Four First-Quarter Objectives For CFOs To Drive Success In 2021

Bijan Moallemi is CEO of Mosaic, the first strategic finance platform that transforms the way business gets done.

Amid the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 9 out of 10 senior finance executives who were surveyed feel their CFO and finance functions stepped up as key advisors in business strategy. Now’s your chance to enact even stronger changes to solidify that role and send your company down a high-growth path.

Don’t let your momentum from 2020 fizzle out. Focus on tackling these four first-quarter objectives to firmly establish yourself as a strategic leader and set your organization up for success in the coming year.

1. Give Business Leaders The Data To Plan Effectively

The first Q1 objective for finance leaders is to finalize the 2021 plan. But the goal shouldn’t be to just check the boxes on finance’s responsibilities. It should be to help business leaders in sales, marketing, product, IT and operations understand how financial data impacts their departments. Take advantage of the planning process to work with these business leaders and understand their goals for the months ahead. Align on the answers to core financial questions, such as:

• What is the hiring plan for each department?

• Are those headcount plans realistic based on last year’s business performance?

• What are the company’s revenue targets? And how does each department factor into those targets?

• How would a down year for the business impact each department’s goals and plans?

It’s not enough to understand these financial fundamentals within your own team. When you effectively share this information with the rest of the business, you’ll be in a better position to tackle complex strategic challenges as they come up throughout the year.

2. Get Your Tech Stack In Order

Following the mad rush to close the books on the third and fourth quarters of 2020, the first quarter of 2021 offers some freedom to focus on strategic initiatives, such as upgrading your finance technology stack. The sooner you make time to upgrade your tech stack, the easier it will be to handle the next Q3/Q4 rush.

A Gartner survey found that heading into the new year, 82% of the CFOs surveyed were planning to prioritize advanced analytics tools for their finance teams. However, 78% believed that achieving analytics goals would be difficult. To make the implementation easier, make the most of your time in Q1. Use it to get the toughest 30% to 50% of a SaaS tool implementation process out of the way. That momentum will likely make it easier to finish out the tech stack upgrade when the operational side of your job gets more demanding at the end of the quarter.

You’re not going to overhaul your finance tech stack overnight. But prioritizing a critical upgrade in Q1 can empower your finance function — not just this year, but in the years to come.

3. Expand Your Role Beyond Core FP&A And Accounting

In Q1, start thinking about how you can level up your role as a strategic advisor by expanding beyond the traditional core responsibilities of finance. Don’t just report on last month’s numbers and provide projections for upcoming quarters. Find new ways to collect information from across the business so you can use financial data to tell stories that resonate with executives and drive strategic, forward-looking decision making.

For far too long, “strategic” has equated to financial planning and analysis for CFOs. And while FP&A is an important part of your role, it’s still too backward-looking and reactionary for real strategic thinking. You can see how most CFOs viewed strategic planning in 2020 in the results of a recent survey by NetSuite Brainyard: The survey found that prioritizing strategic planning primarily meant managing expenses, adapting to remote work requirements and obtaining Paycheck Protection Program loans. These are important tasks, but not as strategic as CFOs can truly be.

Expanding your role beyond FP&A and accounting means getting more proactive about strategic questions. Look for patterns in the types of questions leaders from other departments ask you. Can you identify new ways to connect the dots in your financial data to help answer those questions more strategically? For example, you know your organization wants to invest in its sales organization. Can you proactively reach out to the vice president of sales and provide insight into representative ramp times? How can your finance organization help track quota attainment and pipeline activity to strategically plan sales investments? When you can proactively tell stories around financial data instead of just sharing spreadsheets with leaders, you can strengthen your strategic role in the business.

4. Focus On Building Relationships Across The Business

You can’t execute strategic finance from a spreadsheet. It takes deep collaboration with people across your organization, which is why relationship building should be a core objective in Q1. Especially as Covid-19 challenges continue to make remote work the norm for many teams, you have to make a concerted effort to reach out to other business leaders and executives.

You just spent months in front of your spreadsheets trying to close Q3 and Q4. Step away from the laptop in Q1, and start building trust with others in the business. Having those relationships in place will pay off later when you need to tackle strategic projects throughout the year. When it’s time to put new processes in place to keep sales aligned with financial goals, you won’t have to struggle to get the vice president of sales on board. And when you spot a strategic opportunity to cut costs on the product side, you won’t face an uphill battle to collaborate with engineering leads.

Q1 Is Your Chance To Focus On The Future

CFOs often never truly get a break; each quarterly cycle just rolls into the next. But Q1 is as close as you’ll probably get to having some breathing room to focus on the future. Take advantage of it. Get ahead of your strategic financial goals now, before you get sucked back into the quarterly grind of a CFO’s job.


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