see a 6.5 percent increase; private bankers will see an increase of 6.3 percent. Other dramatic increases include bookkeepers (6.7 percent increase), corporate finance analysts (7 percent increase) and risk managers (6.7 percent increase).

What are the top areas experiencing the most acute talent shortage?

There are three main areas: corporate compliance, internal auditing and public accounting (in the areas of auditing, taxes, risk management and corporate governance). Sectors in industry that we expect to see the biggest demand will be in manufacturing and commercial real estate, not only because of the increased need for regulation compliance, but also because of business expansion in these industries that are fueling the need for more accounting and financial personnel.

Are there specific skills that businesses are looking for the most?

Forensic accounting is highly sought-after today because of Sarbanes-Oxley.

Since there is a shortage, how can businesses position themselves to better attract and retain this talent?

Knowing competitive base salaries is all-important, particularly for a specific region of the country. It is also important for businesses to know how they stack up in relation to other companies, because the financial and accounting talent they are trying to attract are keenly aware that there is a shortage.

It is important not only to focus on base salaries, but the benefits and perks offered to the employee. Companies need to be smarter about what they offer potential — and current — employees. Businesses need to stand out from competition in what they offer and make the work environment interesting and fun, such as offering pot lucks and fun days, which will help retain permanent employees.

TOM MAY is the branch manager of Accountemps in Cleveland. Accountemps (www.accountemps.com) is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals, with more than 350 offices worldwide. Reach May at (440) 777-8367 or tom.may@rhi.com.

Wednesday, 25 October 2006 07:46

The future of health care

In just six years, the percentage of companies offering health care insurance to their employees dropped from 69 percent in 2000 to under 60 percent today. The majority of those that have dropped health insurance benefits are small to mid-sized businesses. With premium costs rising at a rate of about 11 percent a year and the average premium topping $10,000 to cover a family of four, it is easy to understand why businesses are bowing out of providing health care benefits for employees.

Still, consumer-driven health care plans have caught the attention of small to mid-sized companies as a way to rein in spiraling health insurance premiums to cover employees, and as an alternative to dropping health insurance altogether.

While consumer-driven health care plans do have merit, they don’t necessarily solve the chronic underlying problem of escalating health care costs and the inability of both employees and employers to pay, says John McCracken, Ph.D. and director of the Alliance for Medical Management Education at the University of Texas at Dallas School of Management.

Smart Business spoke to McCracken about the pros and cons of the trend toward consumer-driven health care and the implications for the future.

What has caused the current condition of health care benefits?
Premium increases have caused the problem. Employer health insurance premiums have increased an average of 11 percent per year over the past six years. Compare that to the less than 4 percent cost-of-living increases that employees are earning and you can see how this is causing a squeeze.

Tell us about consumer-driven health care plans. How can they help?
The consumer-directed health care movement is based on the assumption that health care is a ‘market good’ as opposed to a ‘social good.’ A market-based approach focuses on individual rather than collective responsibility. The assumption is that markets are reasonably efficient at allocating resources, but the downside is that those unable to pay face barriers to access.

A consumer-directed plan is a Health Savings Account (HSA) — which was authorized in 2003 — coupled with a high deductible health plan, defined as one with at least $1,050 deductible for single coverage and $2,100 for family coverage. Both individuals and employers can deposit money into the HSA, reap investment returns and withdraw money for eligible medical expenses — including the health plan deductible — all tax-free. The HSA is also portable; that is, an employee can carry any unused portion into future years and withdraw it after age 65 to meet Medicare expenses.

These plans are of interest to smaller employers and they do help make employees responsible for their own health care spending decisions.

What are the downsides to consumer-driven plans?
For a market-based solution to work, consumers have to be able to shop intelligently based on knowledge of provider prices and quality. But prices in health care are not transparent. It is virtually impossible for a consumer to find out the cost of a procedure beforehand, and worthwhile information about physician and hospital quality is almost nonexistent.

Second, it does not address the problem that almost 80 percent of all health care spending is accounted for by 20 percent of the population. The top 20 percent of health care users includes those suffering from major chronic diseases such as cancer, pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure, as well as those nearing the end of life. A recent Medicare study showed Medicare spending averaged $24,800 per capita for those in the last year of life versus only $3,700 for those who were not.

