What CEOs Want (And What That Means for CFOs)

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

I don't know about you, but when I hear the statement or phrase 'What xx wants' it always makes me think about that 2000 movie starting Mel Gibson, "What Women Want". As a female, of course I have some particular perspectives on the movie, but one of the things I love is that the main character (played by Mel) is tortured with his special gift of being able to hear all of the things every woman wants. If you have seen it, you'll recall with a wry smile, the scene where he's walking down the street freaking out because his head is being flooded by all sorts of strong opinions and self-talk going on inside women's heads.


Just like Mel's character realised, knowing what people want can be a poisoned chalice. It can quickly become overwhelming – like opening a pandora's box. But as a CFO, knowing what your key stakeholder – your CEO – wants, is critical.

Talk is good...but can get overwhelming!

Do you know what your CEO wants?

Coming into a new year, the key is putting first things first and staying the course. That is, being clear on and focusing on the right priorities before the 'noise' starts. However, one of the challenges CFOs face is that you can't prioritise effectively if you don't have all the information.

That information should be coming from all directions, but particularly from the top. Not infrequently a CFO will tell me about struggles with a difficult CEO – one that micromanages them, one that doesn't come to them for strategic advice, or doesn't keep them in the loop. If this is you, chances are you find it difficult to prioritise.

When the relationship between the CEO and CFO isn't cohesive, it puts the CFO and their team in a reactive place. Prioritisation quickly turns to firefighting. But when the relationship between the CEO and CFO is one of mutual respect and consideration, knowing what to prioritise becomes easy.

What CEOs are saying

Managing your relationship with your CEO is an ongoing topic and one for another time, but given that it is the new year and effective prioritisation is front of mind for most businesses at the moment, I thought I'd share with you what I'm seeing CEOs are saying at the moment about 2022.

CEO Focus areas for 2022

With the evolving issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to provide the backdrop for 2022, it is not a surprise to see that it's not the pandemic itself that is a focus area, but more the downstream implications we started to or have seen in 2021 that are emerging as the focus areas. The following 4 key focus areas emerged as consistent themes across in top CEOs in Australia[1] and globally[2].

1. Supply Chain: With the ability to obtain supplies and inventory on time (or at all) continuing to be a question mark for businesses, the strategies surrounding their supply chain is top of mind for CEOs. Questions around inventory levels on hand and how to manage the increase in logistics and related supply costs are common across CEOs in Australia and globally.

2. Talent Availability and Mobility: The war on talent isn't going away and while in Australia there is the hope that with the opening of the borders we will start to experience talent migration, the inconsistency domestically within the country still means that there is significant uncertainty for CEOs to deal with. For many companies this not only means that many teams operate under resourced, or leaders are spending a significant time recruiting, but it also directly impacts on their ability to innovate without being able to access international talent.

3. Consumer: Many CEOs are optimistic about the consumers' appetite to spend in the economy, particularly on experiences as the hospitality and tourism industry start to open and flourish once again. However, consumer behaviour has shifted significantly over the last 18 months and this will continue. This means CEOs need their companies to actively position themselves to get that important 'share of wallet'.

4. Innovation: Having proven through the pandemic that innovation is possible at rarely-before-seen speed (think the 'technology infrastructure' – aka Zoom and MSoft Teams – with the shift to remote working, the development of QR codes, vaccines and the like), there is the realisation that this pace of innovation must continue in order to remain competitive in 2022.

[1] Chanticleer CEO Poll, AFR, December 11 2021 and Australian CEO Survey 2022, AIGroup, January 2022
[2] The Conference Board C-suite Outlook 2022, December 2021 and CEO Predictions, Time, January 2, 2022

The call to action for CEOs

Another interesting perspective on the question 'What CEOs want' is illustrated through this year's Open Letter by Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of Black Rock. Whilst many of the focus areas above come through as mandates for CEOs, so clearly do matters like ESG, purpose and stakeholder capitalism. These are by no means new concepts – sustainability has been on the agenda for years, purpose led businesses have demonstrated they don't suffer on the bottom line and stakeholders are always at the centre of everything C-levels do.

So what does this really mean, you might ask? I believe the call to action for CEOs is that they need be more vocal in embedding and integrating these concepts into their businesses by turning them from concept to concrete behaviours and priorities for their workforce. Shareholders are calling for a long term view to performance and profits and they want to actively see CEOs step up in these areas critical to that long term success.

What that means for CFOs

I expect that your business is impacted by all of these concepts and focus areas I've shared above. But the extent to which they are a priority for your CEO and your business will vary from other CFOs like yourself. So the question of course, is what does this mean you need to do?

Start by having this conversation with your CEO. CEOs are looking for someone to have their back as they focus on being the face and voice of the business. As the CFO, you are uniquely placed because you understand the financial implications of every one of the concepts above and the impact that will likely have in the short, medium and long term performance of your business. You can arm your CEO with the knowledge and insight to empower them to lead the business. No one else has access to this intelligence.

Stay up to date with what's happening in the market. Get together with your CFO colleagues, find out what their CEOs are focused on. Talk to your teams. Make sure they know what the priorities are, and how they can support you support the CEO.

Understanding what your CEO wants is a critical component to your ability to be successful this year. Set the tone now – give them the confidence that you are their partner and give yourself the best opportunity to elevate your impact as a CFO in 2022.

Do you know what your CEO wants?
What are the questions you need to ask to find out?
What does that mean for how you organise yourself and your team?

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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