CategoryManagement Archives — Page 2 of 4 — C. Lynn Northrup, CPA, CPIM

Economic Crisis

April 23rd, 2009

It seems like economic crisis and tough times are all we hear about these days. In a recent publication of Accounting Today an article appeared talking about the need for CPAs to step forth to provide assistance to small businesses. We need to provide guidance but small business people have to make a paradigm shift and realize they need help. They have been used to going without financial assistance for far too long and CPAs have been too focused on tax returns and financial statement preparation. Change needs to happen if businesses are to survive. My web site contains a lot of information both business owners and CPAs can use to survive the recession.CFO and Controllers of larger companies are also in a survival mode. They are laser focused on cash preservation and cost reduction. The key areas of focus include the following:
1. Preserving cash
2. Reducing costs
3. Reducing risk
4. Understanding expenditure patterns
5. Plugging holes in the dike
Over emphasis and indulgence on these factors can lead to overlooking some potential opportunities.

I think small business and larger organizations are missing the boat by placing all the emphasis on cutting back and hunkering down. Risk management should include looking for opportunities in addition to potential risk events that could adversely affect the company. Risk management should include considering opportunities to do a better job of purchasing and improving visibility on spending. Cash conversion efficiency includes managing accounts payable and inventories. These two areas represent a significant source of extra cash. It deserves additional focus and effort that will produce extra cash and liquidity.

Risk management includes effective planning and development of value propositions. Reevaluation of business strategies must be addressed since the old business model has shifted. New product lines and new markets need to be evaluated. More than likely the old rules no longer apply. Survival will depend on creating new visions and new strategies. These strategies then need to be linked to new marketing and sales programs. One of my clients is now spending a significant amount of effort developing new products and markets because the streams of revenue that existed just a few months ago no longer exist.

Operations and strategic planning when combined with sound financial management concepts and methodologies represent exactly how businesses need to deal with the economic crisis. Linked to these concepts are lean accounting and value stream analysis based on the voice of the customer.

I think this back to basics approach is what is required to cope with the challenges we face and represents the road less traveled to build healthy businesses and an economy that will survive the test of time.

Tone at The Top

April 10th, 2009

Management philosophy is synonymous with “tone at the top” and provides direction as to how the organization will manage its financial reporting and articulate its objectives relative to internal control. Management attitude sets the foundation for financial reporting assertions and the application of accounting principles. The philosophy and operating style of management determines how financial reporting objectives and risk mitigation practices are established and executed.
Many smaller companies have entrepreneurial management teams that don’t always understand accounting and internal control processes. Promoting the importance of risk mitigation and appropriate interaction associated with transaction processing requirements is an adjustment for management teams of smaller companies. In many instances, adjustments need to be made so that all journal entries, together with the underlying assumptions and estimates, are properly authorized and supported by sufficient documen¬tation. Management operating style trickles down to employees, so there needs to be clear communication and application of business judgment so that qualified personnel are in place to perform effectively designed controls. It is critical for smaller organizations to ensure that management communicates effectively with employees as well as external parties relative to information linked to financial reporting objectives and the necessity for accurate and fairly presented financial reporting. Management needs to take financial reporting and internal control seriously by setting a “tone from the top” that is understood at all levels of the organization. Management philosophy and operating style needs to be “do as I do” and not just “do as I say.”

Lean Accounting Concepts

March 29th, 2009

Lean accounting is a mystery to most business people and accountants. They have heard of lean manufacturing but not lean accounting. Lean accounting evolved in the manufacturing environment and hasn’t made much progress into lean thinking applications. There are a number of ways lean accounting can be applied in a variety of situations. It is perfect for managing and measuring results in tough economic times.Initially lean accounting got traction because it had the capability of overcoming the problems associated with standard costing. Standard costing is driven by labor efficiency, machine utilization, and absorption of overhead. These standard cost techniques were traditionally used by managers to build excessive inventories and generate positive variances to improve GAAP profitability leading to higher management incentive bonuses.

