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Boardroom optimism not shared by underlings
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Boardroom ‘delusion’ conceals people issues

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As businesses review the impact of the pandemic on their financial plans, a persistent niggle is lurking beneath the surface: recruiting and retaining the right people.

24th Nov 2021
Editor at large AccountingWEB
Columnist
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A recent Unit4 Business Maturity Index survey of 3,350 finance professionals confirmed that they have been preoccupied with business survival in recent months, particularly around profit and productivity.

Looking ahead, improving operational efficiency, increasing productivity and attracting new customers came out as the top three priorities. According to Unit4, however, many of the respondents appeared to neglecting a deeper concern, particularly since 90% admitted to concerns about retaining and recruiting people in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Talent-related priorities ranked much lower in the survey responses with only 17% saying a successful remote or hybrid office environment is important, and large swathes of respondents indicating that they had not introduced any measures to influence workplace culture.

Among more progressive respondents identified as “Optimizing” business, 95% of the leadership team focuses some attention on workplace culture.

The decision-maker’s delusion

The disconnect between senior decision makers and shop-floor employees on key people issues was described as the “decision-maker’s delusion” in the study. For example, 25% of decision makers believed their performance in recruiting and retaining talent needed no improvement; the figure among non-decision makers was only 12%.

The perception gap was even more marked when it came to profitability over the past three years, on which 89% of decision makers believed they had met or exceeded expectations. Yet only 70% 70% of employees felt the same.

Unit4 chief finance officer Stuart Gordon confessed to having witnessed such optimism bias in the boardroom at various phases of his career. In his view finance professionals had an important role to play in bringing some objectivity into the discussion. “Sometimes our role should be to sit in the boardroom and ask what’s worst case outcome,” he said.

“Your colleagues don’t want to face up what really bad looks like. But once you’ve done it, you can think about how to pull the boundaries in and mitigate against outliers.”

Tested to the max

The Covid pandemic tested this approach to extremes. “No one knew what was going to happen. I’ve been through a few crises in my time, like the global financial crisis and dotcom era. They took quite a bit of time to play into mainstream. But the speed and immediacy of the pandemic was unprecedented. It threw everyone’s budgeting and planning models to pieces.”

During the pandemic, Gordon has been looking to refine and rebalance his finance team away from transaction processing people toward more advisory business partners.

“You have a team of players in the finance function with different roles. Like a football team, you don’t need 11 goalkeepers. Teams need players with the right characters, attributes and capabilities for what they do,” he said.

By using artificial intelligence to automate as many repetitive processes as possible, he was looking to achieve more value from his team as it contracted. “Where we’re investing is more in analysis and business intelligence and the storytelling side of finance. That helps the team add more value than punching journals and keying in data,” he continued.

“Within a software company, we need to tie up the whole customer experience of what happens in the field to the product operation, so the development roadmap stays one step ahead of where customers need to be, which feeds engineer so they can build the products to meet the need and marketing builds leads for what will be on sale. The role of finance is to ensure all those bits join up and everyone has same vision. Understanding the interrelationships and the scenario planning aspects of what is going on is super important.”

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