Over the past three years, the recession has pummeled Los Angeles. Unemployment in the county skyrocketed from just under 6 percent in March 2008 to roughly 12 percent this March. Banks tightened lending standards, consumers reigned in spending and, as a result, a number of local companies downsized or shuttered operations.

But now, we’re starting to see faint glimmers of hope. I was heartened to read reports that California has added more than 90,000 jobs this year, and that the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. declared an economic recovery underway in Southern California, forecasting growth in 2012.

Yet another study reminded me that, as business leaders, we are at a crucial tipping point.

I was reviewing the results of Deloitte’s latest CFO Signals Survey, which we conduct quarterly to track the thoughts and actions of chief financial officers from North America’s largest and most influential companies. The findings were a reality check for me, and illustrate the “new norm” that we are facing.

Our survey shows that businesses are operating differently as a result of the recession. One remarkable difference is that CFOs, typically the overseers of a company’s finances, are taking on a broader range of duties. Many are becoming co-pilots in their company’s journey from survival to growth and profitability.

In my role, I meet with L.A. CFOs regularly, and many agree: The business sector is at a crossroads.

In this precarious and increasingly competitive environment, CFOs can help their companies by avoiding these five critical missteps:

• Delegating the decision-making process

For many companies, boosts in revenue from the economic recovery are leveling off, and they are shifting focus from cost containment to growth. As a result, the CFO role is rapidly evolving into a more hands-on catalyst role. In fact, nearly 43 percent of those surveyed by Deloitte say that influencing business strategy and operational priorities is a leading challenge. This shift is a tremendous opportunity – it allows CFOs to use their full range of leadership, facilitation and analytical skills to have a greater impact on their company’s business strategy and, in turn, its future.

• Taking your eye off your talent

Despite high unemployment, one-third of CFOs surveyed say they are having trouble filling open positions. I was discussing the irony of this recently with a CFO of a local manufacturing company, who agreed that the problem was mainly structural, driven by a combination of changing staffing needs and a shortage of workers who fit complex staffing profiles. Our study also showed that nearly 60 percent of CFOs are taking new steps to keep top performers. With a talent war brewing, organizations that make hiring and investing in skilled talent a priority are the ones who will remain competitive.

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