Why FDs need to be the guardians of company values

It’s all too easy to forget what companies went into business for in the rush to grow, says Carl Moffett

We often hear the saying “think big” and this seems like sound business advice, right? But while thinking big can be perfect to inject ambition and development into a firm, sometimes the key to growing your company is to actually think small as you grow big.

While most self-starting businesses naturally set their sights high and strive to be the best, balancing this with corporate values and maintaining the identity you’ve worked so hard to develop can be a challenge.

However, as FDs at the most successful organisations will understand, the value of a team-orientated environment and engaging culture when it comes to growing a business is something they should never lose sight of. Especially in today’s rapidly changing and commercial landscape where organisations face frequent challenges to be more receptive and keep up with demand, putting greater pressure on leaders to be more agile and forward thinking than ever before. Yet, while it’s important to adapt with this market and create competitive business strategies, a business can’t lose sight of its identity.

So how can this be achieved?

A successful corporate strategy is about instilling core values and a healthy work culture and sticking with it. In fact, research from Gallup found companies that engage employees with their core values also outperform the competition by 20 per cent, showing it can have a positive financial impact. Disengagement from employees often stems from the absence of inclusivity or a lack of buy-in to the company culture, and likewise if candidates or clients disengage this can hinder business growth dramatically. But the challenge which falls down to the financial director is communicating this to the CEO and senior management team. Across my career I’ve seen how the role has evolved over the years and the modern-day FD is now responsible for not only financial reporting, but also playing a crucial role in wider boardroom discussions, giving sound business advice and instilling confidence in investing in the future – in the right areas of course.

Strong core values

For SMEs or companies still in their infancy, it’s crucial to develop strong core values from the word go – teamwork, loyalty and determination for example – and to continue reinforcing these throughout the company’s growth.

‘FDs must also now demonstrate soft skills too’

During pinnacle points where firms are growing or for businesses operating through times of uncertainty, it can be all too easy to lose sight of what makes the business work and this is where the FD has to step in. Working with the CEO to be selective in choosing the right opportunity and managing unforeseen problems is one element. But increasingly more is needed beyond the usual criteria and qualifications for FDs. They must now also demonstrate soft skills too, listening and engaging with the team, embracing wider responsibility, keeping to the values at the heart of the firm and truly understanding where the company’s business model began.

CEOs require a valuable business partner and this means being able to master and strike a balance between crunching numbers and offering a holistic approach to strategies. This also enables an FD to recognise warning signs of financial difficulty ahead, advise on worst-case scenarios or investments that just don’t resonate with the company’s values; all of which help the senior team evaluate what drives the business and what action needs to be taken.

Finding a balance

While developing a corporate reputation and setting sights on ambitious new ventures can be both exciting and necessary for a business to thrive – the key challenge organisations need to continuously focus on is finding a balance and keeping their identity throughout the process. Arguably, financial directors are in a great position to deliver this as they are embedded enough to know the company values, but removed enough to have a better “helicopter” view.

Ultimately, if a business remains firmly rooted in its core principles, leaders can create an engaging environment with a positive buzz, empowering employees, improving productivity and, most likely, increasing business performance. But most importantly this focus helps drive a shared vision on the direction in which the company is moving, maintaining authenticity and delivering against business values. As Steve Jobs once said, “Focus is about saying no to the hundred other good ideas out there, you have to pick carefully.”

Ironically, while many companies assume they have to “think big to be big” the secret is actually the all-important balance between core values and a corporate strategy.

Carl Moffett is chief financial director at global recruitment and project manpower specialist Samuel Knight International