In February, the Austin Chapter of the CFO Leadership Council met for a panel addressing industry-wide changes to the role of Chief Financial Officers. Thought leaders from BigCommerce, Snap Kitchen, and Silverton Partners shared their experiences with the changing landscape of the CFO.
The modern CFO is anything but a tactical partner; in fact, CFOs have evolved into an important strategic role in any organization. According to Adam Chibib, Partner at Silverton Partners, “CFOs in particular have a background in systems, processes and people, so they’re in the unique position to help from a strategy perspective.”
Building an Ethos
It’s exciting to see the CFO evolve thanks to technology, but this new role isn’t gained easily. CFOs have to build their credibility both externally and internally to realize their full potential.
The C-suite is particularly visible to parties outside the own organization. It’s important for a CFO to establish credibility with these parties, which can be done in a number of ways.
- Sell: Selling isn’t just for your sales team. Develop a sales mindset based in persuasion. Don’t rely on other members of the C-suite to explain your company or product to other parties. CFOs need to be able to clearly articulate their product offerings.
- Investor relations: The CFO is key to positive interactions with investors. “Build a rapport with investors. You have sixty minutes, so be good at pitching your story and building relationships with investors,” said Robert Alvarez, Consero client and CFO of BigCommerce.
It’s crucial for the CFO to build rapport with internal parties as well.
“Trust is so hard to earn, but easy to lose,” said Adam Chibib. He has a great point: CFOs sometimes think trust and respect comes as part of their title, but it’s far from the truth. “Relationships are a two-way street, so put yourself out there,” added Dale Easdon, CEO of SnapKitchen.
It’s all about building relationships and fine-tuning interpersonal skills. CFOs aren’t salespeople, but they need to think of themselves as a person who sells ideas, both externally and internally.
CFOs and CEOs
CFOs need to establish communication with CEOs from the start. But how exactly does this relationship work with a strategy-focused CFO?
According to Robert Alvarez, the CFO can start by devoting 40 percent of their time to the CEO. But time isn’t the only thing a CFO must commit to.
“A CEO wants someone who challenges them. Tell them when it is not going to work,” said Dale Easdon. Ad
am Chibib added, “Balance an overzealous CEO. Give a deliverable plan so you don’t underdeliver every quarter. CEOs can promise but not deliver; CFOs can’t. Tell the CEO when they are wrong. Fight the good fight.”
CFOs have models and objective data that inform business strategy. It’s the duty of the modern CFO to ground other members of the C-suite.
To avoid conflict and miscommunication, it’s important to align with your CEO and other C-suite team members at the beginning. Clarify roles, goals, and how your relationship will work.
From CFO to COO
Not all CFOs want to remain in the CFO position forever. How do you know when it’s time to advance?
According to Adam Chibib, “In a high growth company, your role should evolve every six months.” This doesn’t mean you can expect to become COO in six months, of course. But your scope will increase with your tenure in a position.
This increased responsibility might look like:
- Hiring people that are better than you. Everyone has weaknesses. Once you identify your own, you know you can hire people to help with your blind spots. As Robert Alvarez said, “FIll in the blank spaces to prepare yourself for other roles.”
- Do the extra work: CFOs often find themselves taking on extra work, sometimes out of necessity. But this is an excellent way to expose yourself to other departments and functions. In fact, you can be a more effective CFO if you know the language of other departments. If you have your eyes set on another C-suite position, familiarize yourself with all processes and functions. See if you can take on extra responsibilities tied to the role you aspire. More than likely, if you do the work, the title will come to you.
Share Your Knowledge
Mentoring, hiring, and coaching are natural aspects of the CFO’s expanding duties. Here are best practices to consider when sharing your knowledge with others.
- Smart hiring: “Get involved with who you hire,” said Robert Alvarez, “What traits are you looking for? Culture plays a huge role. If you don’t get the right people, you will get stalled.” Hire for both skill and culture. If your gut tells you something is wrong, a candidate isn’t right for the job.
- Manage culture: Culture can make or break a company’s success. Align all employees and departments on what is important. Institute systems that help you manage this culture, even as the company scales. Remember to demonstrate this culture with your own behaviors. A true culture is built on what actually happens, not what you wish were happening.
- Communication: CFOs need to clearly articulate their vision and strategy. Your communication style should also be consistent, no matter how your organization changes. Employees need consistency in messaging and medium (email, phone call, etc.) to trust you.
- Keep your eyes on your own paper: The old grade school mantra rings true for CFOs. “If you just focus on outputs, you will be in trouble,” said Robert Alvarez. CFOs are data-driven, so it only makes sense to judge by output. However, there’s a time for focusing on the ‘people’ part of the job. This makes the financial aspect of the job much easier. Learn to let go by giving your team deadlines and allowing them to work.
- Mentorship: No CFO is fully self-made. Everyone had a mentor in their career that helped grow their skills. It’s the duty of the CFO to pay it forward by creating mentors. CFOs should help their team achieve their career goals. This can be done by creating coaching conversations, being vulnerable and admitting your mistakes, and creating a safe environment.
The Bottom Line
The role of the CFO is in flux as technology becomes smarter and faster. This frees up the CFO to take on other key responsibilities in more of a strategic role. While this changes what it means to be a CFO, it’s all upside for organizations looking to streamline their processes and put their people first.
- Rethinking Corporate Performance Using KPIs
- The 10 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs
- The 7 Principles That Define Finance Leaders
About Mike Dansby
With more than 32 years of combined management and consulting experience, Mike Dansby, Consero’s VP of CFO Services has successfully raised over $100M in debt and equity capital, conducted successful M&A transactions, and served as CFO at several tech companies. He is a CPA and earned his MBA from the Wharton School of Business
The CFO Leadership Council offers monthly programs featuring expert panels and interactive sessions that drives meaningful conversation and leadership development amongst our membership. Membership is always open! Visit www.cfolc.com to find the chapter near you.