2021 in review - your executive team reading list

Brian Sommer Profile picture for user brianssommer December 28, 2021
My 2021 reading list for the enterprise executive.


The job of running a firm is rarely easy and current times certainly back that up. To help, I’ve collapsed the best ten or so top executive-focused articles of 2021. They cover Finance, HR, IT, Supply Chain and more. They’re also highly actionable, and, I believe, useful in 2022 and beyond.

World of Finance

Adding up five modern, relevant priorities for today's CFO

Why? The world of the CFO underwent a trial by fire starting in 2019. While many CFOs were preoccupied with countless planning/reforecasting efforts in the 2019-2021 timeframe, facility closings, layoffs, supply chain disruptions, etc. all had operational and financial impacts that still impact firms today. All of this change made the need for accurate financial projections a critical focus area. Looking ahead to 2022, the CFO has a number of additional priorities to add to their full plate.

This article was one of the most read and mentioned pieces in 2021. The priorities it listed covered people issues, CFO leadership matters, finance technology and other focus areas. And one of these, the need for a CFO to consider their legacy generated a lot of interest.

World of HR

Scoping today’s HR IT strategic planning environment

Why? If the previous article focused on a CFO’s top priorities, this piece was a masterclass on developing a highly relevant and useful plan for HR technology. Today, it’s really hard to plan and prioritize where HR should be going vis-à-vis HR technology. The technology landscape has shifted, a lot, lately and new innovations are pouring out of the woodwork, too. At the same time, some HR teams have discovered the inadequacies of their older, pre-COVID technologies and these need to be either replaced or reimagined. And don’t forget that there are a number of new requirements that have emerged recently, too.

This piece also got a lot of discussion on social media. The content should be a required action for IT and HR groups globally. The amount of change impacting firms in their pandemic labor issues, great resignation talent shortages, etc. is nonpareil. If your old solutions weren’t winning the war for talent pre-pandemic, it’s almost certain they are failing, big-time, today. This is the work that must be done NOW!

HR’s post-pandemic strategic plan - a critical, tough, but necessary effort

Why? This piece preceded the previous one by only 6 months and it laid out a great set of activities and data that HR professionals need to capture if they want to get their HR operation as relevant as possible. It’s a solid read full of ideas and to-dos.

The ugly, persistent payroll issues few talk about

Why? While lots of HR vendors have ‘fast’ implementation methodologies, there’s still one area that takes a lot of work and often gets shortchanged in the implementation: payroll’s interface/integration with the financial applications (mostly G/L but also cost accounting). Payroll’s integration with financial apps is only one sore spot and all of these product failings are still major work generators for HR, Finance and Operations personnel.

This is a very detailed and thorough investigation of the costs, triggers and more behind a painfully common problem that affects HR and Finance. This piece triggered a lot of back-channel discussion with clients but many HR vendors balked at the idea of discussing it. If you’re a CHRO that wants to make a friend with Corporate Accounting, get on top of this issue.

New HR tech is coming - along with new costs. What's an HR exec to do?

Why? Lots of firms are looking to augment their HR technology. The new software needs to be in the cloud (for remote access), smart (to provide powerful insights), supplemented with big data and algorithms (to recommend new courses of action), and tapped into new ways of finding and developing talent (just to name a few capabilities). However, just wanting and buying that kind of tech won’t deliver results without additional skills, new datasets, different implementation methods and different tech skills. Few HR teams may possess this.

This piece looks at the bill of materials HR needs for new tech along with some cautions about blindly using some of the old and new methodologies being proposed to put these technologies to use. Readers should peruse this and challenge potential vendors on these points.

The incredible, fractured Employee Experience - is EX ready for primetime?

Why? There’s an awareness in HR and leadership circles that something needs to be done to improve employee retention and morale. Companies are trying to roll out new cultures, experimenting with new technologies and more just to stem the tide of employees leaving the firm.

But the employee experience issues out there won’t be solved with a gimmick like changing the company’s logo or mission statement. Here’s the work that’s needed.

HR in an RPA vendor - how bots are transforming the function

Why? This piece illustrates what a strategic CHRO can actually accomplish with new, advanced technologies. It makes a great bookend to this section on HR and it also offers up a lot of ideas of how HR teams can help improve their operations, service levels and more. It’s an interview writeup unlike most in HR.

Other recommended HR Reading:

World of the CIO

The questions boards should be asking their CIOs

Why? The career of a CIO can be tenuous. It can definitely get dicey whenever a company is undergoing a material change of control or must operate in challenging times. Current events are certainly challenging and great CIOs need to be prepared for some tough questioning by their board of directors.

This piece really generated some comments especially on social media. One respondent even suggested that CIOs should prepare a slide deck that addresses each issue on a slide just so they can be ready to respond to board, investor, executive committee and staff questions. This piece starts slow but builds fast. It’s a must read for CIOs in today’s pandemic scarred, supply chain disrupted world.

World of Supply Chain

Our pitiful supply chains and how business/tech must respond (1/2)

Our pitiful supply chains and how business/tech must respond (2/2)

Why? This is a 2-part story. The first part examined issues with rail, truck, oceanic, infrastructure, labor and other transportation mediums. The second part prescribed a number of activities companies should undertake to lessen current problems and to prevent further supply chain woes.

World of ESG

What does it take to turn sustainability hype into practical reality? Questions smart buyers need to ask their ERP vendors

Why? Sustainability in 2021 is to ERP what multi-tenancy was to ERP in 2005. But, good intentions aside, the solutions being pitched by some ERP vendors re: ESG are lightweight and not necessarily good for more than reporting the amount of carbon being generated. Some ERP vendors, by the way, have nothing to pitch to you.

A great ESG solution will involve rethought cost accounting, managerial reporting, pricing and other functionality. This piece touches on environmental matters involving water, carbon, utilities, etc. Not only are boards looking at this, your competition and regulators will force your firm to get proactive on ESG soon even if your ERP isn’t up to the task.

Here’s one vendor’s response:

Sustainability & ERP - more than reporting? A conversation with IFS CEO Darren Roos

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