How CFOs deliver growth through uncertainty

02/02/2024 17:30:00 +0800
This week, like thousands of other parents in Australia, we sent our girls off to a new school. For our eldest, she moved into high school, so it was a necessary move, but our youngest...well, I'd prefer to deal with one school at a time, so she moved, too. Fair to say - she's not thrilled.

That said, they had great orientation days last year and the communication leading up to this week has been forthcoming and comprehensive. So we felt as informed as best we could. But the fact is, we've got no idea what the year ahead holds for our children. No clue.

And this was proven on Day 1, when our eldest said she couldn't find her locker, once found with the help of a teacher it was full of cobwebs, she took the wrong book to class, and got lost going to another class. On Day 2, it continued - this time it was Cody and I who got lost leaving the car park to get home, and I won't even get started on the 2 hour experiment getting home on public transport that afternoon!

We couldn't even get the Day 1 photo right!
What we're experiencing is that it is extremely hard to be completely planned and proactive in the abyss of the unknown and uncertain.

And this is common thought I've heard from my CFOs in our coaching sessions and workshops this week. It sounds like this....

      "I want to be proactive, but it's so hard because I've come back
      and already I've had unexpected team absences and

     "I want to stop being reactive, but there's been so much
      change over the past few months - I need to be reactive to
      help the business respond. I should be able to plan
      better later on."

    "The business strategy is still not final, so there are no goals or 
     plans to cascade yet."
     "There is so much uncertainty in our industry, and our business
     is waiting on a few big tenders, so we're all in a holding pattern
     until then."
     "I haven't had a moment with my CEO to have any sort of
      planning conversation - it's like the holiday never happened!"

I'm not sure if any of the above sentiments resonate with you, but what I hear in the above statements is a desire to change, but a feeling of slight resignation and helplessness because they know that if they create a plan, it will most likely be undermined as soon as the ink is dry. I know that's a feeling I've experienced...have you?

The planning trap CFOs fall into

As my clients shared their challenges, there was something else I heard. It was a bias toward planning tasks and deliverables only. At a level of detail that I could only agree with them that, yes, there is a good chance those priorities will change given their context.

If you take a look at your own plan now, what do you notice? Planning for task based priorities, deliverables and outcomes? Of course you do! We've been taught to plan for tangible, measurable results!

Don't get me wrong, that's important. If we want to deliver value to our CEOs and businesses we must deliver outcomes that are tangible and measurable. Otherwise we may as well be invisible.

But if you can only plan when you have a task or deliverable, what happens in your quiet times?

(Do you have quiet times?)

What happens the day after you've delivered a major project?

Do you fall into a void...the void that Viktor Frankl in his book, "Man's Search for Meaning" refers to as an "existential vacuum"? Where you feel aimless and lost? As you wait for the next deliverable to become urgent?

Our tragic summer by the sea

Here in Australia, we're experiencing an extremely hot summer. Hot and humid. Our air conditioning has been on full time as has the pool filter! What it's meant, however, is that people are flocking to any body of water to cool down. Sadly, that's also resulted in many fatalities and even more close calls. My local beaches saw the loss of 2 lives within the space of the week - it's desperately sad.

Think about the lifeguards for a moment. The job of a lifeguard is to prevent injury and loss of life in the water.

Do you think their goals are 'I'm going to save 5 people from drowning this week?"

Of course not! Because they'd prefer that people don't get anywhere near close to drowning...ever!

So how do you think they plan for their own development and growth each season? Do they say, "I can't know how many people will need saving - it might be 20, it might be 1. So I can't create my plan?" Again, no.

They focus on their training. The focus on developing the skills essential to carrying out the tasks involved if and when they have to save lives. They're always in the IRB, or taking the boards out, or even just going for a swim out to the buoys. They get the CPR manikins out so they can practice the critical technique. They run scenarios to practice the critical thinking and decision making needed when the moment arises.


"I am not a product of my circumstances, I am a product of my decisions" - Dr Stephen Covey
This is how you plan in a reactive and uncertain context.

Planning your growth as a CFO

In the CFO Catalyst Plans that we help our clients create, we facilitate this balance between planning for task and for growth. What this results in is a plan that:

      1. Acts as a safety net so that all the 'must-dos' get done, and
      2. Guarantees for you a year that if you didn't achieve anything
      else but what was on that plan, you'd be really proud of your
      own personal and professional growth and progress.

So, if you're a CFO who finds yourself a little stuck with what the 'must-dos' are for this year (i.e. point #1 above), switch your focus to point #2.

The 1 question all CFOs need to ask themselves

Ask yourself this 1 question: How do I want to grow as a leader this year?

If this is too abstract for you, try this derivation: How will I be a better leader (than I am now) this time next year?

Write out your thoughts in full and use that as a guide to develop your own growth plan for the year. If it helps, map out what you've written to the 4 Quadrants of CFO leadership and even the 12 skills, that I share in CFO of the future. Then think about the sequence of your growth and how long it might take and you're well on your way to creating a plan you can stick to this year!

Dealing with the reactive

What you'll find with this approach is that the reactive tasks you need to respond to simply become case studies upon which to apply your growth areas.

For example:

         If you want to show up with powerful executive presence 12
         months from now, you'll make sure that every meeting you
         go to - whether it be about month-end or a capital raise - you
         do the work. That you get better every time.

         Or if improving your Board presentation skills is a goal of
         yours, then you'll pay an extra level of attention to how you
         (and others) prepare and present at meetings and town halls.
         Again, I can guarantee you won't go backwards.

As parents, my husband and I know that we simply want our girls to take up opportunities at school to grow and thrive. We want them to be kind, respectful and good humans and we want them to create friendships that support them.

We have no idea how that's going to happen. We know that there will be many more mistakes to be had along the way and at least for now, we're just going to have to react to them when they arise.

But that's okay. We've planned for that.

How will you deliver growth for your organisation through this period of uncertainty?
How will you prioritise your own growth?
When will you create the space?

Love to hear your thoughts...

Author: Alena Bennett

Alena works with leaders and their teams to connect technical and leadership skills so they can deliver to deadline without killing their people.
She is a mentor, trainer, facilitator and coach. Contact her today on [email protected].
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 ⓒ 2023




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