Goal setting in the first quarter is an important exercise in creating expectations for employees and companies in order to achieve growth and success for the year, especially after one filled with so many roadblocks that threw off so many plans in 2020. While we’re still feeling the effects, that doesn’t mean strong goals and projects for the future shouldn’t be planned now to set the tone for the year. Here are a few common goals within the industry to consider and ways to work towards achieving them as you start your journey to a successful 2021.
Taking Time for CCIFP Certification
A personal and professional goal for many construction financial professionals is to earn a Certified Construction Industry Financial Professional (CCIFP) designation. The expertise and time required, as well as the pressure of sitting
for and passing the exam, is a big commitment, but one that pays off tenfold, not only for the candidate but for the company too. For the business, having a team of CCIFP-certified professionals is attractive and immediately sets the department up for success.
“It is the only distinguisher that tells someone they’re talking to someone who really understands construction,” said Josh Billiard, CCIFP, CPA Partner at Plante Moran. “There’s just a difference when you’re talking to a CPA that is a CCIFP because they have demonstrated that they understand the industry, on the whole, better than most.”
It’s an encouraging goal for companies to put an emphasis on furthering education and certification as it uplifts their employees in supporting their career advancement, leading to better credibility within the industry and retaining quality talent who feels valued and important.
“It sets you apart. CCIFP comes with immediate recognition of, ‘This person is really experienced and probably has a depth of knowledge,’” said Karen Antonelli, CCIFP Partner at Chiampou Travis Besaw & Kershner, LLP. “It speaks to itself without having to explain your expertise. It’s something to take pride in, personally. It’s an exam; it’s not easy. For me, it was like putting the pieces together and completing the puzzle.”
Training Up Employees for Better Retention
An ongoing goal for many finance departments is finding and retaining solid talent. Construction can be a high-performing, attractive vertical for many in the younger generation looking to get started in a field like public accounting, but it’s difficult to hold onto this young talent and stop them from leaving for greener pastures.
“Recruiting and retention is an ongoing issue,” said Antonelli. “We continue to attract and seek talent for the traditional auditing, accounting, and tax work and try to start early and hire people out of college … However, we identified we’re losing people at the four- to six-year range, so we’ve been focusing on that group to find out what it is we need to do to try to make this the place that they want to have their career.”
“It’s a constant balance to train people, but also discover the people who are here for the long haul,” said Billiard. “We try to train everybody the same as if they’re going to stay forever, recognizing that over the course of their career, 90% of people won’t eventually be a partner. We look at training as if it’s for us, or the industry, it’s mutually beneficial to train people the best that we can so they help us out for their career or they become future fans and alumni of the firm.”
The goal of employee retention may seem like a hard nut to crack, but there are ways and programs to establish this year that help employees become experts within the construction industry while enjoying comfortable company culture.
“We have an initiative to build on retention through our internships and mentoring program,” said Antonelli. “It’s all about staying connected and making sure everyone has the right training for the construction niche. The younger generations are looking for somewhere to maintain a work-life balance, and although what we do can be very stressful and deadline-driven, we do social things to decompress.”
“We like to hire based on local and employee networks of people we know and feel would be good employees and would fit our company culture,” said Laura Tapani, Finance Dept at Midland Electric, Inc. “We have a young crew so most of our employees fall into the newer generation groups. We implemented EOS and use the employee recognition and core value tools to help with retaining, improving, and adding to our company culture and employees.”
Continuing the COVID Recovery
2020 was a year of unique challenges that have continued into 2021 with concerns about opening offices safely and getting ahead of potential or ongoing losses. In an industry where the work couldn’t stop, CFOs and their teams needed to keep working, too, to support their employees, client, and contractors to minimize gaps in pay and profit loss due to delays in projects and capital investments.
“Our clients just kept cranking through,” said Billiard. “With my client base, they’re mostly contractors and almost all of them were considered essential, so for them, it had to be business as usual. They had to continue to run with the COVID protocols in place, and we had a lot of backlog on the books. Only now are we seeing a softening of that backlog which might start hitting their financials in 2021, 2022 depending on the strength of their balance sheets.”
This softening is only beginning to show an impact on some businesses now as the 2020 funding on projects reaches its end and delays of new phases begin in 2021, affecting business this year and beyond.
“For every softness that we’re feeling in the sector, there’s also a lot of opportunity to help clients with other challenges they’re having, so our focus is on being nimble, trusted business advisors to our clients and adjusting to those challenges for the next 12 to 18 months,” said Billiard. “Our goal is maintaining our core business while growing our other offerings to help companies deal with unique situations that they’re in right now. A lot of our clients have either already been heavily impacted by COVID or will be impacted, so our goal is in helping them navigate the challenges that come with that, whether it’s banking relationship struggles, customers having less demand, or helping them streamline processes.”
For CFOs used to having their team out in the field having face-to-face meetings, navigating the new normal of exclusively meeting through online video calls was a hard adjustment. This way of doing business is not about to change anytime soon, so the goal of finding ways to create that vital human connection when making deals with new clients or projects, discussing sensitive topics of finance, or working with a trusted contractor is top of mind.
“For a company like mine that stresses that human connection, it’s hard for everyone to be so separate, but I think the one thing we all learned is we can’t wait for things to go back to ‘normal,’” said Antonelli. “This year, we’re searching for new, creative ways to connect with business partners, the community, and so forth.”
Finding that new way to connect will be critical as video conference fatigue sets in and emails and phone calls go ignored. The goal of safety, however, is number one in 2021 to protect team members and the business.
“It’s really critical from a safety standpoint if, for example, my team of four is at a client this week and one person tests positive, then I have three people, plus the client potentially exposed,” said Antonelli. “From a business standpoint, that impacts us because those people have to quarantine, which affects the next job and creates a bad snowball effect.”
The goal of upgrading tech and building a robust IT department will help businesses still struggling to switch to a more permanent work-from-home model as it becomes a standard for the indefinite future. Those that adapted in the past are ahead of the curve, but it’s not too late to adopt new plans and goals to evolve the way the office is run to more effectively work in 2021.
“I am currently working remotely and will continue to after COVID is over. A couple of other employees might continue to work remotely as well,” said Tapani. “We recently implemented Spectrum and TEAM by Viewpoint. We are always looking at the latest and greatest in technology and software. We are completely paperless, provide our employees with Samsung Note phones, tablets – anything that is needed to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.”
The most important 2021 goal, however, is to persevere in the face of continued uncertainty while working together to support the business, industry professionals, and employees with a positive attitude and outlook while looking toward the future.
“We had a saying this year,” said Antonelli. “We’re going to do great things. We’re going to find a way.”
Share Your Goals
Sharing your goals does more than hold you accountable, it also makes you more motivated, simply because you care about what others will think of you. Share your 2021 goals on the Connection Café to inspire others and see what your fellow members are hoping to accomplish.
Thank You to the Following Members for Contributing to this Article
- Josh Billiard, CCIFP, CPA Partner at Plante Moran
- Karen Antonelli, CCIFP Partner at Chiampou Travis Besaw & Kershner, LLP
- Laura Tapani, Finance Dept at Midland Electric, Inc.