How Cross-Departmental Collaboration Drives Success

June 13, 2024 Mimi Torrington

business colleagues talking about cross deparment collaboration

In the 200th episode of CFO Weekly, Corey Noyek, Vice President of Finance and Operations at Cardata, joins Megan Weis to discuss cost management for finance leaders. They analyze the impact of the rising production costs of everything due to inflation and the importance of cross-department collaboration, including finance, HR, and ops.

Corey is a CPA, CA, with a solid background in finance and operations. Before joining Cardata, he held various finance leadership roles at companies such as Cardata, Thriver, Deloitte Canada, and Norman, Goldberg & Co., gaining expertise in financial management, accounting, and tax filing.

Show/Hide Transcript

Megan - 00:00:18: Today, my guest is Corey Noyek, VP Finance and Operations at Cardata. Corey is a certified public accountant and chartered accountant who has a strong background in finance and operations. With experience working at companies such as Cardata, Thriver, Deloitte Canada, and Norman, Goldberg & Company, LLP, Corey has developed expertise in financial management, accounting, and tax filing. Corey holds a Bachelor of Arts in Honors Business Administration with a focus on accounting from the Ivey Business School at Western University. Corey, thank you very much for being my guest on today's episode of CFO Weekly.

Corey - 00:01:30: Thank you for having me, Megan.

Megan - 00:01:32: Yeah, today our topic is cost management for finance leaders, and we're obviously in a period of rising production costs due to inflation. So today we're going to be analyzing the impact on overall business expenses and discussing strategies moving forward. We'll also be talking about the importance of collaboration across multiple departments, including finance, HR, and operations, which becomes even more crucial during times like these. Corey, I'm looking forward to learning about you and hearing about your experiences. So let's get started. First of all, if you were to look back on your journey from your early career as an accountant to your current role as vice president of finance and operations at Cardata what is the best piece of advice or lesson you've learned along the way that has shaped your approach to financial leadership and cost management?

Corey - 00:02:26: Nice. I like that question a lot. I think generally a lesson that I've learned is always be in a state to continue to learn as well. You usually see the smartest person in the room is the quietest. And so what I do try in a piece of advice that I always live by is, you know, trying to make sure that you're not talking more than anyone else in the room and really focus in and actively listen and really tying that even into a cost perspective. You learn a lot more when you do listen. And so as you're making decisions as a finance leader, even just as a business leader, it's really important to make sure you understand the situation, hear all the different perspectives, work with, as you mentioned, and we'll get into later, working with different departments. And so you can make that informed decision, whether it's about cost management or anything else from the business. But that's where I really would say one of those pieces of advice is really listen more. And that way you can really continue to learn and use that knowledge to make informed decisions.

Megan - 00:03:28: Quick question for you there. But you mentioned that the smartest person in the room is sometimes the quietest. So any advice on making sure everybody feels comfortable enough to speak up?

Corey - 00:03:41: Yeah. So I think especially in a leadership position, you do have the power to create a safe environment and really to empower and enable and allow people to feel that they can speak up. And so depending on the relationships and really that is where you want to focus and form, but trying to, if you do notice someone that isn't feeling comfortable or hasn't spoken in a while, you can make some suggestive questions. You don't want to single someone out specifically, but you can point to someone, oh, hey, do you have any comments on this area? Oh, what are your thoughts here? Again, giving them the platform and the ability while not singling them out of, oh, what do you think about this? And calling them on the spot, but really using that ability to bring people in. And again, that's where even from my perspective of, I don't want to provide a lot of information. I shouldn't always have to be talking, but instead asking questions and engaging and getting more information from other folks. And again, back to that, so I can listen more and then make that informed decision.

Megan - 00:04:43: Great answer. I love that. So drawing from your extensive experience in finance and operations, how have you effectively navigated periods of economic turbulence, such as inflationary pressures, while still maintaining financial stability and being able to drive business growth?

