Change starts in the C Suite: Upgrading culture from the CFO down

Change is more than a mechanical process of numbers and data, however, it is also an emotional process that takes time to bed in. As such, to achieve a culture of change and innovation, today’s CFO must combine strong financial skills with a clear understanding of the direction of the business, and must also be able to manage a robust financial team.

Creating and managing a robust team

Developing and maintaining a strong finance function is clearly a critical requirement for businesses still emerging from the financial crisis. The role of the CFO has become central in helping businesses to redefine business models, adjust to meet the needs of an increasingly globalised environment, encompass massive leaps forward in technology, consider changes in consumer behaviour and prepare for further economic unpredictability.

While financial skills will always be a critical function for those in this this role, CFOs must also be able to use their understanding and interpretation of the numbers to encourage the organisation’s staff to think and act differently. To achieve this, the CFO will need to build a suitably robust and diverse finance team, with the right mix of skills and expertise, capable of communicating the right information, in the right language, at the right time across the business. 

Along with this investment in people, today’s CFO will need a firm grasp on digital processes and technology to cut through the noise generated by the incredible volume of data being handled on a day-to-day basis. By unlocking the value of vital business data in this way, CFOs can empower other board members to better understand their own performance within the business, and can also make the best use of the insight and analysis available to them. 

Business acumen

The CFO can no longer focus on the financial elements of the company alone, but must also take on an extended role as a key driver of the business. Today’s CFO is a business leader first, and a leader of the finance function second. CFOs must be seen as having credibility not just for their financial skills, but also for their business acumen.

To do this successfully, today’s CFO must understand the key value drivers in the business and when to lever these appropriately, both in good times and bad. Creating value requires a determined focus on achieving goals over time whilst resisting pressure to be deflected off course. 

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For all these reasons, today’s CFO needs to demonstrate a balance between control and entrepreneurial spirit, facilitating a culture in which the business has the confidence to try new things and take calculated risks. 

Key to success is the ability of the CFO to form a strong partnership with the CEO. This dual existence as part collaborator and part independent thinker can often be a difficult balancing act, as he or she must be able to challenge the CEO yet remain neutral at the same time. In order to achieve the best result, the relationship between the CFO and CEO therefore needs to be symbiotic, so that each feels able to trust and rely upon the other.

Getting this relationship right is vital, as CFOs are increasingly seen as the face of the business, particularly where investors, regulators and banks are concerned. Diligent non-executive directors will also pay close attention to this relationship and will want to see a balance between convergence and divergence. 

Today’s CFO

The role of the CFO is indeed a complex one. Today’s CFOs must utilise their experience and skilled judgement in conjunction with their broader vision for the business to accelerate strategic growth and drive change, not just within finance, but across the whole business. It is these qualities that will give a company a major competitive advantage, and which will ultimately differentiate a good CFO from a great one.

David Bailey is director of CFO practices at Norman Broadbent.

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