Finally, the plans do not address the one-third of the working population who earn $37,000 a year or less. For these people, a high deductible policy is out of reach — they cannot afford to fund the HSA deductible, so these plans do not work for them.

Are there any other issues that employers face in regard to these health care plans?
The trend to rate all health insurance (not only consumer-driven plans) actuarially rather than on a community basis has put a real strain on the employer. A company that has the misfortune of having a few employees with chronic health problems will have higher significantly premiums than one with a predominately healthy employee population. This puts small employers in the untenable situation of having to choose between bearing higher premium costs, deselecting unhealthy employees and potentially being in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or dropping employee coverage altogether.

JOHN McCRACKEN, Ph.D., is director of the Alliance for Medical Management Education at the University of Texas at Dallas School of Management. Reach him at (972) 883-6252 or jfm@utdallas.edu.

Friday, 22 September 2006 10:19

Retaining top tech talent

Businesses today can successfully use creative strategies to persuade high valued technology staff to stay on board. These strategies, surprisingly, often don’t require hefty bonus checks, according to a recent study by Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of information technology professionals. According to the study, the majority (63 percent) of 1400 chief information officers (CIOs) polled claimed that the most effective way to retain top IT talent is to provide professional development opportunities; followed by flexible schedules (47 percent) and increasing base compensation (41 percent). Bonuses and equity incentives were named by only 31 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

“This study shows that what is near and dear to the hearts of today’s technology worker is not only compensation — although that is always important — but opportunities the employer provides for the worker to keep up with ever-changing advancements in technology that will help that employee become better skilled and more marketable,” says Dan Aerni, branch manager of Robert Half Technology in Cleveland.

Smart Business spoke with Aerni about the strategies today’s businesses can use to keep their technology workers happy and prevent turnover.

Why is it important that businesses today focus on retaining their top IT talent?
As the job opportunities for IT professionals increase and the IT worker shortage continues, it puts technology workers at a distinct advantage to pick and choose jobs not only based on compensation, but on other things that they deem valuable. It is important that companies don’t only focus on compensation to attract and retain these workers because IT professionals can walk away to a job with similar compensation but better perks.

Our study showed that the No. 1 issue IT workers deemed valuable was education and staying current in their field. Many technology employees are looking for companies that provide this professional development. When you think about it, it is definitely a win-win for both the employee and the employer because the workers keeps skills up to date and become more marketable while their companies get value from all that learning.

Is training employees so that they can become more marketable counterintuitive?
Yes, but employers need to realize that these IT workers will look to find ways to become more marketable whether their companies provide training or not. The employer might as well be the one doing it and reaping the benefits of that training — and at the same time gaining the trust and loyalty of the worker.

Other than training, what are some of the other perks companies can provide to persuade their valued IT staff to stay?
There are multiple pieces to creating an effective retention strategy. While the ability to continue professional development is a big piece, there are also other issues that are important to IT talent, according to our study.

The second-most-important piece named was flexibility or work/life balance. This type of flexibility includes allowing workers to come in later and work later, working an extended day to have a four-day work week, or offering telecommuting options. This strategy is a cost-effective way to improve an employee’s job satisfaction, show appreciation and help build employee loyalty.

Compensation will always be important, and increasing base compensation ranked No. 3 in our study in importance. Simply because this factored lower in our study, it is by no means unimportant. You want to pay a competitive salary and offer other monetary perks like bonuses and equity incentives, but you need to realize that is not all you have to offer to keep IT talent from looking elsewhere.

What are some other things companies can do to create and maintain a loyal IT work force?
Business owners need to be keenly aware of the burnout factor with technology personnel and work to address that pro-actively by encouraging realistic workloads and providing an environment that allows the worker to ask for help if he or she feels overloaded. Make sure morale is good overall and there is good rapport within the organization and the teams. Employees who have friends at work and have positive interactions with their co-workers and supervisors are generally more satisfied. Having this positive corporate culture is another way companies can keep good people — after all, it is hard to leave when you have a pleasant work environment and good relationships with the people you work with.

DAN AERNI is a branch manager with Robert Half Technology in Cleveland. With more than 100 locations in North America and Europe, Robert Half Technology www.rht.com is a leading provider of technology professionals for initiatives ranging from Web development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. Reach Aerni at (216) 621-6633 or dan.aerni@rhi.com.