Corey - 00:05:02: It's always funny because historically, I would say plan, plan, plan. And after that, plan a bit more. But sometimes you can't do that. For instance, we all went through a pandemic. And I was a company that really, no matter how much we planned, we didn't think a pandemic was going to happen. We were actually in the corporate catering space. And overnight, they said, everyone leave the office and no one touch each other. And we specialized in family style serving. So that really hurt us. So as much as you can plan, sometimes it's not possible. But that's where I do think that planning is important. And so from a cost perspective and a business perspective, really building out a sound forecast and model, as well as doing scenario analysis. However, as I said, you can plan and plan and plan. But sometimes things just happen. And so being agile and nimble enough that when those things happen, being able to pivot and understand and work through and come up with different scenarios and situations that then you can make decisions off of.

Megan - 00:06:01: Curious to know, are there any tools that you use that help with the scenario analysis, being able to be real nimble there?

Corey - 00:06:08: So there are many tools out there, and we'll get to a bit later when we talk about cost and cost savings. I don't love to over-engineer on tooling. I think tooling is a great resource, but a lot of times there are a lot of tools out there and they can do a lot of things, but it's very hard to fully utilize a tool. So it's actually interesting, and I would always recommend starting with simple. And so truthfully, even for us, we do a lot of stuff in Excel. We do a lot of things that we share through Google Sheets instead after so we can be more collaborative. But from a tooling perspective specifically, I would recommend always starting simple. And then as you build your organization and it becomes more complex, there is things that you can enable through technology. But I do warn of caution that you can definitely get to too many tools too quickly.

Megan - 00:06:56: And, we've touched on it a bit, but collaboration across departments is crucial for successful cost management initiatives. So can you share some examples from your roles at Cardata or maybe Thriver where you spearheaded collaborative efforts between finance, HR, and operations to optimize costs and enhance operational efficiency?

Corey - 00:07:18: Yeah, for sure. So I think the best time and most finance individuals know that there's always the budget season. You're trying to get ready for the beginning of the season and getting budgets together. However, it's been an interesting time, I'll say, of recent at Cardata just, you know, with the state of the economy and with inflation and everyone's soft landing, trying to navigate and make sure that you have the best information to really put together that budget and forecast, that's where that collaboration is critical. And so instead of being just a department that intakes information, which is the traditional way that everyone kind of sends over their information to finance, finance puts it together, they present it and say, here you go, look, it looks amazing. We'll have this revenue, we'll have these costs, etc. However, I recommend taking the opposite approach and really being more engaged with the team and being more of a thought leader and actual team member and partner with those departments. So what we've done at Cardata is we really bring each team into the process. And so even starting with the revenue model, our RevOps team actually builds it with the sales leader, as well doing sensitivity and really scaling it out to make sure that they have the buy in as well and that they put in the time and effort to make sure that it is the best state that we can because we do then lean on that. The same way with from the HR side of things, we work very heavily with the HR team, mapping out both the new hires and changes that are happening within the organization, lining it up with our performance reviews to make sure that we capture every essence that could go into all of the people and culture side of thing . And so again, that collaboration and involvement from those departments allow you to really build the most realistic and the most fruitful budget slash forecast that you can. And then one component of that after is this isn't a set it and forget it. And if you are in a case where, you put in all this effort and you create this budget at the beginning of the year, and then you say, great jobs, done and move on, you're missing half of the value that you're trying to create there. And that's where for us, we actually do a monthly budget versus actual analysis. And we do that and share it with each of those department leaders, walking them through. So they also get a good sound financial understanding of the business as well on a quarterly basis, we do a reforecasting. And from a reforecasting, again, this is not just the finance team going and asking for some data and saying, thank you, putting everything together and spitting it back out. We again, do that whole same process of working collaboratively and making sure that everyone is aligned and everyone's behind the same plan.

Megan - 00:09:47: And how do you approach the analysis of profit and loss statements to be able to identify opportunities for cost savings and operational improvements? Where do you start?

