Hacking the CFO Learning Curve
Congratulations! You are now a CFO. Maybe this is your first CFO role. The job of your dreams. The job you've always wanted. However, you will find it's a challenging job—more challenging than you imagined—that gets more difficult the longer you stay. Today's CFO, it seems, has more technology under their team than CIOs managed for full companies in the mid 90s. The CFO also has a vast group of constituents wanting her time: her team, her peers on the senior team, the board/audit committee, auditors, CEO, shareholders, government, to name a few. CFO tenure is under 6 years. If you survive, you may be rewarded with the ultimate corner office someday.
Now, on day one, how do you start to get a handle of what's going on in the new job/company while also meeting the demands of the role? How do you ensure you have accurate information to enable your team to be more efficient? You need greater efficiency since you expect each year will bring more to get done and efficiency is a way to create enough capacity for your team. Getting a lot of the tedious tasks done more quickly also allows you to reward your team with more exposure to career-building projects that help you achieve your goals.
Several clients have found that documentation has been extremely helpful. It pays to know the day-to-day processes within core areas within Finance. Some CFOs have found getting an external team to lead the documentation has been a good investment. The documentation, when done right, provides information that the new CFO would have little to no visibility in the short-term. The CFO would be too busy with critical strategic items to invest this level of time. Effective documentation also requires information from all levels of the organization chart. An external team provides an unfiltered view for the CFO in a short time.
While documentation is valuable, it is only the first domino. With the documentation providing a succinct summary for the CFO, successes and challenging inefficiencies become visible. With that visibility the CFO has a roadmap of high-impact opportunities for change. Having a roadmap created this early in the CFO's tenure is a game-changing development.
With the roadmap, the CFO can begin executing several small wins. Each win builds momentum for the CFO's agenda, but also for employee morale.
One CFO found that his star Inventory Accountant was drowning in busy work. With all the activities on this accountant's plate, she could not keep up with all of the work she needed to complete in a timely manner. This led to frustration for the accountant. With that accountant's tasks fully documented, a quick win on the roadmap was to get the IT team to provide simple reporting customizations. IT loved helping and they took 2 weeks to create reports that saved so much time for the accountant. With the added time, the accountant created new analyses for the COO. Happy employee, happy CFO, happy IT team. All done within 6 weeks.
In conclusion, new CFOs face multiple challenges at the start of their roles. Getting quick documentation generates returns in terms of a roadmap. The roadmap can prioritize quick wins that pay dividends in terms of employee morale, employee retention, and momentum of accomplishments for the new CFO. What's even more amazing is that all of this is done quicker than would otherwise happen without this strategic investment in time.
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