The 3 Conversations CFOs should be having

11/03/2023 00:00:00 +0800

Do you stress about not meeting deadlines? About how to tell the business that the analysis they have requested will take longer than expected? Do you worry that you'll be perceived as a 'no person' when you want to be seen as an enabling partner of performance?

How many times have you sat back and disengaged from a conversation because you don't think it's worth it to speak up?

How much time and effort do you spend not having difficult conversations? What does this cost you?

There is varying research that says it costs between $1,500 and $7,500 for every difficult conversation that isn't had. Imagine that. Think about the number of difficult conversations you're not having each multiply that by the number of your team members?

What is the total cost of inaction?

Avoiding difficult conversations slow us down

One of the biggest challenges of a CFO is that you almost have to have split personalities. On one hand, you are required to be considered, identify problems and be somewhat risk averse to ensure that the numbers are accurate and have integrity. On the other hand, you need to drive performance, to identify commercial opportunities and unlock value for their organisation. This split personality can be a little like watching a Learner drive a manual car - stop, start, stop, start (i.e. the 'bunny hop').

Imagine this - we have great commercial conversations with the business, advising them on how they can deliver better performance by pulling at different levers. Then we go back to our desks, only to have an email sitting in our inbox that informs you that, no - that's not possible, for any number of reasons. Our heart sinks, our stomach drops.

You spend the next few hours worrying about how you're going to have the conversation to let them know the bad news. That it's a compliance thing, 'it's the accounting standards' - something they don't understand or care about. You wonder what it's going to do for your reputation, how you're going to recover, how to ensure that they continue to consult with you about commercial deals well before the eleventh hour.

It ties you in knots and wastes precious time.

Reframing difficult conversations: have these 3 conversations instead

We avoid difficult conversations, not only because they're uncomfortable, but because most of us have been burned before. In one way or another, we have stuck our neck out, been brave and taken a chance. And we've endured painful consequences. Or we've summoned the courage to request an improvement to conditions, we've been told one too many times that change will happen...and it never does.

So we stop. Stop pushing boundaries, stop going the extra mile. We stop having difficult conversations. Thus breeds stagnation and mediocrity.

Does this sound familiar?

What if instead of avoiding difficult conversations we got better at these 3 conversations:

1. Conversations for Clarity
2. Conversatiions for Change
3. Conversations to Celebrate

If one of these conversations doesn't happen well, the triangle collapses
Conversation #1: Conversations to create clarity
Difficult conversations arise because we have a tendency to shortcut conversations to create clarity because we are so crunched for time. We make assumptions, rely on heuristics (shortcuts of the brain) and that when people nod their head, they fully understand. Sometimes, even, we make the assumption that if we've sent an email with some information in it, that email has been read, understood and ready to be applied.
The energy behind conversations to create clarity is static. Its focus is to ensure there is a sense of understanding between the parties involved. You cannot move away from this conversation until that understanding has taken place. Because this is what causes difficult conversations. This is what slows your team down and holds you back.
Once you have that shared understanding, you can move forward to the other 2 conversations that your FLT need to have.
Conversation #2: Conversations to create change
CFOs and their teams have to influence every day. Internally and externally. It's a huge part of the job and significant measure of a CFOs success. Conversation to influence are energetic - they're about movement and action: from one state or position to another. They are about change.
When difficult conversations arise here, we need to step back and ask ourselves 'What conversation to create clarity do I need to have now?'. We don't push forward and have more conversations to influence, because all you do then is widen the understanding or expectation gap.
Keep doing this dance until your task is complete: one way or another. Because then you're ready to have the 3rd and final conversation.

Tonight we'll be getting together to celebrate the exceptional Australian CFO and Finance community!
Conversation #3: Conversations to celebrate
In every finance team I work with, for every CFO I support, they have a desire to celebrate more. Seriously - it comes up in every session when I ask 'what do you need to do more of?'. But they don't make the time to do so. Because they perceive celebration as 'fluffy, nice to have'. Discretionary and less important than the next big thing.
It's so not.
Conversations to celebrate are about what happens at the end - whether it be success or failure. They are about growth - and celebrating the opportunity for growth that a certain task or milestone has provided us. It is how we encourage and practice 'failing forward' - we celebrate. It's how we reward and recognise achievement - we celebrate. It's the closing conversation to the task or activity. It's not about the party - it's about recognition and learning which is what stimulate performance growth so we are all better next time. It's about reflection. You might know it as a debrief. But when you refer to it as a conversation to celebrate it evokes a sense of achievement and progress. Which is what allows you to raise the bar.
Let's stop avoiding difficult conversations and get comfortable and competent with the conversations that count:
1. Conversations for clarity

2. Conversations for change
3. Conversations to celebrate

Which conversation is most important for you and your team right now?
What would be possible for you if they were better at just one of these conversations?
What do you want to be celebrating 90 days from now?

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].
Grab your copy of Alena's CFO of the Future!

This is the trusted guide for CFOs to lead with IMPACT and create VALUE.

Grab your copy of Alena's Meaning Matters!

It's time for women in finance to find power in their purpose!

 ⓒ 2023




Let's Connect
Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the Darkinjung people, the traditional custodians of the land on which we live and work and pay our respects to the Elders both past, present & emerging.