Wednesday, 20 September 2006 13:03

Relocation considerations

What does it take to successfully recruit top executives from outside the area? More than the promise of a plush office, a great salary and an impressive job title, according to a recent survey by Robert Half International, a staffing service specializing in accounting, finance and information technology fields. The survey, which polled 1,400 chief financial officers (CFOs) across the country, found that quality of life was the most-cited reason to take a job, followed closely by compensation.

“Taking a new job in a new area is not a decision based solely on money,” says Tom Young, vice president of the Houston Region for Robert Half International. “We have found that the quality of life of a location is even more important than salary.”

Smart Business spoke with Young about how companies can use the best qualities in their city, town or region to “sell” a position to top executives.

What does this mean for employers looking to attract executives or offer current executives a position in another location?
Employers may assume that the single most important factor is compensation. While this is obviously still very important, employers need to highlight what makes the new area advantageous over the current location. Many already know this but need to articulate it to the candidate. Some of the qualities that distinguish an area include cultural attractions, safety of the environment, quality of schools, diversity of the city, the commuting time, and recreation opportunities. The selling point cannot be solely that it is a good financial opportunity.

How can firms highlight the quality of life in their city and make sure they have an attractive package to offer relocating employees?
Get a team together of marketing, human resources or other staff to put together a marketing package for employees who are looking to relocate. Partner with other members in your community, such as the Chamber of Commerce or a visitors/relocation agency to put together brochures, statistics and other information that highlight the quality-of-life aspects of a particular area. Make sure all those who are involved in the recruiting effort have quality-of-life speaking points they can discuss about the city or area.

The distance of the move is often less important than factors such as the new city’s cost of living. Employers need to make sure that the relocating individual (and family) will make a smooth transition; this includes a relocation package with all of these details spelled out.

What elements are typically included in a relocation package?
All companies are different, but some typical expenses included are temporary housing assistance, assistance in selling current home, travel and lodging costs, as well as assistance in finding work for the person’s spouse.

Some generous packages even include all housing costs, realtor’s fees, closing costs, and even financial support for the family to go back and visit family and friends in the former location.

Do you have any tips for a relocating executive?
Professionals already know what they are looking for in a new area, whether it be good schools, a safe environment or whatever. But they also need to be keenly aware of the cost-of-living differences, since these numbers can easily be manipulated to make things look very good, when in fact they may not be.

For example, if a company says that the cost-of-living difference from one city to another is 5 percent, and therefore that will be the increase of the compensation, executives should take that number and do their own research. What did the company include in factoring that cost of living increase? For example, did it fail to include car insurance, which is higher in the new city, or utilities? If the cost of living is 17 percent higher, for example, and the executive can prove it, he or she has a good reason to use that to negotiate a higher salary.

Good places to look for accurate cost-of-living comparisons are Web sites such as www.Salary.com, which includes all those factors. As professionals negotiate salary, they need to do their homework and make sure they are comparing apples to apples.

The bottom line is that professionals need to determine what elements of an employment package are most important to them so they can ensure a move won’t compromise their quality of life.

TOM YOUNG is vice president of the Houston Region for Robert Half International (www.rhi.com), a staffing service specializing in accounting, finance and information technology professionals with more than 330 locations throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Reach Young at (713) 623-4700, or thomas.young@rhi.com.

Sunday, 30 July 2006 20:00

Managing knowledge workers

When managing your IT department, you can throw out every book you’ve read about leadership models, methods and theories. Traditional approaches to management simply do not work with “techies” who are very smart, very creative, and notoriously resistant to being managed. Power, control, or surprisingly, even perks like recognition or bonuses do not work well. In fact, they can have a negative effect.

“Techies are motivated by opportunities to creatively solve problems,” says Joel Adams, CEO and founder of Devon Consulting, a professional staffing firm serving the IT and clinical trial industries. “Since technical knowledge is in short supply, money and employment cannot be the background source of power for the manager, and the manager needs to change the way he or she relates to the worker.”

Smart Business spoke with Adams on how to motivate IT workers, and how managers can adapt their leadership styles to best motivate the unique working style of the “techie.”

 

Explain how managing techies is different than managing other workers.
Despite the fact that techies don’t like to be stereotyped, they really do have many characteristics in common. Managers need to realize that this is an independent, cerebral and creative group of people who are adverse to any displays of power or micromanagement used to control them.

