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Five Key Steps to Supporting Strategic CFOs

By December 3, 2019 December 23rd, 2019 No Comments

Founder’s Edition, by Joseph Neu

What direct reports can do to help a CFO—and themselves—climb the strategic stairs.

We recently facilitated an event for growth-company CFOs where a lot of discussion centered on how the CFO should help get things done by being a strategic partner of the founder or CEO. Playing this role has also become a priority at more mature companies.

  • Bottom line:  If you report to the CFO, you’ll want help make that person a true strategic partner—as you simultaneously become one yourself.

For starters, focus on these five areas:

  1. Excellence inside and outside the box. The key takeaway is that CFOs have to be good at operating outside of the core finance function, or box, to be successful. That means they must have people they can rely on to handle what’s inside that box. So make sure the finance box functions phenomenally so that you, too, can support the CFO’s work outside it.
     
  2. Hire well and develop talent fast. To increase their span of control and become a strategic partner, CFOs need to hire the right people at the right time for key finance areas. That may always be true, but CFOs tend to struggle when they don’t recruit the right people at the right time for what’s needed next. Smarter hiring will let you take that next step.
    • The need to develop talent fast is in part generational, as millennials expect to progress faster. There’s also a supply-and-demand curve issue skewing finance talent younger. “Senior roles are filled by professionals, on average, six years younger than a decade ago,” a West Coast-based executive recruiter who specializes in finance executives said. A lack of supply for finance professionals with the right experience means that they have the ability to move up quickly. If you don’t promote them, they will leave. Your head of FP&A is someone else’s CFO. Don’t let that happen.
  3. Cultivate a direct line to the board. CFOs need to have a direct relationship with the board, usually with the chair of the audit committee, who can act as a sounding board, coach and networking advisor. Give them what they need to make the most of their board interaction and, as a key direct report, cultivate your own board relationships so that you are in the running as a successor.
    • Hint: The first step might be with a specialty sub-committee or advisory board. Start building your own network of advisors to make you a better and more valuable part of the CFO’s finance team.
       
  4. Set up solutions. A strategic CFO shows that he or she can offer more than information by proposing potential solutions and advancing the team to the 5-yard line, making it easier for the CEO to score the touchdown. Make it easier for the CFO to do this. Don’t be a passive data collector, but instead drive to solutions and, where appropriate, proactively take action.
     
  5. Be proactive about data as an asset. At more companies, data is becoming one of the most valuable assets; or it’s at the top of the list. Even if it’s not yet on the balance sheet, help the CFO to manage data well, leverage it for better decisions, and monetize it both to generate new revenue for the business but also as an asset with which to secure new capital.

Focus on these five things and you’ll likely see the strategic importance of the CFO’s role rise, and with it the strategic value of your role as controller, head of FP&A, vice president of corporate finance/treasurer, or chief audit executive.

Christina Popik

Author Christina Popik

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