Common CFO Blind Spots (And What to Do About Them)

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

I worked as an auditor for 4 years in San Francisco and my clients were SEC listed companies (or those looking to list), who were based in the north and south Bay areas. As a result, I spent a reasonable amount of time driving, so after about 9 months I decided it was time to get off my international license and sit my US driver's license test. Having driven for over a decade at that stage, I was delighted to see that the test didn't seem to take that long. Only for that delight to turn into despair when the assessor told me I'd failed. What?!?

I'd failed because I hadn't recognised there was a narrow bike lane as I turned left at an intersection, and therefore didn't check my blind spot when merging into that 'lane'. (I know there are a number of avid cyclists that are reading this – don't hate me. This was before bike lanes were common in Sydney.) Not checking your blind spot when you merge into a lane is an automatic fail. Even when it's a bike lane.

The negative consequences when you fail to recognise blind spots are varied. As in my case, not knowing your blind spots can bring about:

  • Financial loss
  • Excessive time spent
  • Pride hurt
  • Self-doubt
  • Loss of freedom

I thought it would be helpful, therefore, to share 5 of the most common blind spots CFOs have and 2 tools that may help. I hope you find this useful.

1. Your finance team does need permission
I wouldn't describe any of the CFOs I work with as particularly autocratic. Command and control leadership doesn't have any place in my Boardroom, nor around the executive tables of the corporate finance team programs I run. I just don't align with that philosophy of leadership.

That said, I continue to see finance teams seemingly hold back or hold off taking initiative when I know they have the capability and desire to do so. I'll be sitting with a finance leadership team watching them wait and I'll be thinking 'what are they waiting for? I know they've got what it takes.' And whether it's reverence of or deference to their CFO, you need to know they're waiting for permission.

As a CFO, you might know this is the case for your team if you notice your team aren't coming to you proactively with ideas and solutions. If you find yourself being the conduit or liaison between members of your finance leadership team. Or if they're not taking opportunities you believe are there for them.

Not knowing your blind spots can have significant consequences

2. The shadow you really cast
Still on the topic of finance leadership teams, another blind spot that is often overlooked is that CFOs and their teams quite often try to create cultures that require characteristics and attributes they don't embody.

Again, the disconnect here that I see is that whilst the finance leadership team might say uplifting and energetic words like 'joy, celebrate success, approachable', when they are working together as a team they tend to mirror their CFO.

If you are the CFO and you don't radiate joy, celebrate success or you are hard to find because you're in meetings all day, you are inadvertently casting a shadow over the culture your team are trying to create.

3. You are trying to do it all
CFOs are often the holder of bad news. Quite often, the numbers and projections acts somewhat like a 'financial crystal ball' whereby you can see what's coming before anyone else can. The problem is, as highly social, service-oriented people, CFOs don't like to deliver bad news. They'll often do everything they can do to avoid it. How this manifests is typically in 2 ways:

  • We don't say no enough
  • We aren't clear enough in our communication

The symptoms arising from this are as follows:

  • Long, over-scheduled days
  • Too much time spent firefighting
  • Your team doesn't have clarity on priorities
  • The business don't see you as a partner, they see you as an advisor
  • Too much time spent firefighting
  • Your team not delivering on on priorities
  • The business don't see you as a partner, they see you as an advisor

4. You don't value your time...and talk too much
Alena! I hear you say in your head. How can you say this? Talking is an important part of collaborating, of knowing sharing, of leading. Yes, it is – you're absolutely right. But...talking takes time.

Time is quite often the most precious currency for a CFO. I'm always hearing 'there's not enough time', 'I spend all my days in meetings, I don't have time to do the work', 'I'd love to have more time with my family', or 'if only we had more time up our sleeves, we'd be able to get it done'. Yet concurrently CFOs find themselves spending time in meetings where there's no clear purpose, they're there simply because 'they need to stay on top of the issue' or a meeting where there has been no preparation, often no agenda or desired outcome and therefore it just turns into a talk-fest.

CFOs are smart people who have a lot to contribute. But sometimes you don't need to contribute. It doesn't move you forward toward your goals and outcomes. I know I've fallen into the trap of spending too much valuable time 'talking out loud' in a meeting where I should have had more respect for peoples' time and come with a fully formed thought and formulated position.

If you find yourself not getting to 'the work' until 5pm because you're talking all day, have a think about the quality of your conversations. If you're frustrated by your inability to achieve a goal, think about how much time you spend talking about it versus taking action.

5. How much you're [not] growing
I recently started tracking the number of steps I take each day. As someone who spends a lot of time facilitating team workshops executive and Board offsites, I had a belief that my job wasn't primarily sedentary. Boy was I wrong. It's been eye-opening and somewhat confronting to see how few steps I take in an average week. That without intentional effort, I won't make the 10,000 steps I'd like to each day.

The upside is lots more beach walks for me, but without having started to track the steps, I'd have never known. Many of you will know, this sort of daily activity is an important preventative action for many health issues and diseases.

Despite the fact that as 'the numbers person' in their business, CFOs believe they are results oriented. I find, however, that when it comes to performance they're not. What do I mean by this? I find that many CFOs don't have the ability to clarify and articulate the result they're looking for, the 'definition of done' and what great looks like. There is a bias to focus on lag indicators of performance and they don't regularly take the time to undertake any useful reflection on past activity and outcomes.

The result? Not knowing how you're growing, or conversely, where you're stalling.

Do you know which of these blind spots might be applicable to you?

My guess is that not all of these apply to you, but there might be one or two that could be food for thought. We use 2 tools to help our CFOs identify these blind spots:

1. The CFO of the Future Index: this Index identifies where CFOs are on the journey from Scorekeeper to Playmaker and once you confirm the best email for us to send your report to it also provides for you a bespoke Sequence of Success. That is, the prioritisation of skills and actions recommended to accelerate your progress through the journey.

2. The Finance Team of the Future Diagnostic: this is a diagnostic that is typically taken by a CFOs finance leadership team in the first instance and shows you where your team thinks they are in terms of how ready, willing and able they are to achieve the finance team's vision. It identifies exactly where the disconnect is so you can take the right actions!

If you're interested in accessing either of those diagnostics, please send me a note and I'll make it happen!

I'd love to hear which one, if any, of those blind spots is most relevant to you.

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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