1 July: How to Be the CFO Your CEO and Team Needs

09/25/2023 06:56:21 +0000

What a way to kick it off...with another lockdown and living with the realities of a pandemic permeating through our work and home lives. I was talking with the CFO Boardroom over the weekend to check in and see what support they needed as the week started. One of our CFOs said 'Lockdown for year end and school holidays. We've been through it before so am putting in place what I think worked last time.' It was a great message of strength and reflection and I think that's exactly what CFOs need right now.

McKinsey's " The CFOs role in helping companies navigate the coronavirus crisis" agrees:

Notice the words: strong, steady leadership...stabilising the business. These things can be hard when we're faced with uncertainty and don't know what the future holds.

The strength lying latent in reflection

When I'm coaching and mentoring my clients, I ask that they do their own self-reflection and share this with me prior to our sessions. This does 3 things:

1 - it allows me to prepare to give them exactly what they need in the session. Now, quite honestly, my clients don't really care about this. Yes they want the value from the session but they don't care about my internal process that I use to get there. However, what they do care about, and why they complete the self-reflection is in #2.

2 – it gives them an opportunity to stop, reset and get focused on the things that matter. If they're in a funk, it also shows them where they have been successful and made progress, and therefore compels them to move on even when it feels so hard. It opens up a path to consider what opportunities lie ahead.

3 – it allows them to accumulate and make meaning of their previous experiences – said another way, it allows them to turn experience into expertise.

This is how CFOs make strong decisions during periods of uncertainty.

Start off strong: hello FY22!

One of my CFOs said to me last week 'Gosh, I've never done planning with quite this level of focus. I don't feel like I can fail with this structure and the support you've built around us. I've realised that if I don't prioritise this myself, no one else will.'

Given that today is the first day of the new financial year and no one is saying ', let's sit down so you make sure you're set up for success', I thought I'd give you the opportunity here to reflect, refine and refresh by sharing with you the 6 questions I ask my clients and provide you with some additional questions that may be useful for you given the context you find yourself in now:

1 – This is my biggest achievement since our last time together...

  • What have you achieved in the last quarter (or month – choose your timeframe)? Take a moment to acknowledge and recognise your progress. It sometimes helps to simply jot down all the little things you've done in bullet point format so you can look at it in totality. Once you've got that list, step back and ask yourself, 'What does this mean? What does this enable me/us to do?'

  • If you are in lockdown, what did you successfully implement last year and can you reinstate that now?

  • If today is the start of your year-end, what made your last year-end work? Did you nail that paper on assumptions? Did you manage the Board process with ease? How can you make those areas more seamless and empower the people around you even more?

Last year illuminated how our handling of the Board needs to meet with the times and growing demands of a Director. A Harvard Business Review article identified ways in which corporate governance must flex to meet the demands created by the pandemic, but I think these are also useful more broadly so I thought I'd share these here for your consideration as part of your reflections. CFOs need:

1. More structured Attention to stakeholders: Remember the neverending stream of Teams meetings and despite that how hard it was to talk to everyone last year? Create a useful communications cadence to ensure you're talking to the right people at the right time.

2. More attention to how business and society intersect: It's at this intersection where long term performance and sustainability sit. It may be tempting just to look at the immediate future, but if you put the blinkers on, you may inadvertently be setting up your organisation for failure.

3. More comprehensive approach to compensation: In Australia we were fortunate that there was a lot of government aide provided last year but it did pose questions about the equity in our compensation and remuneration arrangements. As a CFO you need to be thinking about sustainable and more equitable compensation arrangements for your staff.

4. More deliberate decision making: As the article states, "the numbers frequently do not speak for themselves, and many issues that rise to the board are not amenable to resolution through financial analysis or other quantitative techniques." A CFO's ability to tell the story behind the numbers and exemplify the skill of impactful financial translation is imperative to help organisations through their crunch times. How well do you use plain English and storytelling techniques when you talk to your organisation's performance?

5. More attention to Board Composition: Do you have the right skills and capabilities in your Board to help you and the CEO steer the ship? Do they complement yours and provide the opportunity for challenge and debate? As the context continues you to make more and more decisions without all the information and through massive ambiguity, the bench strength of your Board is critical.

2 – This is what I did not get done, but intended to do...

