If you've been following my work for awhile, or have heard me speak on stage at a conference, you may know that I refer to this quote a lot. Originally used by Marian Wright Endelman, American activist for civil rights and Former President of the Children's Defense Fund, there are several perspectives for CFOs which are relevant, but nuanced.
1. There are a lack of role models for you to look up to: As a CFO, you may have worked for a great CFO as you were working up through the ranks in your own career. However, the chances are you didn't. Why? Because the leadership landscape has changed so significantly in the last few decades, that what was acceptable in the past isn't today.
2. If you can't see your future, then how can you work to create it? CFOs spend so much time in the 'protector' role of the organisation, I find they struggle to 'dream' about the future. They foresake the excitement of possibility for the usually much less inspiring reality based on a conservative assessment of probability.
3. The landscape is so complex and noisy, it's hard to see clearly. You'll see in the CFO of the Future JourneyTM mapped out below that without clarity, CFOs get stuck in Firefighter mode. We have all experienced being a firefighter - you now the one, where you feel like you spend your days simply reacting and responding to crisis after crisis, without any sense of control?
As we begin the new calendar year, I thought that it might be an opportune time to revisit the top end of the CFO journey - to help you re-establish where you're going.
So you can see what you want to be.
CFO of the future Index
The below descriptions and definitions of the key components of being a Playmaker are sourced from the CFO of the Future Index report which my clients receive after completing the diagnostic of the same name. It is a diagnostic tool I created to sit alongside my second book, CFO of the future, which is where I comprehensively documented the CFO journey.
I hope you find the additional information a useful perspective and resource for you as you begin another successful year!
It's all about impact.
Opportunities to excel arise when you are visible to people. When they see what you do, can consider would you could do and will help you to achieve the impossible. Our ability to create the CFO careers that we want depend on our ability to be visible to and create results for the people that matter.
The relationship between where you are on the journey and the impact you have
There are different issues happening at each level in the above model. Depending on where you are in your career you might be able to identify with what's happening with your focus, the obstacles you face and the results you're achieving. The key is knowing what to focus on next and the above table can help you to self-identify before you review your results.
The good news is that no matter where you are on the above CFO journey, it helps to know exactly where you are in the sequence and what to focus on. It's so easy to get overwhelmed with all the individual tasks, deadlines and desires available to you that you don't know what to do next, so you end up just doing the thing that's on the top of the pile or responding to the person that shouts loudest. Or you spend time, energy and effort going down rabbit holes that produce no results and you start the process all over again!
How You Can Become a Playmaker
To position yourself to have a meaningful career as a CFO, you need to have a clear brand as someone who delivers results that matter. Your brand needs to be anchored to your purpose and be the foundation of your unique value proposition. This is when confidence emerges and your ability to influence and have impact is amplified.
What is a Playmaker?
Playmakers have gravitas. They are the ones you aspire to be, those are the ones that deliver results. Playmakers have the ability to overcome the challenges of time, dysfunction and know how to have difficult conversations. They are the CFOs who create their role - they do not define or measure themselves by today's definition of a CFO. If they want to be a 'people CFO', they do that. If they want to be a 'strategy CFO', they do that, too. But their ability to articulate that brand and be recognised and valued for it is comes back to their ability to deliver value.
In fact, Playmakers are all people CFOs. They recognise that results are delivered through people, for people and by people. They take the time to engage and mobilise their staff so that they can step out of the detail and focus on having the commercial conversations that drive performance.
They have a strong powerbase: a network of people that proactively support them and create opportunities for further growth and success. They seem to know everyone that matters and have contacts in all the right places. This is a big part of how they are able to bring the latest and greatest ideas and innovations into an organisation.
Playmakers are continuous learners and they build learning cultures into their teams and organisations. They understand this is the most efficient and effective way to build capability and leverage capacity which is how they seem to get more done than the average CFO.
Why become a Playmaker?
The role of a CFO has undergone major changes over the past 2 decades. This is due to changes in regulations and standards, increases in the responsibility of Directors and extreme volatility due to global financial crises and pandemics. This is in addition to major disruptions in technology and innovation and principles around organisational development, people and culture. What was a CFO when you grew up is entirely different to what it is today.
The hardest part, however, is that being a CFO includes numerous 'must-dos': think annual reports and investor calls. These have always formed the foundation of what it means to be a CFO and are usually met with a level of 'ho hum' about them. The challenge is, compiling the data to prepare for these events is not a simple or fast task, even for the most high performing finance teams and their CFOs. When you then layer onto the basics, the 'fun stuff' - the business partnering, the strategy and innovation - it's a burgeoning workload which suddenly has you spinning plates.
If we know that we are set to experience even more change and volatility over the next decade, then the only way to stay relevant and continue to deliver value is to be skilled at adapting and pivoting when needed, but also knowing when to stay the course.
This is where clarity around your brand and leadership identity are critical. When you are clear, you lead consistently. When you are consistent, you accumulate trust in those around you. It is with this level of trust that you can effect immediate and lasting change that works for you to help ensure that none of those plates will drop. That empowers you to make judgment calls around priorities and encourages others to step aside and let you lead the way.
Being a Playmaker is the most effective way to ensure that you stay in the driver's seat in your career and be a CFO by design, not default.
How do you become a Playmaker?
To become a Playmaker, you must become known to the people that matter most. If you don't, you'll regress to the dark ages where Finance was firmly stuck in the back-office.
However, it's more than just knowing people. You must be able to leverage the power of your people and deliver outcomes.
In doing so, you need to demonstrate your knowledge of the basics - the bread and butter when it comes to finance. You also need to leverage your powerbase and be able to effect change by bringing in the new ideas into your organisation.
You can do it all....just not at the same time. So what you need to do is know your sequence to success. The order in which you need to focus on the activities to have greater impact within your organisation and move yourself to being a Playmaker.
To guide your organisation to success this year, where do you need to be on the
CFO of the future journey?
Where are you now?
What is your next step?
Love to hear your thoughts...