Corey - 00:09:58: Yeah, for us, because we're a SaaS company, really, our people are our biggest items, which is a good thing because people run the business. And so it's really understanding where each individual fits in the business and how we can create the most effective team. The other component that we have that does, and that's what we touched on previously, is software. And it's an item that's interesting because historically, software was an item that you had a few items, maybe some big ERP system, your payroll system. But in the world we live in now, there is so many solutions out there that help every team and every department. And so we actually have a lot of what I call productivity tools, which would be tools that, each department is using to enable them to be more efficient. And that is an area that I constantly request from my teams to really review. And that's where I was touching on a little bit before that we are very excited by technology. You hear the word AI and we say, ooh, I want to do it. We got to get something that helps with that. And this could make us way better and way faster. But what tends to happen is, is we get very excited to implement. And if not implemented correctly, the actual value may not be there. And so I do require and have my team perform a quarterly analysis of what tools are in our environment and what utilization we actually are getting out of them. And then we'll go through with the department leader to determine if we do want to remain with that tool, if there's something we should change, if the right folks are using it, if the actual role of how we're using it needs to change. So doing that constant review process allows us to make sure that if there is any items that we should be adjusting, then we can make the due course.

Megan - 00:11:45: So I am curious to know, when times are tough and you're tightening the belt, how do you maintain employee morale? I mean, it seems like a lot of times, bursting to go are perks and things that employees enjoy. So how do you still maintain employee morale while tightening the belt?

Corey - 00:12:06: Yeah, that's a good question. As I alluded and said before, that really it is people that run the business. And the most effective company is one where people are happy. And so you can do that in many different ways. And I do think that having individuals that have shared values and shared drive to get to a company that is successful and that is growing and creating that environment for individuals to want to be in is an area that we focus on. Whether that be, you know, some perks and extra things, we do that, you know, we send out the swag bags and things of that nature. But I think there's a bigger component that comes back to the individual itself. And so from my perspective, and I know, I share this with my HR team is that we really try to focus on the individual and on that individual development. And so even for us, you know, over the last year, we've worked really hard even implementing a performance review program that does clearly lay out of how we can actually evaluate and work with individuals to make sure that they're having career growth and career development. And so really, you know, you can give individuals extra things and perks here and parties there. But what we try to strive for is really helping foster some growth from an individual and skill perspective. And so we do put a high focus on making sure that we have those levers. I was mentioning to you, you know, even before that, I actually did a training course last week. And so that's an area that the company was able to help me develop new skills. And so I think building those skill sets for individuals helps drive the business forward too. And it's a great use of funds. And even in environment where we're trying to, you know, limit our exposure to economic factors and reduce our costs. I do think that investing in development for an employee will always have a positive ROI.

Megan - 00:14:07: And as you've mentioned, the people on the ground play a pivotal role in executing cost management strategies. So how have you leveraged your experience to build and lead strong on the ground teams at Cardata, ensuring effective implementation of cost savings initiatives?

Corey - 00:14:25: Yeah, I think that the main drivers of that for me has always been transparency. So going back to how we do our annual budget process, every department understands how their department looks from a P&L perspective. And having that clear transparency to the finance side allows them to think about in times when costs are rising, how would we be able to manage those items? I give an engineering team as an example. Traditionally, their focus should only be really on understanding and building code and writing code versus in this respect, it is also my understanding from a business perspective, how does that then translate to the P&L. And so, during these times of when there is rising costs, it's a team effort. There shouldn't be one department that's solely responsible for managing costs and budget, which traditionally falls on finance. Instead, it really does need to be that collaborative team effort. And by allowing other departments to actually have a bit of ownership and autonomy over their budget and over their spend gives that shared balance the value that this is something that we're trying to strive for.