IT workers are problem solvers and they are logical; they value smarts over emotions. That is why Mr. Spock became an icon for them. They can also be very black-and-white and not allow for the possibility of gray.

They also are different in that, unlike most workers, techies know how to do a job that their bosses don’t. That, in combination with the fact that there is a shortage of IT workers, totally shifts the basis of power.

 

How can managers effectively lead their IT workers?
Managing any group is complex, so there isn’t a cookbook for techies. But let’s start with some concepts; techies don’t suffer fools easily, they want to work on teams with other people they consider smart and they want to create great work. Think of the Manhattan Project or successfully getting Apollo 13 back to Earth. Those were great team-techie projects.

What managers can do is give techies an important project and then facilitate the work process. Many techies are short on communication skills, and helping them with this is something managers can do by creating the right process to accomplish the project. For example, managers can insist that the project team meet every day so that everyone stays informed. A manager can also suggest trying something new to improve the process of a project, if the project is going off target.

It is the techie’s job to do the work. It is the manager’s job to set up the process for them and help them improve the process over time.

It’s also important to break big projects up into manageable bites. It is difficult to stay motivated on a six-month project, but easier if the team can see weekly or monthly successes.

 

What motivates techies?
Working on really cool problems; creating nifty, sometimes elegantly simple solutions to problems; working with other really smart technical people they admire and can learn from; having enough autonomy to work in their own way.

Techies value democracy and meritocracy. If they have to do something that doesn’t make sense because the ‘boss tells them to do it,’ a techie will balk. They respond to reason and logic. If a technical worker understands why a project is necessary - even critical — for the business, then he or she may be eager to figure out a solution to the problem.

 

What are some typical management strategies that backfire when used in trying to manage IT workers?
1) Employee of the Month. Techies usually work in teams and need recognition and respect from their team members. And doing good technical work can be intrinsically rewarding. Individual recognition from outside the team can really backfire.

2) Motivational seminars. Techies need quiet time to think, not pep rallies.

3) Competitions or contests within the work environment. These may work wonders in a sales department, but are demoralizing for techies.

4) Working overtime. IT workers are knowledge workers. Remember you are not paying for how much they produce but for how smart and clever they are in solving a problem. Techies solve more problems on the drive home than in sitting in the office. The problem is that techies, when working on a problem, may want to work on the problem until they drop. It is the manager’s job to force them to take a rest.

 

JOEL ADAMS is the CEO and founder of Devon Consulting (www.devonconsulting.com), a professional staffing firm serving the IT and clinical trial industries. Reach Adams at (610) 964-5703 or jadams@devonconsulting.com.

Saturday, 29 July 2006 20:00

Business succession planning

It’s not something the average business owner wants to ponder: the potential impact that his or her serious illness, disability or death would have on business. But a business will quickly go into a tailspin if there is no succession plan waiting in the wings. The result is often chaos, and --  more often than not -- failure of the business that the owner worked so hard to make successful.

The fact is that most family-run businesses do not have a succession plan. Data shows that only 30 percent of family-owned businesses will make it to the next generation (and only 15 percent survive to the generation after that). While the estate tax is often to blame, the reality is that these businesses do not make it to the next generation because of poor planning by the owners, who don’t want to face the fact that eventually they will retire and/or die.

“Mortality is not something any of us want to face ... and it’s hard for owners to think of letting go of a business that they have probably worked on all their lives,” says Jamie Richardson, vice president and branch manager for View Point Bank of Plano. “But good succession planning must address at these issues squarely and make plans for the future.”

Smart Business spoke with Richardson about the importance of creating a family business succession plan and how business owners can take steps today toward creating a plan that lives out their wishes for the business once they are gone.

 

What are the critical steps to ensure a successful business succession plan?
First, determine the purchase price or fair market value of the business. This is done via an accountant or business valuation service. If you fail to establish an accurate value for your business, the IRS will establish one for you. Owners of closely held businesses often have a difficult time ascertaining what value the IRS might use for Federal Estate tax purposes. Proper business evaluation can eliminate future conflicts between shareholders and the IRS. If you dispute the IRS, years can be lost to a legal proceeding before a court ruling is established.