High performers like CFOs have lofty aspirations and many intentions. In fact, in the spirit of service, most CFOs take on too much. 'Dropping the ball' is one of the top 3 concerns CFOs consistently share with me. So don't shy away from answering this question honestly – there will be things you didn't do. The value is in making meaning of that list.

  • Of the things you didn't do, do you see any commonality?

  • What does this list tell you about how you are prioritising?

  • Is there anything on this list that someone else should do? (Have we picked it up because we knew no one else would/could do it?)

  • Do you need to make any adjustments to the structural pillar of high performance? I.e. do you have the structures in place that support you to get through your work?

3 – This is what I am working on...

  • What's your focus right now? Look at your calendar – what are your meetings comprised of?
  • What's your priority right now?
  • If I were to ask your CEO what they think your priority should be, is there alignment?
  • Is there a disconnect between what you're working on and what outcomes you need to deliver as a priority?

4 – These are the challenges/barriers I am facing right now...

Typically, the challenges are results, deliverables or goals that you're concerned you won't achieve because of the people around you. Answering this question in detail is the best way to identify what the 'real' problem is, so you can spend your time and effort resolving and overcoming the 'right' problems and challenges.

It's a bit like the road to business partnering. I've seen so many teams focus on system reporting as a way to be seen as business partners: the ability to generate reports that are real-time, accurate and that the business can self-serve. What they find on the other side of releasing those reports to the business, however, is that they still fall short. Why? Because their people don't have a commercial mindset and therefore don't know how to lead commercial conversations with the business.

When you identify the real problem, you can invest in real solutions. To quote Carl Jung,

"To ask the right question is already half the solution of a problem"


5 – These are the opportunities available to me right now...

When you look up amongst the treeline, what do you see? What opportunities are there for you to be more visible? To have more influence? To step off the dance floor and onto the balcony?

  • If I could wave a magic wand or look into a crystal ball and create an opportunity for you, what would it be?

  • If you were advising someone else in your position, in your circumstances, what would you tell them?

6 – These are the 3 core needs I have right now for this coaching session...

You may have realised by now that the journey your mind has just travelled is one of being open – thinking broadly and deeply and travelling through the different temporal channels of past and future – and that this question is one of synthesis. Through this process you've identified lots of opportunities for improvement, tasks to execute change and ideas to activate, but this final question is where the rubber hits the road.

It's where we take all of that information and say, 'With all of that in mind, what do we need now?'. This is how we refresh with intention and impact. It's how we reset and deliver outcomes that matter.

Think of it like a funnel – given everything you've put in, what are the 3 key things you need to spit out the other end and focus on in the near-term?

The Personal Pillar of High Performance

If you take a look at the notes you've scribbled down as you've gone through the process above, my guess is that it's all work related. And that's probably as it should be....but one of the biggest things that this pandemic has shown us is that life is precious. There is more to life than just work. I understand that may sound a little trite, but I want to share something my lockdown #1 experience with you.

Last lockdown, I worked my tail off. 4-8am work, 8-12pm home schooling, then 12-7ish in my office working again. Quite honestly, it was a battle. I did this while I watched the social media feeds taunt me with people 'lavishing in lockdown': baking sourdough, hanging out with their kids, exercising all day and slowing down. Now, it's important to note I made the conscious choice to do those hours and to invest in my work that way. I'm incredibly grateful that I did, but this time I want it to be different. Which means part of my reflection is that the decisions I make during this lockdown need to be different.

How does your reflection change your intention and decisions?

I'm not sure if any of that resonates with you, but I wanted to share my experience in case it's useful and show how my reflection has changed the shape of my decisions.

Which is why I want to finish this week's article by reminding you of the Personal Pillar of High Performance. Of all the pillars, this is the one that activates long term performance and fulfilment. When this one is taken care of, we can burn the midnight oil with energy and without regret.

So, I'd like to close by asking you a final question: as you approach lockdown and/or year-end, what are the things that need to be in place for you in order to perform at your best at work? These are the things that 'fill up your cup' and inject you with energy. They might be:

  • Going for a run or a ride 3 times a week
  • Having dinner with your family 3 times a week
  • Meditating every morning, even for just 5 minutes
  • 'Not' working after dinner 1 night a week

Whatever they may be, capture them now and schedule them in your calendar. Watch your own energy as you do so...you'll feel strong and confident.

Exactly what your team, CEO and family need of you right now.

What are your reflections?
What are your intentions?
What are your decisions?

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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