Megan - 00:15:33: And it seems so often, when a company has to cut back on costs, the first thing to go are people. But you mentioned people being the main line of your business with salaries and wages. So can you give examples of maybe how you have dealt with challenges related to managing salaries and wages or maybe things like rent or lease payments, utility costs, etc. Or the expenses that go in to people and having a place to work?

Corey - 00:16:06: Yeah. I think when looking at your P&L, you really need to look at the full thing. And a lot of times we say, oh, you know, people is the biggest. Let's start there. You know, next is rent. Next is here. But you need to come up with a full strategy and you need to make sure, understand, you know, what is your objective? What is the actual KPI that we can measure this? So how much? Let's say if you have to reduce expenses by 5%, trying to understand where you can actually gain that return. And so if you can do that through software, if you can do that through, let's say, even travel. Especially with rising costs, like that's another good example of there is a component that those costs are also rising and potentially there's activities that may not be as necessary. Maybe instead of sending five folks, we send two folks to an event, little things like that. But again, going back to of looking at the P&L holistically and trying to get to the collective goal. And so whether it's a software or rent or another item, you need to make sure that that strategy is concise of what are we trying to gain and what are we able to run the business on. And so that's where it goes to again, as the goal is that, you know, from a cost cutting or cost optimization perspective or cost management, it's not just about the cost, but it's about, you know, the bottom line and making sure that you're not impacting the business as a whole. Because a lot of times in a lot of pitfalls really from finance individuals is we do, we can manage the expenses, but it's a reflection of revenues as well. And so if you jump to, hey, here's an expensive item. Let's get rid of the expensive item. Well, it may actually negatively impact the top line that might've been something critical to run the business or expose you to more risks or expose you to other difficulties and challenges. So that's why I really recommend taking that step back, listening and talking to other folks and other departments to really get an understanding of where could we impact, but not have a negative impact on the rest of the business. And again, you'll work your way through of identifying items, identifying that strategy, but really ensuring that you're setting the business up for further success.

Megan - 00:18:11: And when you're doing those monthly meetings where you're looking at budget versus actual, and you see maybe a department that's blowing the budget or blowing through their budget, how do you rein them back in or maybe, you know, determine that what they're doing is needed?

Corey - 00:18:31: I love that question. And it happens often that, you know, they have spent money and they say, well, you know, I was doing what I thought was right. And, you know, I'm only off one month, but that's where I go back to, again, we're dealing with people. And so this is all about relationships. And this is all about making sure there's transparency, understanding, and an action plan of what are we trying to achieve. And so I personally look less on a month over month basis. And it's about a quarter, a longer period of time that things happen. One month may be more expensive, less expensive, one month revenues may be better or worse. And so looking at it more from a quarterly basis gives us that sense of what are we actually doing here? Is there an issue with the system? Or is it just a blip in a period? And so really, again, holding folks accountable. And that's where understanding that if we're over budget one month, that's not an issue. If something happened, we had to spend a bit more, that's okay. If our objective and we were still striving to, you know, maximize our revenue, and unfortunately, it resulted in further expense on a monthly basis. That's okay. However, taking that step back and looking at a quarterly or a longer period perspective, we need to make sure that we're still on track and on path to what our ended objective and again, making sure that we are keeping control of the business and making sure that we are creating an environment that we are still going to succeed.

Megan - 00:19:51: And you mentioned things that are necessary for top line growth, but let's take a look at marketing and advertising expenses, which are crucial for business growth. So can you discuss an approach to evaluating the ROI for these types of initiatives and how you go about optimizing your spend in these areas?

