The sound of a large public company hitting the wall can be deafening—i.e., a front-page news story or a radical stock drop. Or it may occur slowly, almost silently over time, perhaps from stealthy competitor moves, a slower pace of innovation or hundreds or thousands of employees trying to adjust to strategy shifts and confusing directives. No matter what the reason for the disruption, the finance team, sometimes with the help of outside experts, plays a major role in the enterprise’s ability to dust itself off and reinvent itself for the future.

Big changes at a mature enterprise—growth spurts and turnarounds or spinoffs and restatements—definitely put a strain on finance teams. It’s a time when what’s needed most is tenacity and the ability to shift gears, to help guide the company through the trouble spots and keep it on course.

After all, the finance team plays a critical role in crafting the company’s future. They intimately know the ins and outs of running the company, along with the history. If they are fully staffed with the right mix of talents and skills, they can pave the way for the true business strategists to make sound decisions based on thoughtful, practical analysis of the team’s robust data and intelligence. The team’s wisdom can really influence the decision making.

Coping with growth and complexity

Mature companies need to continually evolve their product lines to survive. It may be time to reach out to new markets—or risk losing market share. The competitive atmosphere changes rapidly, and they must be nimble to adjust to new realities.

One major issue for companies during times of fast growth is finding the talent they need. Companies can bridge the gap by bringing in sharp consultants to help them get through a growth spurt. One-time transactions can knock the wind out of a team and the workload can be daunting. That’s when experienced consultants can be extremely useful to pick up the extra load, manage velocity and augment the staff with specialized expertise.

Coping with a downturn

At some point, a deceleration typically happens. The natural nimbleness of the startup phase is long gone, rapid growth is no longer a given, and the hard-fought battle for the IPO or an acquisition has already played out. A bunch of employees might be heading for the door. A shift in strategy is causing chaos among hundreds or thousands of employees, and there are complex global product lines to manage. Companies trying to stem the tide of departing employees can fill the gaps using interim consultants, such as an outsourced controller, accounting manager, SEC reporting maverick or other savvy finance pro, who can help the business move forward.

This is the mature enterprise stage in the business lifecycle where the ups and downs of staying relevant and gaining ground are challenging. The challenges have grown along with the company’s maturity and complexity. The reporting, compliance and regulatory issues are piling up, along with the ever-increasing demands from the board and investors. The finance team feels the pain firsthand and leads the way by rebalancing the business plan, cutting expenses and extracting efficiencies from every process. The team has years of transactions and data to mine, and sharp analysis and insights are critical to help the company stay afloat and turn itself around.

Consider some of the big ways that the enterprise can fall off course:

  • Shifting regulatory environment: Companies must stay on top of changing compliance and regulations in their space. For instance, implementing a huge new accounting standard (like the new revenue recognition rules or leasing rules) usually is a multi-year effort involving various systems and teams from different departments.
  • A spin out: A divestiture can pack a wallop to internal finance teams as well. “When a large company takes on a complex transaction, like we did with the divestiture of our information management business, it requires a lot of support,” Maddy Gatto, corporate controller of Symantec, a RoseRyan client, told us. Indeed, the finance team of an evolving company often commissions the services of multiple consulting firms and advisors at the same time. It can be a complex challenge to manage those partnerships and make the most of their assistance.
  • A messy restatement: If internal controls aren’t tight and financial reports can’t be trusted, a restatement may result. Yikes! Frankly, this would be a disaster for any company, and a PR nightmare. Maverick corporate controllers can ensure reliable reporting, and SOX experts can get the company through the compliance needs.

Onward and upward

Keeping to the status quo is not an option for companies at any stage. Massive change is inevitable. When it’s time to pivot, the finance team has a chance to shine. By adding in specialized finance experts as needed to help them navigate the tough spots, a company’s finance team can breathe easier. They can together discover the path forward, make the company more efficient and hopefully raise the valuation of the company.

Whether it’s coping with a wild upswing or a dramatic downturn, the finest finance teams move into swift action to get through it.

Not yet at the mature-enterprise stage? See our blog posts on handling the balancing act of the startup, managing through rapid growth and accelerating through on an IPO or M&A deal.

Maureen Ryan, vice president at RoseRyan, heads up business development and helps companies calm the chaos. From meeting with hundreds of companies of all sizes and types, she has seen the emotional rollercoaster of the business lifecycle first hand. Maureen has seen the ups and downs during her early career in various engineering, sales and marketing roles. She’s held positions at Nortel Networks, Bay Networks, Quantum Corp and General Dynamics.

Naturally, at some point, a company will yell out a widespread call for “help!” Faced with a complex project or a tricky transaction, they will need to rely on outside experts and consultants who can get them through it. Companies generally don’t have round-the-clock full-timers who can fill every need that pops up.

The call for assistance may require more than one resource, such as legal expertise, an audit firm or consultants, who can dig into a complex technical accounting matter (like, ahem, RoseRyan). When managing multiple firms on a special project, it helps to consciously build good relationships from the get-go. The service providers can mutually benefit and so can you. I noticed this firsthand during a recent engagement with one of our enterprise clients.

I can’t speak for other service providers, but I have found that teamwork during these projects is truly powerful. It can require a conscious effort to work well together, which in the end can result in better efficiencies and superior results for the client than otherwise may have occurred.

1. Prepare for the unexpected. I was recently working on an ongoing fixed assets project that involved very manual processes. Then everything changed. The client announced a big structural move that put all hands on deck and all milestones on super-crunch mode. Tight deadlines were immediately established. Everything became time sensitive.

When you’re overseeing a big finance project involving multiple people from different firms, whether the team is onsite temporarily or you’re dealing with full-time staff, everyone will look to you—you set the tone. When you’re prepared for potential issues, you’re more likely to be calm when there is a shift in strategy and you can get everyone focused on what they need to do next.

2. Request everyone document new processes. This takes some up-front work but can be a big time saver in the long run. New processes get developed as the team works with managers and other employees, and those new processes should be documented in detail and with illustrations. This was a common practice during the work we were doing and saved us whenever we need to get a new team member up to speed. When everyone has a point of reference, double work can be avoided and so can redundant discussions.

3. Encourage teamwork. When you have a mix of talent from different firms, you’re getting the best of everyone—their particular specialties all at once. You’re also creating a scenario where the people involved may not instinctively act and behave like a team. By letting everyone know you expect them to work closely with each other, keeping everyone and you in the loop, you’ll create a team even if your time together is fairly brief.

Sometimes this can be as simple as setting up a respectful atmosphere and treating everyone like a cohesive unit with multiple people on your status emails as well as regular group meetings. It’s more efficient when everyone is on the same page, and you benefit by getting a coordinated effort by your business partners.

At the beginning of one of the projects we did for this enterprise client, a RoseRyan team member identified a way to automate a process, and she shared that knowledge with the entire team. She could have kept the information to herself and let others on the team try to figure it out for themselves, but that would have slowed things down. The greater good (the end results, efficiencies and project success) should rule the day, not personal agendas or letting one service provider look better than another.

On this project, we heard from the client afterward that we all made a great team. We had “a perfect combination,” according to the client, of experienced consultants from RoseRyan who supported and trained the more junior-level team members from another firm.

The result: The client’s budget stayed on track, we met the deadlines, and the formation of a great team won us great trust all around. We’re team players through and through.

As one of RoseRyan’s finance aces, Susan Tan specializes in general accounting, consolidation, FP&A and financial modeling. She has been with us since 2010.