Second, have a written plan (typically set up by an attorney) indicating the participants, timing, triggering events (death of owner, retirement, disability) and price. This is one of the most important decisions a business owner must face: when and how to step out of the business. Do you expect to retire? Do you have children that you hope to bring into the business? What would happen to the business if you were to die today? Do you want to pass the business on, sell the business as a going concern, or liquidate the business and sell the assets? Once these questions have been answered, advisers can take a course of action.

Third, fund the plan. A business continuation plan isn’t worth the paper it’s written on unless a source of funding exists for the buy-out. There are several sources of funding: borrowing, sinking fund, installment payment, life insurance.

 

When is the best time to create a succession plan?
Start now, even if it might be a long time before you actually need to use it. This way, you have plenty of time to consult with professionals and put your plan in place, and you optimize your chances of getting the most financial and personal satisfaction from the results. Because this is a difficult process, many businesses avoid it. It can be time-consuming and costly to set up, and there is often discomfort in dealing with family issues as they impact the business.

 

What are the challenges to creating a succession plan?
The process takes time to work through the issues. It can be challenging coordinating the advisers on the case (attorney, CPA, financial adviser). Business owners are busy with the daily management and operations of their company and they postpone planning. The nonfinancial (emotional) side can be the most challenging in creating a succession plan.

 

What are the consequences of not developing a good succession plan?
Not having a succession plan in place could result in a fire sale of the business which translates to a loss of financial security to the surviving family or owners. In the worst-case scenario, the business could die and not survive to the next generation or to successful management.

 

What advice can you give to businesses looking to set up a good succession plan?
Find qualified advisers to help set up and implement each step of the plan. If the business succession plan is not done by process (planning), it will be done by crisis (failure to plan) -- with perhaps disastrous results.

 

Securities are offered exclusively through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member NASD/SIPC, an independent broker/dealer. They are not insured by FDIC or any other bank insurance, are not deposits or obligations of the bank, are not guaranted by the bank, and are subject to risks, including the possible loss of principal.

 

JAMIE RICHARDSON, RJ, is a vice president and branch manager for ViewPoint Investment Group, 1309 W. 15th St., Suite 400, Plano, TX 75075. Reach Richardson at (972) 509-2020 ext. 7410 or Jamie.richardson@viewpointbank.

Thursday, 29 June 2006 20:00

Putting the meat in meetings

Noted author, speaker and consultant Peter Drucker said that running a productive meeting is one of the basic skills of effective executives. Yet most people think of internal business meetings as they are portrayed in Dilbert cartoons. A few companies have even attempted to ban internal meetings during core hours to improve productivity. That is not the answer, says Joel Adams, CEO and founder of Devon Consulting of Wayne, Pa.

“Managers must learn how to make meetings into efficient decision making processes, not time wasters,” Adams says.

Smart Business spoke with him about some of the biggest problems with today’s business meetings.

 

Why do so many people hate business meetings?
Business meetings usually don’t resolve an issue with a vote by all of the participants. The issue is resolved when the decision maker makes the decision. Many business meetings are frustrating because the attendees are seeking consensus. They are looking for a decision that everyone agrees with.

I also see lots of meetings that are pointless or just not very productive.

 

What is your definition of a productive meeting?
A meeting is productive when it accomplishes its objective of reaching a decision on one or more issues. But it is also necessary to assign the action items necessary to implement the decision. That means everyone leaves the meeting knowing what is expected of them and when it needs to be finished. The simple who, what and when.

 

If it is so simple, why is it so rare?
Some meetings that resolve issues are still terribly inefficient. Sometimes people can take an hour accomplishing something that should have taken only 10 minutes. If that is the case, it is probably just poor meeting management.

 

So how does one go about managing meetings better?
First, the purpose for the meeting needs to be clear to everyone. This is usually accomplished by the meeting notice and by the agenda. If there are a number of issues to be resolved, they should all be on the agenda. If there is no agenda, the meeting is likely to be inefficient or unproductive or both.

Second, make sure that everyone who needs to be in the meeting is present at the meeting. By ‘present,’ I mean not only physically in the room or on the conference call, but contributing to the discussion. If someone is quiet or timid by nature, or if they just want to avoid conflict, they need to be drawn out by the meeting manager. Even the quietest voice must be heard.

Third, stick to the time limits. If there are several items on the agenda, set separate time limits on each. If there is a chance you won’t complete the entire agenda, make sure the important items are scheduled first.

