This interview is taken from an episode of the Spend Culture Stories podcast.
For This CFO, HR is Part of the Job
In this episode, Steve Watson, the CFO of CFSS Arizona shares his insights as the wearer of two pivotal hats – the CFO and CHRO. As a healthcare CFO, Steve shares the challenges of adapting to a remote work model, how his essential service was able to transition, as well as his passion for helping others save costs related to employee healthcare benefits.
Speakers: Steve Watson, CFO, Child & Family Support Services
Steve Watson is the CFO of Child & Family Support Services, a Phoenix-based non-profit that helps individuals, couples, and families improve relationships, emotional health, and positive behavior through individually-designed, positive-based, community-centered support services.
Steve is also the founder and CEO of TrendBreakers — a community of Finance, Human Resources, and Benefit Advisor professionals that are on a mission to break the trend of rising employee healthcare costs.
Listen to the Episode Here:
So it’s quite interesting that you are both a CHRO and a CFO. Can you explain a little bit more on the duality of those roles and how you think a human resources background plays into your role as a CFO?
Yeah, most people don’t wear those same hats. About a year into my tenure here at CFSS, the H.R. director left the company. And so they looked at me and they said, you know, ‘Hey, finance, HR, they’re about the same thing – we’ll let you have it. And I was like, ‘I don’t know in what world that’s the same thing. But it’s more on an interim basis. But I’m somebody that if if you give me something, I’m going to learn more about it.’
And so I drove into it. I started attending all the H.R. conferences I could, and I ended up getting a license and really coming to know that those two areas are a lot more similar than they are separate. We just we’re both kind of admin departments inside of the company. We’re both trying to help the company succeed. We just usually attack problems from different angles. You know, H.R. will attack it from a culture or emotional relationship basis, and finance will attack it through and through numbers and strategy and spreadsheets.
Do you find that sometimes, based on who you’re talking to, you have to switch your hats around? How do you navigate the two roles?
Yes, all the time – and my employees know that. So sometimes I’ll walk up to me and say, Steve, I need your H.R. hats or I need your finance hat or different things. And I do feel like there is a conflict going on and I have to balance those two conflicts in my head. But every business has to balance those things as well.
In regards to your organization, as a health care organization, what are some of the changes that you had to make due to COVID-19, whether it be from the culture or process point of view?
We are a community-based counseling clinic, and so we’re always in and out of people’s homes all the time. With the precautions right now – we now have had to stop that.
We had a transition really quickly, too. Instead of being face to face with our employees, to moving towards being remote and using things like Zoom and Google Hangouts and stuff. We had to do that and make these changes within about a weekend.
There was a lot to get those transitioned over, including some crazy technology. It was also training our employees, but also training families and getting them access to technology. if they didn’t have the technology, getting it set up for them.
You know, usually, something like this would take multiple months, even years to try and transition this. And we were forced to do it on a weekend or a week to do it.
Have some of the finances with the organization been impacted due to COVID-19? How has this changed the way your team works?
I mean, even as much as we can do things through the help of technology, we can’t do 100% of it. We had a big drop, and we’re trying to stabilize cash flow, trying to stabilize revenue. After stabilizing, seeing that impact on forecasting out for the next month, two months, three months – and then trying to put together contingency plans to make sure we’re doing the right things.
It’s hard to say because we are an essential business – to be able to be out there and helping people that may be on suicide watches and different things. We try and do as much of our work remotely as we can, but we are going out to the community and going to people’s homes when they need us to be there with them. And so it’s a mix. We don’t force all of the employees just to work from home or all of our employees to be on the field – they can kind of manage it how they see fit.
And normally, how do the approvals go through? Is that through emails or do they do a face to face interaction to make sure that something’s been approved?
It’s usually been through email and it still is through emails. So we’re trying to just kind of speed it up.
It’s usually between them and their supervisors and then once it’s approved, they’ll send it to finance then. But trying to manage that in their expense reimbursements and stuff – it’s a challenge.
I actually wanted to also ask a little bit more about Trendbreakers. You’re the founder and CEO of this community – can you tell us a little bit about why you founded this community and what’s the mission of the community?
So it really is my hybrid hats – the product of two of my hats coming together.
The biggest area where those come together is employee benefits – there’s a finance component of buying those benefits, but then there’s an H.R. component of trying to recruit and retain employees. And it really started 10 years ago when I got a 30 percent rate increase and that was hundreds of thousands of dollars I had to kind of come up with from the company. And then it was hundreds of dollars for each family each month. And it really ticks me off enough to really dive into it. I was you know, I know how to negotiate R&D salaries, paper, and like everything in my office, but for some reason, not employee benefits. There’s no class in that on my MBA or my CPA course. It was just all done. We just all have to learn from the brokers that we’re using. And so I went on this big journey. I learned a lot about how to negotiate benefits, ended up saving about half a million dollars a year for my benefits.
And then I just started thinking about like there’s wanting to help other people because it’s almost like sitting on an airplane and you saved a whole bunch of money, and the person sitting next to you didn’t. If you don’t tell them about it, you’re almost complicit with it. Right.
And so I always felt like the system’s so messed up that if I didn’t get out and help other employers do it, I was complicit with it. So I set up this community that started out pretty small, but now it’s rapidly growing to about 300 employers around the country where we come together and we share ideas. We share ways to get the best solutions for employees and how do we customize it to our own industry and our own size, and I love it.
And that’s what Trendbreakers is. So there’s a Facebook group, Linkedin group, and a podcast. I do events as well – I’m speaking at the National Teacher Conference (if it goes in the summer). And I don’t sell insurance. I’m not a broker selling it, but it’s just having somebody sit on your side of the table to walk through this, just like if you’re going to go buy a car and you don’t really know that much about. You’ll take a friend with you. So that’s who I am. That’s what Trendbreakers is.
About the Podcast:
Your company culture might attract talent, but your Spend Culture will make or break your company. The Spend Culture Stories podcast helps finance and operations leaders learn the tactics, strategies, and processes to build a proactive Spend Culture.
In this podcast, we have human conversations about the messy and sometimes hilarious stories that happen when people, organizations, and money meet. Learn how to pick the right tools, implement the most efficient processes, and how to develop the right people to transform the Spend Culture of your organization for the better.