Are You the Chief Fixing Officer for Your Business?

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

I recently joined the millions of people in Australia and around the world who have contracted COVID-19. This left me running workshops from my daughter's bedroom on day 1 and isolating in my bedroom for days 2 and 3. By day 4, my husband and eldest daughter both tested positive. With 3 out of the 4 of us now positive with the virus, do you know what happened?

My youngest daughter, Mila - the healthy one, ended up in isolation.

I thought there was something quite perverse around the fact that the human in our house lucky enough to not contract the virus (yet) was the one bearing the brunt of 'our' respective illnesses. As a household, our context meant that it was difficult for Mila (at a dependent 8 years of age) to thrive the way she otherwise would were we not sick.

Why being in firefighter mode now might be an indication you're a CFO of the Future

I feel like this is the case for many CFOs at the moment who are struggling because of the change, challenge and chaos in the business around them. That is, many CFOs are in firefighter mode not because they are lacking capability or any other attribute in themselves, in fact it's quite the opposite. It's because they see what's possible, they know what needs to change, and so they take the lead in the transformation. The problem is - everyone around them doesn't know how to operate at that calibre.

If this resonates with you, it's a good sign you're a CFO of the Future.

Is your context challenging at the moment?

When we talk about the CFO of the Future journey below, we discuss the distinction between performance and potential. That is, the difference (and often frustration) that exists between knowing you're capable of performing at a certain level, say Partner, but you're actually performing at Firefighter level. Ego aside, this is usually a result of challenges in the context around you and most commonly this is due to dysfunction and/or lack of capability at the Executive Team level - i.e. your peers.

It goes without saying, of course, that the macro-economic context that we currently find ourselves operating in more challenging then ever. As a result, everyone wants a piece of the CFO and this is taxing.

I recently ran a CFO session sponsored by Divipay and Eftsure called 'Hygiene to High Performance: How to lead through turbulent times'. In that session, I shared a list of challenges they might be experiencing and asked them to rank their top 5. This was the results of more than 100 CFOs in Australia:

Would this be your ranking?


I then asked them if there were any other challenges that I hadn't included in the list. Here were their responses:

What else would you add to this list?

It goes without saying that there are a lot of people and issues vying for your attention!

Being in firefighter mode is characterised by being reactive in your work and feeling like you're operating at a frenetic and unsustainable pace. No matter how great a CFO you are, there will always be times when you have to react to a 'fire' - some kind of issue that's arisen in the business, often at the eleventh hour during a major business milestone! But operating as a firefighter should be the exception, not the rule.

CFOs are often seen as 'the fixer' and firefighting goes hand in hand with that. You might have first hand experience of knowing that Chief Fixing Officer is a hard brand to shake.

Are you the Chief Fixing Officer in your business?

What you need when you're in firefighter mode

When you're firefighter mode, of you're simply just sick of being the Chief Fixing Officer, you need 3 things:

1. Clarity: Clarity on what you should be focusing your attention and energy on, and clarity on the steps you need to take to stop being a firefighter.
2. Capability: To know how to use your high performance skills (like executive presence, influence and financial translation) to get through the hygiene (i.e. BAU, audit, reporting).
3. Community: You need sounding boards. People who have you in their best interests, who will give you tactics, share with and validate your war stories and support you.

If you are a CFO of the future, my guess is you have the capability. Which means it's the clarity and community you most likely need to elevate.

What to do when you're in firefighter mode

I took the participants of the 'Hygiene to High Performance' workshop through the Catalyst Planning approach I use with the CFO Boardroom community. It's a big picture approach which looks at the big picture for the next 5 years and also in detail at the next 12 months. I acknowledged that its value was not to plan out every month and quarter for you, because that wouldn't be helpful. We know in the current environment, the best laid plans will change.

The value of this sort of work is the direction it gives you, the focus it allows you and the illusion of control you feel once you've done the work. This lifts the fog and provides clarity. Just like my CFO Boardroom community, the CFOs in the workshop walked away feeling confident, empowered and excited about the year ahead even amongst the challenges above. This is my wish for you... my daughter, who was on her own isolating because of her 'sickie' family, know that if you are feeling like you're in firefighter mode it's not all because of you. It's probably because you're a CFO of the future and context matters.

Are you a CFO of the future?
Are you the Chief Fixing Officer in your business?
What do you need: clarity, capability or community?

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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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.