Small or large, private or public, companies all around Silicon Valley are facing many of the same challenges in finance and accounting today. These issues can affect morale in the finance team, prevent the company from getting at the information it needs to advance the business, and hinder the company’s growth. They’re not all surmountable overnight, but their impacts can be minimized if they’re given due attention.

Crushing Workloads Conflict with Efficiency Mandates

Often motivated by the need to reduce costs as well as the need to focus on high-value deliverables, companies are on a constant hunt to streamline processes and drive efficiency. At the same time, we see a lot of companies with very bright, knowledgeable and capable employees who are buried under a hefty backlog with no easing in sight.

How did they get there? The reasons vary: They may have been brought in when the company was in a crisis mode, which hasn’t let up. Or the company’s growth has outpaced the finance department, which has been under budget constraints that prevent hiring. Or, as we’ve seen with many companies, it’s been a perfect storm of extra projects that all hit at once—such as the back-to-back adoption of the new revenue recognition and lease accounting standards, and related systems implementations that went along with that. No matter the reasons why, the team feels behind—never mind trying to make progress on improving or streamlining processes.

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s simply a matter of not having the right staff to handle the work—we’ve seen underappreciated individuals perform heroic acts to hold things together as long as they can until they finally quit. Only then does the organization wake up to the workload the person was under and responds with three new hires. How much better would it have been to address the issue before the original employee burned out and left?

Rapid Changes in Technology

Emerging technology trends bring the potential for greater efficiencies and better access to critical information—along with the need to stay on top of what’s new and how the company can adapt. Automation of manual processes and moves to cloud-based ERP systems require a shift in traditional ways of working while vastly improving the timeliness and reliability of essential financial data. Artificial intelligence tools making their way to the market could transform the way finance teams operate, from how we reconcile documents and conduct reviews to realizing increases in productivity levels.

Evaluating the latest in technology should have a regular spot on the finance team’s agenda. Think about whether you are using your existing systems to their full potential. Are they being optimized to help streamline your existing processes? The things that worked great five years ago might be out-of-date today. Sometimes bringing in a third-party resource can help identify ways to streamline and make better use of existing technology. 

The War for Talent Rages

The battle for finance and accounting skills and specialties continues, and there are no clear winners emerging. Companies keep looking for top talent to add to their team—employees who can think strategically, uplift the department to a higher level, leverage use of technology to automate and innovate, and who possess deep subject matter expertise. It’s a tall order for any one person to meet in the traditional, full-time workweek.

Flexibility in expectations can raise the talent of the team. It also makes sense to remain flexible to handle fluctuating workloads, and supplement with particular skills and talents when you need to. It might be the perfect time to supplement some skills for special projects and invest in training to raise the expertise of your talented team already in place.

How to Move Forward in Finance

So what’s our best advice for how to tackle these challenges? First, assess the situation and find the blockers. Carve out some time to really analyze your top bottlenecks and blockers in the finance department. Find out what is preventing you from delivering high-quality, value-add information right now. Are your business plans rooted on information that is not as credible or reliable as it could be?

For a bogged down department or an inefficiently run company, there may be little time for innovation or meaningful streamlining. If you are struggling just to get your books closed, there’s a bigger problem underneath it all. Oftentimes there are process issues upstream that just float downstream until they land in accounting. Take a look at the entire process to see if a bigger discussion is in order that may involve more than the finance team. Maybe the issue is trying to work with data from various sources that need to be reconciled, integrated or somehow manually manipulated. Investigate the spreadsheets—how many are you using to manage data and book your entries?

The answers to that could be a combination of staffing and technology issues. As you get at the root causes of the department’s issues, you may find there are opportunities to automate manual processes, harness improvements in technology or bring in another level of finance expertise. Sometimes you have to make an investment before you can see results.

As for the talent wars, sadly, we don’t have a magic bullet for that one. We find it gets harder and harder to find those “unicorn” employees who can do it all. They do exist, but they are really hard to find. So, companies may find they need to build today’s flexible team—hire someone with a reasonable financial foundation, and invest in training and upskilling the staff you do have. Our finance pros have stepped in to help companies wrangle the workload while helping to raise the level of the team in the process.

Despite the many differences among companies at various stages of the business lifecycle, they deal with common challenges in finance and accounting operations. We experience it firsthand as we help a range of fast-moving Silicon Valley companies face a host of new situations. We see it when we are consulting emerging growth ventures on a high growth trajectory and with midmarket companies grappling with a recent M&A change and new regulations. And we see it in large enterprises dealing with ever-increasing volumes of data from disparate sources, spinning out parts of their business and acquiring other firms.

Armed with ideas for finding and fending off the blockers in finance, the team can push through their latest challenge—until the next one comes along.

Pat Voll is a vice president at RoseRyan, where she provides strategic guidance to several practice areas, including corporate governance, strategic projects and operational accounting. She also manages multiple client relationships, develops new solutions for the firm, and oversees strategic and corporate culture programs. Pat previously held senior finance level positions at public companies and worked as an auditor with a Big 4 firm. 

When times are good in the Bay Area as they have been generally over the past year, there’s energy in the air. We feel it when we’re working with our clients, and we are feeling it within RoseRyan as well.