Corey - 00:20:14: Yeah, this is an interesting area because it really depends on what stage your business is in and as well as what are you trying to achieve with the marketing. So there's obviously two areas of brand recognition and then actual closing sales. And so depending on the state and depending on the initiative, there are different KPIs. And so, for me as a finance individual and going back to the budget, I do obviously care more about deals closing and actual new revenue. And so a KPI for that is really evaluating our pipeline coverage. And so having from a qualified pipeline, having around a three to five X coverage is something that we look to and that's a KPI and an easy KPI. However, on the flip side, if you're looking at it more from a demand generation and a brand perspective, it is very hard to quantify that ROI. And even a lot of times now people are trying to attribute that lead to different methods. So if you did do any type of brand awareness campaign, let's say it was a LinkedIn ad, let's say it was a commercial even. How do you attribute that properly to that component and determine the ROI on that, which is getting increasingly hard because the way that we get to the customer is now increasingly hard. There's so many different platforms. Traditionally, you could go to radio and TV and most people were listening there. Now you have so many alternatives and ways that people are being engaged. And it's having to be at a multi-layer as well, that it's not just a social platform or you're having to actually reach the customer from multiple channels. And so again, this is even making it harder, especially at that demand generation level of assigning an ROI. Cause what will happen as well is when they are trying to attribute it, when you ask your customer, how did you hear about us? They likely didn't know that they also may have heard of you from other sources and that's a sign that truly, that demand generation may even be working. So you may have done a campaign and a strategy that created a bit of buzz. You went to a trade show, you went to different other channels, but when they came in, they clicked on your LinkedIn app. Now you've already said, oh, well, it's my LinkedIn that's associated to it and attributed to it and said, my ROI from LinkedIn is amazing. However, there may be that underlying ROI as well coming from those brand initiatives. So it is very hard to map those. However, there are metrics and tools that can help you track those. So there is improving and with technology, there is increasingly ways to identify, but it does start to blend. And I do think that this will be the trend going forward that, it is very hard. Luckily for us, we are in the B2B area. So it's a bit more targeted because we can go based on an individual's title. And so we do have a targeted buyer versus though in the B2C market, it's the wild west. Because you really have. Individuals of different behaviors and they are consuming their information in very different ways than they had been in the past. So really determining the ROI on marketing spend is only going to get harder. But I do think as you make your way down the funnel, those historical methods are still holding true.

Megan - 00:23:30: And drawing from your experience at Deloitte Canada and other organizations, how is it that you navigate complex regulatory environments and compliance requirements while implementing these cost management strategies?

Corey - 00:23:45: Yeah. So I think as a finance leader, you always have to be learning and you always have to be, as a CPA, staying up to date on regulations. And the best way to do that really is through reading. And so a lot of the institutions will provide publications and these are the easiest way to do it. But truthfully, the best way to stay up on a lot of these regulations is through other means like podcasts and talking to other individuals in the industry. And so finding those other channels, just as I was mentioning that marketing is having a hard time because people are using different channels. That's something I recommend even for me as a finance individual to get some of the information that I need as a finance individual, whether it's regulatory compliance or just strategies of how to operate the business.

Megan - 00:24:33: And in addition to inflation, we have a lot of elections going on throughout the year. It just seems like a lot of companies right now are frozen, just kind of waiting to see what happens. But what's your advice for continuing to drive growth, even when inflation is a little bit out of control and elections are going on, when there's just so much uncertainty?

Corey - 00:25:01: I would say go back to the plan, plan, plan. And so it really is that having a plan is good, but I wouldn't say that's the only thing. And that's where we have to be nimble and agile in any respect and be comfortable with the uncertainty. What we can control and what we can't control is pretty visible. And there's a lot that we can't control. And so that's where we should be focusing on the areas where we can. And that's where I say that you can do a bit of planning. You don't need to go above and beyond and exhaust yourself to plan, but you should be getting yourself to a spot that you feel comfortable making a decision. And that's where I would say that for me, I don't love waiting and waiting and seeing how things will prevail in the long run. And so with inflation, for example, we don't know when it will come down. We don't know whether the rates will go up or down or when and how. And so for me, it's what can I control from a business perspective, and going back to that's maybe taking advantage of some cost-saving initiatives, maybe taking advantage of some industry trends and changes, and really taking that proactive approach for what I can control. But again, leaning on the use of information. So when I say plan, plan, plan, it's really listen, listen, listen, and get as much information and understanding you can from all the different stakeholders, whether it is your internal team, your external customers, environment, whether that's now government or regulatory, and really using that information to make decisions. But I would say, and what makes me cautious, is no decision is still a decision. And so by waiting for factors such as economic and government and regulatory and things of that nature, you're missing out on an opportunity to also make some good decisions. And so again, you can actually continue to grow the business during these times. You do have to do it with a much more methodical and thought out strategy, but it is a good opportunity. And again, in my opinion, no decision is still a decision and one of the weaker decisions you can make.