The economic recession has created a need for lean accounting. However, since most accountants haven’t use lean tools, the application goes unused. Lean accounting deals with tracking throughput or revenue and the associated variable costs required to generate those sales. Understanding that lean contribution from sales directly improves the bottom line is critical. You don’t spend funds unless it is associated with generating revenue. Since lean accounting provides better information for decision-making it has the impact of increasing sales. In a slower economy, companies need tools like value stream costing and similar lean-decision making applications.

Lean accounting financial statements are easier to understand. Since the focus is on the value stream linked to the voice of the customer, lean encourages measurement of drivers that produce value that customers want. Based on lean thinking, we are only incurring costs to produce customer value. We know the cost of the form and features demanded by customer. Costing techniques include target costing and analysis of the life-cycle of products. These approaches utilize continuous improvement techniques focused on improving our profit margins.

Since most managers relate lean accounting to manufacturing, the tendency is to ignore the concepts of lean and lean accounting for non-manufacturing applications. These areas represent the most lucrative opportunities for lean thinking and lean measurement. There are significant opportunities to lean our administrative and other overhead areas of organizations. Service, health care, and other industry sectors are leaving money on the table by not using lean thinking and lean accounting.

There are plenty of ways to apply lean thinking to accounting and financial operations. The use of simplified financial presentation and measurement can represent significant improvement in time savings and better decision-making. One of the concepts I advocate is sales and operational planning linked to rolling forecasts that virtually eliminates the need for annual budgets. This is a process of getting the entire organization to commit to a regular process of monitoring and communicating the most up to date information available and converting it to meaningful and actionable information. Rolling forecasts provide a simplified lean measurement of the organization and where it is going on a timely basis. It becomes a real-time basis decision making tool.

These concepts are discussed and explained in my book, Dynamics of Profit Focused Accounting. A lean front office is no different than a lean shop floor manufacturing operation. It is all about process flow and eliminating the waste from the value stream. The problem lies in the lack of education and inability to shift paradigms to a new lean way of thinking.

Components of a Winning Strategy

February 25th, 2009

Deciding on what product and or service attributes will provide the best chance to win a competitive edge strikes to the very heart of how to develop an effective strategy. There are a number of approaches that can be used to craft a winning strategy. In this post we will identify some of the more common techniques that can be deployed.One approach many companies use, especially during difficult economic conditions, is a low-cost and low price approach. An alternative approach is one of differentiation and selection of a specific market niche. Differentiation can represent a more profitable option.

During a turbulent economy you will see a number of companies making moves in response to the rapidly changing industry conditions and other factors that develop in the external environment. This is one of the reasons adopting and maintaining a strategic focus is so essential when times are tough and competition heats up. Many of your strategic choices will go beyond just pure survival; they will be to secure a competitive advantage.

Another element of strategy relates to geographic market coverage and the extent of penetration in the market. Companies who got stretched with excessive capacity will have to consider adopting this approach to secure markets and customers to consume this capacity. One approach that some businesses have followed is deciding to pursue vertical integration to enable more sales to existing customers.

There are a number of different financial value propositions that are used by companies as a component of their strategy. Additional choices include the application of human resources, research and development, technology, and a variety of marketing promotions. Linked to these options will be manufacturing and operational approaches that fit with these choices.

A unique approach to strategy as we proceed into the 21st century is collaborative partnerships and strategic alliances. This seems to be a growing trend since it is difficult to be all things to all people making this a choice of necessity.

Strategic choices require developing skills, expertise, and competitive capabilities that set the business apart from rivals. The goal is to insulate your business as much as possible from the effects of competition. From this step you need to perform an analysis of the strategic variables and match them with your capabilities as well as your competitors. Strategic and competitive analysis is a critical component of crafting a winning and sustainable strategy.

You need to carefully think about your point of view relative to the future and assess how it stacks up against your competitors. Are you a risk-taker or just a rule maker? Another question that begs answering is what percentage of your effort is focused on catching up to competitors versus building business advantages that will take your business successfully into the future. It is critical to evaluate your agenda and determine whether you are setting it or if it is being driven by the competition.

While times are tough and success doesn’t come easily, it is imperative to think into the future and set the course for where you plan to be in five to ten years.

