You see, Shar was (and still is) very direct and as an expert in Digital and Customer Experience Transformation with 7,8,9 figure project transformation portfolios, she needs to be! I was one of 10 direct reports in her team and she strove for excellence and with that, expected honesty and accountability.
When she'd talk to you, her green eyes would pierce into yours - there was nowhere to move or hide. It felt like she was looking into your soul to make sure you that what you were saying was the truth and you fully understood and believed what you were talking about. When you caught her by surprise, she'd look at you with great confusion - which quite frankly, scared me to death - and the rapid-fire questions would feel like an interrogation until she understood where things were at. If you didn't meet her expectations she'd let you know.
But here's the thing. Shar is one of most warm and kind human beings I know. She has a heart of gold, genuinely cares for and about the people she works with and loves to have a laugh! She'd created a high performing environment, that enabled growth, learning and lots of success. Shar created and led a cohesive team who would walk on water for her because she'd do the same for us. She'd celebrate your highs and would shed tears with you when you had lows. She is an outstanding leader and...
Clarity of expectations is her super power.
When I talk about the 4 different conversations CFOs need to have:
1. Conversations to connect
2. Conversations for clarity
3. Conversations for change
4. Conversations to celebrate
it is a lack of quality clarity conversations that results in a misalignment of expectations that ultimately leads to difficult conversations.
Lack of clarity => Misaligned expectations => Difficult conversations
Why are clarity conversations so hard?
People are distracted: particularly in this hybrid working world, working both online and onsite, there are more possibilities for distraction. If you're in a video conversation or a phone call, people are emailing. People are messaging. People are responding to the constant pings that are happening around them. This creates more noise, which means that your message, regardless of how clear you think it is, is being diluted because of all the noise around you.
Differing expectations: Due to our own individual contexts, needs, wants, fears and frustrations, we more often than not have different expectations in any given scenario. These differences may be nuanced, but as we know, a CFOs world is full of shades of grey and quite often it is those nuances that go unsaid at the executive table for too long, only for them to escalate as a result.
Different communication preferences: We all prefer to communicate in different ways and have different styles. We use words, phrases and tone in different ways. Naturally this can cause different interpretations of 'the same' message.
Where CFOs need to get clarity
In order to have effective clarity conversations CFOs need to first be clear themselves. Clarity in mind, clarity in the outcome and clarity in the language they use. It's not as easy as it sounds, given the amount and breadth of work CFOs have on these days.
In the CFO Boardroom we've set up a high performance cadence that has clarity at its heart. Clarity in planning, clarity in focus and clarity in outcome. Because when we have clarity, we make it easier to achieve the outcome. Specifically we get clear on:
- the key business outcome we need to deliver every 6 weeks to help us achieve our goals
- the stakeholders we need to work with, manage and influence over that period
- the technical and non-technical skills we need to learn and utilise to achieve that outcome with those stakeholders
- the strategy we're going to implement to achieve said outcome
When we get together each Monday morning to get clear on the the top 3 tasks we need to achieve in order to move us forward, the overwhelming feeling from our CFOs at the end of that short call is the sense of relief, focus and energy they have because they are clear for the week.
Clarity accelerates success
This focus on clarity is exactly the experience that Shar gave me. By seeking to provide me clarity (which, as I said, was unnerving at times) she also provided me the environment where it felt easy to thrive and as a result, acknowledgement came freely and I felt valued. When we came across a bump in the road, we'd work through it together because we were aligned through clarity.
CFOs are having more difficult conversations than they need because they're not prioritising and having effective clarity conversations.
Where would you benefit from having more effective clarity conversations?