Megan - 00:27:09: Last question, but what is it that excites you as you look out into the future? What's around the corner that has you excited about what's to come?

Corey - 00:27:20: So for me, what actually excites me is ambiguity. It terrifies the heck out of me and I have terrible stress from it, but it excites me. They do say that if you do have stress, that means that you're challenged. That means that there's opportunity. And so I would say that the ambiguity of where everything is heading actually does excite me. It means that everything can go down different paths, which means that there's different things we can try. There's different things that will work. There's different things that won't work. And depending on those decisions we make, we can see a lot of learning and a lot of opportunity and a lot of success.

Megan - 00:27:58: Great answer. Corey, thank you so much for being my guest today.

Corey - 00:28:02: Thanks a lot for having me.

Megan - 00:28:04: Yeah, I've really enjoyed speaking with you. And thanks for finding the time to be here with us today to share your experience and knowledge. And I wish you and Cardata all the best in the future.

Corey - 00:28:14: Amazing. You too. Thanks again.

Megan - 00:28:16: And to all of our listeners, please tune in next week. And until then, take care.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How to thrive despite economic turbulence

  • Why cross-department collaboration is essential for business success

  • Strategies for identifying cost savings and operational improvement opportunities

  • How to maintain employee morale while tightening the belt

Key Takeaways:

Thriving Despite Economic Turbulence

While thorough planning, including sound forecasts and conducting scenario analysis, is essential, unexpected events can disrupt even the best-laid plans. To thrive in such times, you have to stay agile and collaborative. Rely on basic tools to maintain focus and adaptability, avoiding the pitfalls of over-engineering with too many complex solutions too quickly.

“You can plan and plan and plan, but sometimes things just happen.” Noyek said. - 04:44 - 06:56

Cross-Department Collaboration for Budget Success

The importance of cross-department collaboration for successful cost management cannot be overstated. Instead of just collecting information, actively engage with each department, including HR and operations, to create a realistic and effective budget. Also, don't stop at the budget creation; conduct monthly budget versus actual analysis and quarterly re-forecasting sessions, involving all department leaders to ensure alignment and continuous improvement.

Quote - Corey Noyek, VP of Finance and Operations at Cardata

“Instead of being just a department that intakes information, I recommend taking the opposite approach and being more engaged with the team, being more of a thought leader and actual team member, and partnering with those departments.” Noyek Claims. - 06:56 - 09:47

Maximizing Efficiency Through Cross-Department Collaboration

To analyze profit and loss statements for cost savings and operational improvements, focus on the largest expense: your people. Understand each individual's role and how they contribute to forming the most effective team. Additionally, review your software expenses, especially productivity tools used across departments. Conduct a quarterly review with department leaders to decide if a tool should be retained, replaced, or used differently.

Maximizing efficiency Quote

As Noyek said, “Because we're a SaaS company, our people are our biggest asset, which is a good thing because people run the business.” - 09:47 - 11:45

Thriving in Uncertainty

Even with inflation and numerous elections creating uncertainty, don't let your business get stuck in wait-and-see mode. The key is to focus on what you can control and stay agile. Make informed decisions by listening to your team, customers, and the regulatory environment. Prioritize cost-saving initiatives and leverage industry trends.

thriving cross department collaboration Quote

“We have to be nimble and agile in any respect and be comfortable with the uncertainty.” According to Noyek. - 24:33 - 27:10 -

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