 

But what if the discussion just goes on longer than anticipated?
If the discussion is going off track, the leader needs to stop the speaker and put the discussion back on track. Sometimes the discussion is on the correct subject but is repetitive. Some people need to ‘pile on’ on the same side of an issue as everyone else. It is OK for the meeting leader to interrupt a speaker as long as you are polite about it.

 

What do you do if the argument gets heated?
Discussions should get heated if people are passionate about their company. To resolve an issue, opposing points of view are required. It just can’t be personal. And sometimes participants can get frustrated and angry if they don’t understand the process. It may be necessary to remind everyone that there is a decision maker in the room and that everyone else’s role is to contribute the information as well as their own perspective so the decision maker can decide. But if there is no conflict of opinions or ideas, the meeting is probably wasting time.

 

So, do all of your meetings end on time?
Sometimes my decision is that I need more information. But, if you have set the time limit correctly, a decision should be made. The Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in at some point, and additional discussion or information won’t improve the quality of the decision enough to offset the time spent on further discussion. Delegation is a great tool because you can usually delegate the decision to the person who will have to do the most work implementing the decision. They will be more committed to implementing it successfully if it was their decision.

 

Any final thoughts on meetings?
Running good meetings is an essential managerial skill. If you don’t already have it, you must develop it, or else you are setting very low limits on your career.

 

JOEL ADAMS is the CEO and founder of Devon Consulting (www.devonconsulting.com), a professional staffing firm serving the IT and clinical trial industries. Reach Adams at (610) 964-5703 or jadams@devonconsulting.com.

 

 

Wednesday, 26 April 2006 20:00

Locating financial talent

The competition for good talent gets fiercer each day. It’s a tough job finding the right candidate that fits a company’s exact specifications: a candidate you can trust, is qualified in your specific industry, and can hit the ground running from day one.

“The list of the qualifications that even a small company is looking for in a CFO has doubled in just the past year,” says Tyler Ridgeway, director of the Executive Search Practice Group at the Horsham, Pa.-based accounting firm Kreischer Miller.

Smart Business spoke to Ridgeway about the challenges companies face in finding the right CFO candidate for the job, how business owners can circumvent some of the conventional ways to find a candidate, and some newer and more efficient ways to find the right man or woman for the job.

 

What is the state of the financial talent pool at the moment?
Visit any professional organization’s Web site or read any industry-specific journal and you’ll see that the ‘talent war’ is under way. Although there are always more candidates than available positions, the problem is finding the best financial candidate for your company. Each company has its own specific checklist as it relates to what they need.

Because of the post-Enron environment and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that ensued, companies need to be extremely careful about whom they hire. Five years ago companies might take a risk on a candidate; in today’s market a newly hired CFO has to be completely trusted and be able to make an immediate impact. Many companies cannot afford to have a long period of ramp-up training. Companies are demanding that CFOs be immediately capable of handling day-to-day financial activities. In addition, they must bring a strategic vision and be capable of creating and implementing an action plan that is consistent with the company’s culture and mission.

If you look at these demanding expectations as well as the importance of cultural fit, you can eliminate about 90 percent of the prospective candidates out there.

 

Where can companies find these top candidates?
The days of taking out an ad in a newspaper and hoping for the best are long gone. Obviously, the best technique is to locate a search group that handles the executive placement process from a business partnering approach to ensure a long-term fit. This search group should fully understand your organization’s people, strategy, technology and culture, and utilize these key elements to do a thorough search.

Other than a recruiting firm, the key to finding the right candidate is networking. Through networking with your own trusted advisers — your bankers, lawyers and accountants — you can get not only referrals but also valuable information about a potential employee. These advisers are more apt to recommend a candidate who will fit in with your company’s culture and climate, since they already understand your company. You should also tap into your private network — that is, professionals or associates that you, as the business owner or CEO, trust.

 

What are some other ways of finding the right CFO candidate?
Tap into the financial industry’s organizations, such as your local chapter of FENG (Financial Executives Networking Group), senior executive groups and career transition groups. Identify, attend and participate in professional development group meetings where top financial executives may be. Also look at networking in your industry’s associations.