Understanding Strategy

February 22nd, 2009

My recent post Strategies for Recession implies that everyone understands strategy. The truth is that strategy isn’t well understood and means many things to different people. One of my students in a recent session indicated she had worked on strategy development project for a large unnamed company and the executives didn’t have a clue as to what strategy is and how to utilize it. Hopefully, we’ll shed some light on strategy and how it is crafted.I think competitive strategy is about being different and deliberately making choices relative to activities that will provide a unique value proposition to customers. One contradiction is that operational effectiveness is strategy. This is what every organization should be doing to remain competitive. Strategy is about making tough choices needed to maintain a competitive advantage. These are choices to change the rules so they work in your favor.

Having the right goals is a critical component of having a sound strategy. Setting goals and objectives represent components of effective strategies. Strategy needs to have continuity and isn’t something that can be constantly reinvented. It boils down to the basic value proposition you are trying to deliver to customers.

A good strategy includes simple consistency between all the functional activities and the overall strategy. The strategic fit drives competitive advantage and sustainability and occurs when the activities are reinforcing thus achieving optimization of effort. Competitive strategy grows out of the entire system of activities.

Thompson and Strickland in their book Crafting and Implementing Strategy define five primary tasks:
1. Formulating a strategic vision of the company’s future business composition and the direction where the entity is headed.
2. Setting objectives.
3. Crafting a strategy to achieve the desired outcomes.
4. Implementing and executing the selected strategy efficiently and effectively.
5. Evaluating organizational performance and making appropriate corrective adjustment wherever necessary.

These five primary tasks become a continuous loop whereby you are observing, orienting, deciding, and acting on necessary adjustments as needed. In the current economic environment, organizations need to be agile and quick in making these decisions.

I will provide additional insight on strategy and how to apply it effectively in the future. In the meantime some strategic terminology might be helpful. Here are some definitions that will help to remove some of the mystery.

Strategic Vision is a view of the organization’s future direction and business makeup. The organization’s mission is defining it’s the business purpose and what the business is trying to accomplish on behalf of its customers. Strategic objectives represent the targets management establishes for strengthening the organization’s overall business position and competitive vitality. So strategy represents the actions and approaches that are implemented to satisfy customers and the strategic plan is a statement outlining the mission, performance targets and strategy.

This should provide some clarity and eliminate confusion related to strategy. Hopefully this will help you navigate turbulent waters and craft your strategies for survival.

Strategies for Recession Survival

February 9th, 2009

Don’t Panic
Take a lesson from the pilot of US Airways flight 1549 who was forced to land his Airbus in the Hudson River with all the 155 people on board surviving. I think this is a critical lesson when trying to survive in a recession. This is the time to keep your wits about you and keep a level head.

Develop a Plan and a Budget
In uncertain economic times there is no way of knowing what’s going to happen or how bad things might get. In these situations I tell clients to develop a worst case scenario budget. This budget should be a rolling forecast so you are continually projecting your best estimate of what you think will happen and develop. Be conservative on your estimate of sales and revenue and hold the line on expenses. It is critical to monitor and measure your financial performance in all categories, especially cash flow.

Cost Reduction
Evaluate all opportunities to tighten your level of expenses. I developed a Recession Survival Toolkit that contains extensive information and tips on cost reduction to managing cash flow and obtaining credit. While most businesses are laser focused on controlling payroll, they do this through layoffs. There are multiple ways of containing payroll other than terminating employees. These steps include salary cuts, reduced hours, and vacations without pay to list a few ideas.

Strategic Planning and Thinking
A recession is the time to establishing a strategic plan. I urge clients to create a clear vision of the future realizing there is a lot of uncertainty. It is imperative to be agile and ready to move in different directions with your response to changing conditions. You need to have a number of options so you are not locked in to a narrow strategy. In fact I like clients to have a reasonable range of options because it allows you more flexibility.

