Corporate culture key to keeping employees
Chief financial officers must adapt to changes, explore financial efficiencies, keep weekly tabs on balance sheets, maintain updated management reporting systems, and always have a plan in place when things turn sour.
If there’s one thing Wes Fountain, a 29-year veteran of the Hospital Corporation of America system, has learned, it’s that a new CFO must adapt to changing environments. After all, Fountain has held executive hospital positions at four HCA divisions, including stops in Florida, Texas, and South Carolina, and was named CFO at HCA’s Tri-Star Division in Brentwood, Tenn., in September.
“What’s needed from a CFO in a growing, competitive, strong organization is different from a CFO in an organization that’s struggling financially with a weaker market position,” says Fountain, who earned an MBA from Auburn in 1999. “Being a growth-oriented CFO versus one that is at an organization that does not have a lot of growth prospects where you have to manage more of the cost side of the equation doesn’t take a different skill set, but it certainly leverages different skills.
“One challenge for any new CFO moving to a new organization is making sure they have confidence in the financial reporting of their organization. Is it accurate? Is it reliable? What’s the history of the audit reports? What are the internal controls like? The primary challenge in the near term is assimilating into the culture of the organization and getting to know the people. At the end of the day, it’s still a people business.”
In this age of skyrocketing health care costs, what measures can a health care division explore to be more efficient? Fountain mentions leveraging vendors and supply chain relationships for value and making technological investments that will pay for themselves in the long run. “Sometimes you have to spend money to make money,” he says.
But it comes back to people. Tight healthcare labor markets create a competitive field for talent. That’s why retention is so important.
“Having a good culture that employees want to be a part of is vital. This keeps your turnover low, which is going to result in a lower cost of labor than in an environment where you have higher turnover,” Fountain says.
Fountain suggests that hospitals implement organizational development programs to help foster leadership and improved internal cultures.
“Patient demand continues to grow, and it grows unevenly by market,” he adds. “You can have a dreadful organization in terms of culture that is in a growing market, but the poor culture resulting in turnover will make that hospital rely on premium labor—constraining financial resources, which is contrary to what you would think of if you are in a growing market where people are moving into the city. That’s generally supposed to be a recipe for a growing, healthy organization.”
Not all organizations are healthy. The internal culture might actually be healthy, but the bottom line isn’t. Fountain says this isn’t a situation that a CFO can single-handedly repair, but he or she can be a steadfast leader in the process.
“That organization would need a CFO who is going to articulate, in layman’s terms, not financial terms, the environment or circumstances that the organization faces and ask for ideas, action, and participation,” he says. “Then they should create a leadership team that can hold the organization accountable to the plans that they have set. The highest value a CFO can bring to that conversation is a leadership quality, and not necessarily a technical characteristic.”