 

How do you find a candidate who may not be actively seeking a new job?
Finding the right candidate who is currently happily employed is the reason why networking is so important. A lot of executives may not be actively looking, but they do put the word out to their trusted advisers that they are keeping their eyes and ears open to new possibilities. You’d be surprised how putting the word out within your trusted network can yield results. You may also gain value by tapping into regional educational programs.

 

What else can a business owner do to get the right CFO for the job?
You need to know exactly what your desired candidate profile looks like before you even start the search. Take the time to conduct due diligence in this area, and be very clear.

Working with a trusted adviser in the development and definition of what you want out of this role is the first step. You need a CFO who is trustworthy and can stand the test of time. It is too expensive to hire and train and then lose a CFO; you want a person who can come in and take over the reins immediately and then stay for the long term.

 

TYLER RIDGEWAY is the director of the Human Capital Resources Group at Kreischer Miller (Web site www.kmco.com), an accounting firm based in Horsham, Pa. Reach him at (215) 734-1609 or tridgeway@kmco.com.

 

 

Monday, 24 April 2006 20:00

Banking on growth

If you are a small business, you may not need all of the sophisticated banking services used by large companies to manage cash flow. However, as your business grows, you may find your cash flow will become unwieldy if you continue to employ the same methods used when your business was just starting out.

“Cash is king for all companies regardless of size ... and even a small company can utilize sophisticated cash flow tools that can make a business run smoother,” says Judy Parsons, vice president and director of business banking for ViewPoint Bank. While small companies may not need to use all of the banking services used by larger corporations they may benefit from payroll services and wire transfer capabilities.

Smart Business spoke with Parsons and her associate, Tracy L. Marshall, vice president of cash management operations.

 

What is the typical cash-flow banking services scenario for a small business?
Parsons:
Many small business owners — or sole proprietors — start out using a consumer online banking system to manage their business cash flow. While this may work for a while, it is not a long-term solution when the business begins to grow. Once a business owner starts to hire employees, or an accountant, the day-to-day operations become more complex and the banking needs change.

Marshall: The problem surfaces when the business owner needs employees or the accountant to access the online banking system to reconcile their books or move money. If the business owner doesn’t have a system that provides dual control — that is, separate log-in information for the owner and for the employees or accountant — there is a loss of control and an increased chance of risk to the business owner.

 

What kinds of services are available is a business does not want to invest in a corporate-sized cash flow management system?
Marshall:
Growing businesses need to pay their employees and vendors as well as receive payment for products and services. If they are receiving or dispersing large transaction volumes each month, it can get unmanageable pretty quickly if they are using a consumer account and/or standing in line to deposit checks. Cash management products and services provide a method for moving money easier and less expensively.

Parsons: When many small business owners think of “cash management,” they often think of costly systems that are intended for large corporations. In the past, this has been the case. The banking community has started to realize that there is an untapped market of businesses that have outgrown the consumer online banking system; however, they are not yet ready for the complexity of a corporate-sized cash flow management system. Today, many community banks can offer services such as wire transfer, electronic payment processing, lock box, controlled disbursement and information reporting at a price that does not make it cost prohibitive to the small business owner.

 

What are the advantages — other than convenience — to having these cash-flow services?
Parsons:
Multiple security entitlements — that is, allowing other employees to have limited access to accounts and payment processing options — is more than convenient if a business owner happens to be out of the office at a trade show or sales trip. Day-to-day business does not stop because the owner is not in the office, and it allows the owner to focus on activities that will make the company profitable.

Marshall: Business owners today need the ability to handle their day-to-day business while maintaining mobility to generate new business. The pace of doing business has changed so much in the past few years that there is little or no time to waste on manual or inefficient products and services.

 

What is the first cash-flow service that a growing small business should consider?
Marshall:
The first thing would be to automate their payroll by setting up a direct-deposit process using a cash management system. The next would be adding wire transfer, stop payment and information reporting services. As a business grows, they can add features such as cash concentration and disbursement, data exchange and remote deposit capture.

Parsons: Some banks are discovering that this business market’s need for these services is growing substantially. Small businesses are growing in number... more people are joining the ranks of small business owner every day. It is a niche for banks that, in the past, has been under-serviced.

 

JUDY PARSONS is the vice president and director of business banking, and TRACY L. MARSHALL is the vice president of cash management operations for ViewPoint Bank of Plano, Texas. Reach them at (972) 578-5000 x7330 or Judy.Parsons@viewpointbank.com.