Reality: The Sequel

When it comes to the economy, there may or may not be a "new normal," but companies are clearly gearing up to change the way they operate.


There has been plenty of talk lately about the emergence of a "new normal" in American business. This theory holds that the Great Recession will retreat in the manner of a polar ice cap, leaving conspicuous fissures and moraines across the economic landscape, diverting rivers of commerce, and threatening the biodiversity of one industry after another.

The last time we heard reports of such significant change, they concerned the birth of a "New Economy" in the late 1990s, a development that was supposed to, among other things, render the classic boom-and-bust cycle obsolete in favor of steady growth.

So it's wise to approach claims of a new normal with a bit of skepticism. That said, when we polled 400 senior finance leaders on that question in July, a stunning 88% said they believe that once the recession ends U.S. companies will operate in a new environment, versus returning to business as usual.

Many aspects of that new environment are already coming into focus. In "Hard Lessons," senior writer Alix Stuart talks to CFOs across a range of industries and learns that from cash, credit, and banking strategies to workforce development to forecasting and risk management, companies are changing how they operate, and they expect many of those changes to be permanent.

What does this mean for CFOs? Respondents were divided on that, with some saying the recession has simply created more work and stress, others saying it has transformed the very nature of the job, and still others taking a position somewhere in-between. Only a handful, however, believe that the current travails have had little or no effect on the position.

No matter what camp you fall into, it's important not to duck and cover. In "Advise and Shine," senior writer Kate O'Sullivan offers one eminently useful lesson from this recession: The time is ripe for CFOs to get in front of employees and give them a badly needed reality check. As we wait for some form of normalcy to set in, a few words from the CFO could help employees feel like there is solid ground beneath their feet.


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