Is Your Finance Team Having Strategic Conversations?

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

"Less 'in-the-detail', more strategic" is a common desire I hear from the countless CFOs and finance leaders I talk to. Rightly so - you've done your time in the trenches and you're ready to think more broadly about the business. You know this is how you can add value and quite frankly, it's more interesting. But CFOs can't be the only ones in their finance leadership team being strategic. You need to be supported by finance leaders who are also strategic, who get out in front of the business and who set up their team rhythms and routines in the most effective way possible.

But as Sir Mick Jagger reminds us over the sound waves, we can't always get what we want. And the reasons why are plentiful and uniquely nuanced. However, sometimes, it's simply that we can't see the issue in front of us.

I've mentioned previously that I use a number of diagnostic tools in my work. I use these regularly with my clients, because I find them a useful form of reflection and they are developed in such a way that they allow my clients to see themselves clearly and without judgment, bias or ego. I have developed a library of CFO leadership tools and templates so my clients can focus on implementation and getting results. This allows them to see the 'so what' and to identify the insight for themselves. When run across a team, it's a particularly efficient way to identify roadblocks to change and performance.

This week I thought I'd share with you a couple of insights identified by a few teams:

Does your communication strategy deliver good results?

I ran a Motivation Matters session with an executive team using the Inventory of Work Attitudes and Motivators (iWAM) tool. iWAM is a profiling tool that ranks the attributes that we need at work at a subconscious level - i.e. that we might not consciously realise - from highest to lowest.

Why is this important? It tells us what we need to be our most effective, productive and fulfilled at work.

At an individual level, this gives us a unique perspective on job alignment, it indicates how we're perceived by others and helps us identify areas of development. When used with teams, however, the insights can be game-changing.

One particular conversation stood out during this particular session and that was with respect to the leaders' convincer patterns. That is, how they most preferred to communicate and be convinced by something. Of the 6 execs in the room, they all had a high preference to communicate through a conversation. Yet, other than quarterly team catch-ups, they'd set up almost all their communication with their respective teams to be through email, instant message and a social media platform. That is - all written forms of communication. The cognitive dissonance smacked them in the face.

'This makes no sense', they said. Of course we can connect with and across our teams better. Of course our messages aren't landing the way we intend. If we're not communicating through our preferred channel, then (1) we're probably doing a lesser job than if we were and (2) there's a good chance that we're not communicating through others' preferred channels, either!

Is your communication rhythm set up for success?

Is your finance leadership team having strategic conversations?

Then there's The Meeting Magnifier. A tool we use to identify the quality of all the many meetings we participate in on a regular basis by assessing the proportion of each meeting spent discussing tactical, strategic or employee wellbeing conversations.

We completed this with a finance leadership team who were admittedly fatigued and run down after a tough period of change and transformation on top of the challenges of the pandemic.

Again, once each member of the team completed their own Meeting Magnifier worksheet the insight was clear: across the team they weren't having strategic conversations. The only person consistently having strategic conversations with the business was the CFO themselves. Many of the team were talking regularly with the business, but again those conversations were tactical and 'task focused' in nature.

This FLT also wasn't having strategic conversations with each other! Their monthly meetings (if they aren't cancelled due to lack of time or more pressing 'fires' to fight) were more an 'around the grounds' session - what are you working on etc. Time wasn't being invested in cross functional leadership conversations: what are you seeing, what dots can we connect, what's coming up that we need to be aware of, etc.

Interestingly enough, well-being didn't even factor into their meetings as a possible topic, despite them all having a need for this themselves.

By the way, this team isn't unique. In fact, I'd say they are the norm.

Are your finance leaders visible to the right people?

More and more teams and businesses are becoming more matrix-like in structure and more global as offshore teams become the norm. With expansion - and geographical expansion at that - it can become harder to ensure you're always talking with the right people.

I know this might sound preposterous at first, but the number of times I've heard finance leaders talk about how difficult it is to maintain good relationships with stakeholders who work on different floors of the same office, or even members of the same team not connecting regularly because they are on opposite ends of the floor tells me that due to the busy-ness of our days, we only need the smallest obstacle to get in the way of otherwise very good intentions.

We recently used The Business Bullseye with an FLT that needs to improve their visibility and presence with the business so they can become a truly business partnering function. The Business Bullseye is a tool we use to help leaders identify which stakeholders are in their inner circle, and who is in the outer rings. The FLT members mapped their stakeholders, accordingly.

Once more, the 'ahas' experienced by the individual leaders were incredible. The common insight across the board was that they didn't have the right people in their inner circle - that is, they either were too internally focused (and their business stakeholders were feeling this) or they had simply overlooked key stakeholders because they weren't within easy physical proximity.

The CFO puzzle: their FLT

Understanding your finance teams is a bit like digging out an old jigsaw puzzle from the bottom of a shelf. You open it not knowing what's happened to it over the months or even years. Are you missing pieces? Or have you accumulated a few extra pieces from other jigsaw puzzles - and as a result have overlapping pieces that don't belong or fit?

As for the executive and CFO leadership teams I've described above, once you can clearly see the issue you can take quick, deliberate and effective action. The elevation in results is fast and impactful.

Teams are their own living entities. Much like organisations themselves, it takes intentional effort for them to grow and thrive. They simply need the time, space and support to get out of the weeds and recalibrate so they can support you and perform at their best.

Is your FLT playing their A game?
Are they having strategic conversations?
What time, space and support do you need to create for them?

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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