Precision: how CFOs prioritise the 'right' things before holidays

12/01/2023 00:00:00 +0800

The pre-holiday tidal wave is here. Most CFOs I'm speaking with at the moment are currently in some state of overwhelm with respect to how much they want to complete before the Christmas/summer break.

As you know, when we get into, or approach that state, of overwhelm, a couple of things happen:
- we freeze. Like a deer in headlights we look at all the things coming at us and feel paralysed.
- we fight fires. We turn up the dial on our firefighting capabilities and we just run at all the fires trying to do everything we can.

What we need is focus.

Unfortunately, sometimes freeze and firefighting can be disguised as focus because there's a level of intensity about it. Which doesn't serve us well when we're surrounded by the intensity of urgency.

Which is why I think CFOs need to adopt a mindset of 'precision' as we count down the weeks before Christmas.

Are you clear on the precise outcomes we need to deliver before Christmas?

It's really hard to step back and think about precise outcomes when the narrative in your head is 'it just somehow all needs to get done before Christmas'. But this is the job for you as the CFO right now.

Being able to think clearly and make decisions with precision is the thing that sets you apart from your peers and your team.

The impact of fatigue

The challenge is most CFOs and their teams are experiencing significant fatigue. Which means they're not producing their best results at exactly the time they need to be.

Fatigue is a real thing: it's not just a gut-feel. And there's a reason for it. In "The CFO and agility: How to combat change fatigue", Gartner's VP, Jessica Knight is quoted: "The amount of change that the average employee can absorb without becoming fatigued is half what it was last year. Employees' ability to absorb change has plummeted precisely at the time when more organisations need change to reset." Further, a 2020 Gartner study showed 49% of 499 finance and shared services employees reported low mental energy related to coping with changes.

So how do you get the benefit of precision when you know your team are struggling, too?

Monitor the right things.

The key ratio: Effort: Impact Ratio

Getting your finance leadership team to lift

Before you can determine how to lift your team's effort to impact ratio (and even before we've defined what that is), as a CFO you should have clear and succinct answers to the following two questions:

Question 1: What is the IMPACT you need them to have?

In one sentence, what is the impact you need your team to have? When I ask senior finance leaders this question, they typically respond with a list of things they need to deliver. Deliverables alone do not define impact. The most effective way to answer this question is to think of a medium term time horizon that is most relevant to you - say 6 months. Ask yourself, given the objectives for the next 6 months, what is the impact your team needs to have in the next 3 weeks in order to achieve the primary objective at the end of the Australian financial year?

What is the impact you need your team to have over the next 3 weeks?

On a scale of 1-10, 1 being they are having negligible impact and 10 being they are having maximum impact, how would you rate your team?

What changes might you need to make now to course correct to perform with precision, not overwhelm?

Question 2: What is the level of EFFORT they're currently operating at?

This one will be evident to you in various ways:

■ they are unresponsive, and never around
■ you see them working late: they are at work before you, they leave after you
■ you see them emailing or are online in Teams at all hours of the day and night
■ they look or sound exhausted
■ they appear distracted or disinterested

Effort without impact is a great example of wasted resources. Given that so many finance teams are considered under-resourced (a 2020 KPMG study showed 40 percent of finance leaders said they were not prepared for a transformed 'headcount-lite' environment), you can't waste what you've got.

If you see any of the above in your team, you need to figure out what's going on and what is draining them of their energy. It could be anything - even things outside of your control - but in order to increase their impact to effort ratio, you need to know where they're currently at.

On a scale of 1-10, 1 being no effort, 10 being extreme effort to the point of fatigue, how would you rate your team's level of effort?

What is your team's calculated effort to impact ratio?

To help you navigate around 'what is a 'good' ratio', let me help. This is how I see CFOs describe their team's performance:

■ They don't work that hard, and it shows. Low Effort: Low Impact = 2:2
■ I don't know what takes them so long. Seems they do so much in the background - but the dial doesn't move. High effort: Low Impact = 9:4
■ They're under the pump. They get a lot done, but they still need to lift. Maybe there's a capability gap? High Effort: Mod-high Impact = 9:8
■ They are nailing it. Mod Effort: High Impact = 8:10

Where you come in

Your success is dependent on your team's success.
You lift. They lift. You lift.

Your ability to inspire them to elevate their effort: impact ratio without you spoon-feeding them (because quite frankly, that just doubles the work) depends on your capacity for visionary decision making.

Visionary decision making sits in the "Change-leadership" or Impact quadrant of the CFO Skills of the Future model.

Why visionary decision making is hard for CFOs
"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing and the worst you can do is nothing." - Theodore Roosevelt
As we approach the end of the year, yes, there may be stress, but there is also a new year upon us. This hails the opportunity of a fresh start, and opportunity to be visionary even when it feels like the exact opposite thing to do.
But remember, the ability to make visionary decisions requires a consideration of value.
Lifting your team through visionary decision-making
When exemplifying visionary decision making to drive greater impact in your team, remember it's what they perceive as valuable that will be the hook to lift their performance. Use that to inform your communication strategy - what you choose to tell them, what you leave out.
Your success is dependent on your team's success.

You lift. They lift. You lift.

What is the impact to you when your team's Effort:Impact ratio improves?

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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