Selling and Marketing
I think a number of people fail to think proactively about sales and marketing opportunities during a recession. Managing risk is as much about identifying opportunities as it about looking for things that might produce a negative impact on the company. Companies need to be aggressive with their sales effort because the psychology of recession is taking buyers out of the market. When there are fewer customers it is critical to aggressively pursue maintaining or increasing market share. However, this should not be achieved at the expense of giving up your profit margins. This is when I apply profit focused accounting to match costs with selling price to maximize profit margins. I see too many executives cutting price just to gain volume in contrast to employing all the necessary tools to maintain profitability.

Cash is King
In a recession, cash is king. It is critical to maintain lines of credit and have them available just in case. The key is to maximize your cash conversion efficiency. This concept is focused on turning accounts receivable into cash as quickly as possible and at the same time reducing your investment in inventory. The other component is stretching accounts payable as much as practical without losing discounts or damaging your credit worthiness.

Building Business Value is our approach to building value using proven management methods that preserve shareholder value. A recession is exactly the time to stay with proven management techniques and methodologies. One of my suggestions in this regard is to make sure you have the right people on the bus and in the right seats. Good execution of management fundamentals should be the objective. My final thought is to utilize my change management concepts to make sure you don’t get lock into doing things just because of your pre-recession comfort zone.

When all else fails, do as Debbie Reslock suggested in yesterday’s Denver Post. “Bid in the dark and shoot the moon because through it all, I still have faith. With out looking at the cards, I’m betting on all of us.” I am betting on Debbie’s hand, I think she’s got a winner.

Appetite for Risk

February 6th, 2009

How much appetite for risk does an entity have relative to its pursuit of value? Each entity has to develop its own appetite for risk. This will depend on achieving an acceptable balance between growth, risk, and return and creating the proper relationship between risk appetite and strategy.

Effective risk management and execution of strategy requires appropriate alignment of people, processes, and the supporting infrastructure of the organization and process owners. Appetite is linked directly to strategy and is aligned with the desired level of value creation. Different strategic options will evolve based on the assessment of risk attached to each strategy. Therefore, management style and approaches to strategy will drive varying levels of appetite for risk-taking. When setting strategy, entities will vary in their approaches to risk. Qualitative approaches will categorize the entity’s appetite for risk as green, yellow, or red (high, medium, low). Entities that employ a quantitative approach will consider appropriate goals for growth, return, and risk. Risk management helps the management team choose strategies that blend with the organization’s goals for creating value.

There are a number of considerations that impact an organization’s appetite for risk. These factors will vary from business to business. It boils down to what risks the business wants or is willing to accept and what risks they want to avoid. The desired rate of return on initiatives is one of the factors that will influence risk appetite. Risk appetite will be affected by the current rate of return and the competitive need to accelerate growth. The strategic focus of the entity will directly impact whether a company has a high or a low appetite for accepting risk. Risk management needs to consider the organization’s appetite for risk and then guide management in selecting and balancing their decisions in their choice of initiatives and allocation of resources. The tolerance for entity-wide risk will then enter into the selection of objectives in the pursuit of its strategic vision.

Risk tolerance and appetite represents a balance that helps keep businesses and organizations on course and helps to avoid unnecessary and avoidable surprises. It is like walking a tightrope and then deciding how high you are willing to be, in case you fall.

Understanding Risk

February 4th, 2009

The first thing to realize is that risk will evolve from either internal or external sources with the potential to affect strategy. Risk represents the possibility that some event will occur. Management’s job is to assess all the risks associated with implementing strategy and achieving the organization’s objectives. It boils down to considering the impact of all the underlying events that might have some impact. Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) is a framework for aligning risk appetite and strategy. Based on application of the framework, managing risk becomes a process of enhancing our risk management decisions. It is about reducing operational surprises and losses through a process of identifying and managing the entire multiple and cross-enterprise risks. It is more than avoiding losses; it is a process of seizing opportunities and looking for ways to improve the deployment of capital.

It is very closely linked to internal control in that is a process that is created and managed by people. It is, or should be, applied in a strategy setting and across the enterprise. It will only provide reasonable assurance and is geared to the achievement of objectives. When we say that risk management is applied in setting strategy is that it sets strategies and then considers risks relative to alternative strategies. It evaluates alternatives and helps decide on a course of action.