We are proud to share some notable achievements in recent months. We ended 2015 blowing past our revenue and our profitability goals, adding many new clients. This was due in part by our continuing expansion in San Francisco, where things are booming and companies on the fast track are turning to us for sage finance advice and to fill the gaps of their resource-strapped teams.

Our proudest moment last year was feeling like we’re getting somewhere in the talent war. It’s tough out here, competition is fierce, but we managed to increase our headcount by 23 percent. Wow. Our current employees raved about us in a confidential survey and earned us a spot on the Top 100 Workplaces list by the Bay Area News Group. And five all-star former employees returned home this summer after spending some time fine-tuning their skills in the corporate world. We’ve warmly dubbed them the “Boomerang Bunch” and are happy to have them back.

A big attraction to RoseRyan, we’ve found, is the fact our culture is so vibrant and real. The four key values that guide our work are very real: a true teamwork approach, being trustworthy, advocating for our clients and the firm, and focusing on excellence in all that we do. Our culture has become a differentiating factor when we look for job candidates and make our case to potential clients. People who work with us like to know they will be in good hands, with collaborative folks who give their all to every project.

While we have successes to report at the start of 2016, there is always room for improvement. These are just three of the many resolutions on our plate this year.

Keep learning: RoseRyan gurus thrive on a challenge and love to stock up on their expertise. It’s one of the reasons people come here—to work on a range of client experiences that keep them engaged and stimulated, and on top of their game.

Within the firm, we have a variety of ways to keep the mental juices flowing, providing opportunities for our consultants to freely share information and tips they pick up in the field. Part of this is due to our camaraderie-focused culture with an emphasis on teamwork and collaboration. We also provide classes, workshops and tools for growth, with access to our Technical Accounting Group, which helps both our clients and our employees stay up-to-date on the latest accounting changes and interpretations.

We expect all our consultants to spend a certain number of hours each year on learning and developing not only their technical skills but their soft skills as well. On that note, we are launching a new internal program, Survive & Thrive, to share best practices in the field and the innerworkings of our firm. It’ll also help us onramp new employees into the fold.

Make new friends: Speaking of new employees, we expect to keep hiring in the months ahead. We are looking for stellar finance aces to join our strong team of “A” players. (If you have top accounting chops and operational finance experience to match, Michelle Hickam, our talent manager, would love to connect with you at [email protected].)

We also plan to add to the stable of fast-moving companies we work with in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, continuing to focus on the technology and life sciences field. Every new client has an intriguing financial challenge, and we’re fascinated to fix the next one.

Be open to change: This wonderful firm I co-founded is getting older in age (22 years and counting) and continues to evolve and change. The world around us is shifting at rapid velocity, and we need to move quickly to remain ahead.

One of the changes we have been seeing is the increased acceptance and demand for remote workers. Some job candidates place high on their priority list, for example, the flexibility to work both on site and off site. It minimizes long commutes, helps a family situation or allows a guru to work on a great engagement with a great company that happens to be several hours away from home.

We want to give our clients access to smart minds and excellent resources in finance no matter where they are located. Let’s say we have access to a brilliant finance mind with a particular expertise who is living four states away. We’ll take it! In some cases our clients have been amenable to remote work situations and have embraced it. We will continue to explore the possibilities, including the latest technologies that make it easier (we can thank our tech-savvy clients for that).

Changes and progress all around—it’s an exciting time. We are propelling into 2016 with a renewed sense of purpose and momentum. More than two decades into this fascinating firm, we are really hitting our stride, and I look forward to everything that’s in store for us this year.

Kathy Ryan is the CEO and CFO of RoseRyan. Since co-founding the firm in 1993, she has served as interim CFO at more than 50 companies. She was honored by the San Francisco Business Times in 2015 as one of the most influential women in Bay Area business.

Competition for great finance and accounting talent—always stiff in Silicon Valley—is heating up as the economy improves and companies ride the waves of ever-shrinking business cycles. Companies are leaning more and more heavily on CFOs to take on strategic planning, resource allocation, capital structure management and more—and they need expertise that can support business decisions at all levels of the finance organization.

Who’s hot? Business-savvy finance pros who understand strategic and tactical financial planning, statistical analysis, M&A due diligence and debt and equity accounting, according to Wanted: Finance Superstars, RoseRyan’s latest intelligence report. And smart companies will be on the lookout for people who are attuned to risks and opportunities, and have experience and communication skills that make them persuasive when weighing in on things like product development strategies, market assessments and cost structures.

So pack your finance team with FP&A pros, right? Wrong. That’s just a piece of the equation. Regulation from the Dodd-Frank Act, international financial reporting standards, tax law changes and a host of other challenges make technical accounting pros a critical part of the finance function.

Likewise, CFOs need to keep their hand on the steering wheel. Bad things happen when their attention wanders from company finances. So although it’s true that CFOs need to get into the operational side of their companies if they’re going to contribute to growth, they can’t delegate their primary responsibility of protecting financial integrity.

In short, a great finance team supports and shapes growth. Check out our report to find out who you need on your dream team, and how to keep your best talent from straying to the competition.