Risk management is applied across the entire enterprise and should consider the entire scope of activities at all levels of the organization. You need to consider special projects and new initiatives. Don’t apply the concept too narrowly because taking a portfolio of risks may override the occurrence of a single isolated event. Your assessment should consider both quantitative and qualitative factors in reaching judgments. Also, it is useful to group risks into categories so they can be effectively managed.

Now that we’ve got you started on the road to understanding risk management we will next take up risk appetite in our next post.

Recession – So What Do We Do Now?

January 25th, 2009

Now that we have a new President many people will think that his recovery program will have us back on track in a few months. I’m not so optimistic. My advice is to prepare for a longer term period of slow economic activity, maybe as long as two to three years. This isn’t what you want to hear, but it could well be reality. Assuming such a dismal projection, it is important for us to develop a survival strategy – perhaps strategies.Your strategy needs to include a thorough understanding your competition and markets. You will need to be aggressive and radically different to gain the necessary market penetration. Don’t think your sales volume will be like prior years. It’s probably going to be lower and with reduced profit margins. The world is different now. Keep reworking your strategy almost on a daily basis to make sure you’re on track. Agility is the key to survival.

Developing a budget is essential. The budget needs to include revenue projections together with generation of cash flow. This means managing how you invoice, manage accounts receivable, manage inventories, and manage accounts payable. Maintaining an effective and effective cash conversion cycle is the most critical measurement indicator that you can monitor. When projecting your expenses you need to reduce them to various levels to match the level of revenue projected. Your expenditure budget needs to include survival level outlays representing the minimum level of expenses possible. When you understand how low you can go then you can adjust to revenue levels appropriately.

A component of the budgeting exercise should draw you into analysis of your business processes to understand where there are opportunities to improve these processes. In the new business environment improvement of business process flow will be the key to attaining a competitive advantage. One of the best opportunities to improve business processes will be in reducing paper work and improving accounting efficiencies. We have forgotten the back office which represents huge opportunities.

Many CPAs are too focused on taxes and financial statements and fail to provide the business advice that clients need. This will change as businesses will seek out the advice they need to survive the recession. If businesses fail to receive what they need from their CPA then they should seek a professional who has the expertise to guide them through the tough times ahead and will be responsive to their needs and requirements.

My advice is to be flexible, disciplined, patient, and focused. This is a time to think different because life will be different. The old rules aren’t going to work so you need to find new guidelines and ways to do business. Lower your expectations and hope for the best while preparing for the worst. While things look pretty dismal, this is a good time to look for opportunities to improve your competitive position and profitability.

Recession Proof Your Business with EVA

January 7th, 2009

EVATM stands for economic value added. It is an economic value-based model to measure performance. It is a metric that holds businesses accountable for the cost of capital used in the business and determines whether or not real value has been created for the owners. The calculation is determined by subtracting a charge for the full cost of capital which includes the equity and debt from the net operating profit after taxes. The method adjusts for accounting distortions such as intangibles and gets back to a cash basis or an economic model of profitability. This is important because it focuses on what is really critical in this economy in contrast to GAAP accounting-based measurement.

If EVATM is a better measurement of value creation, why is it better? The underlying principle of any business is that it must provide a profit that is great enough to justify the cost of capital used in the business. In other words, a business needs to create a surplus of profit after covering all of its costs. Until a business has earned an economic profit, it has not really generated a profit. When the net economic profit of the business exceeds its cost of capital employed, positive value is created. If net economic profit is zero or negative, then value is lost.

In its simplest sense, there are only three ways to increase economic value:
1. Increase operating efficiency
2. Only undertake investments that add value
3. Get your capital out of investment activities that don’t add value
By simplifying your focus, one develops a much better grasp of how value is being created or not created.

All too frequently managers are making decisions without considering the cost of capital in making their investment decision. They also think they are making a profit, when in fact; they are losing value by not covering the total cost of capital.

It is critical understand the reality of whether or not you are making an economic profit. If you can’t earn economic, cash based, profit, then why pursue the investment or continue the business?