Top Tips To Succeed As A CFO

Dimitri Raziev10 Aug 20224 mins
Top Tips To Succeed As A CFO

Congratulations! You longed for it- you worked for it and are now happily appointed as the CFO of a new company. It’s not your happy ending, though, it’s just the beginning of a new adventure, and the road ahead will be more or less rocky. Soon enough, you realise that the company’s structure is messy and that data is all over the place and unreliable. To navigate these new waters, you need more than congratulations cards and flowers. You need a navigation map. Here are four tips for organising your journey. 

1- Observe and assess  

Identifying the business needs and current situation through a strategy and value audit is the most fundamental tip to begin your new journey. What drives the company? You will have to answer this most pressing question within the first hundreds of days following your appointment.  

Before implementing any changes or making any decisions, you need to gather as much data as possible on the business’ margin advantage, ROIC, general cash flow… You must adopt an investor’s vantage point, leaving no stone unturned regarding your strategy and value audit. Meet with business unit heads, and learn about their needs, projects, and issues. By building connections with key stakeholders of the finance function, you will gain a precious internal perspective on the company. Want to go the extra mile? You can look for an external perspective by exchanging with customers, investors or service providers. 

 Once you have thoroughly assessed the situation, you can think about making room for improvements, whether it affects the business model, sources of growth, or operational movements. 

2- Master the art of communication 

Whether with your superiors during board meetings or with the employees of your department, make sure you communicate appropriately and efficiently. CFO positions are no longer about making numbers talk; they are about knowing how to talk to people and make people talk too. Soft skills are essential to cultivating within your new role:

-You must adapt to your audience, whether you communicate your results to your employees, even the less expert ones, or a shareholder. Switch from value creation to job sustainability seamlessly, according to who your interlocutor is. 

-As soon as you arrive at your new position, you will receive requests and claims. You will need to examine each of them with attention and be ready to stand up for your choices with transparency and diplomacy. 

-A good CFO announces bad news without delay and detours, proposes well-thought solutions and knows how to reassure their audience to ensure the smooth running of the company. 

As a matter of fact, now that CFOs are becoming strategic advisors, their new responsibilities encourage them to master the art of communication, from stakeholder management to addressing banks, clients or staff. Keep this tip in mind to maintain healthy and harmonious relationships in your workplace whilst gaining respect from all. 

3- Be the enabler of digitalisation 

The CFO of today and tomorrow is digital. According to Mc Kinsey, increasing digitalisation in finance, through automation and digital technology, can make a company more resilient to crisis, as the COVID-19 pandemic showed. Indeed, between 2016 and 2021, the number of finance leaders who see themselves as responsible for their companies’ digital activities has tripled. Digitisation, digital transformation and innovation should be standing items on your agenda.

Accenture’s latest global study on the role of the CFO showed that 81% of CFOs identify innovation as one of their primary responsibilities. Additionally, 77% see accompanying businesses in their digital transition as their responsibility.

It is, therefore, essential for a new CFO to harness the power of digital tools to help the business thrive. If you spot disparate IT systems, manual processes, or unskilled staff, invest in technology to strengthen the core team. Your role is to create value, so you should try to identify processes to be automated for enhanced productivity and huge gains of time and money. Offer innovative tools to accompany the business in its digital transformation. 

4- Be the CEO’s ally 

Mc Kinsey initiated a survey among newly appointed CFOs, highlighting opportunities for them to reengage with the CEO. Indeed, digital technologies in finance’s day-to-day work and relationships with investors tightened the bond between CFO and CEO. 

As soon as a new CFO is appointed, they must align themselves with the CEO and board members, learning about all existing issues and the area where they will have to assume a leadership role. In Mc Kinsey’s survey, CFOs declared that part of their expected function expected by their CEO implied: 

-serving as active members of the senior management team

-contributing to the company’s performance

– making the finance organisation efficient

When appointed to your new position, make sure you clearly understand the CEO’s expectations and guidance to align your performance with their needs. 

Take away 

CFOs are no longer working backstage, in silos, separated from the rest of the company; their new role of strategic partner reshaped their mission and expectations regarding their goals and skills. 

Within the 100 days following your appointment as a new CFO, prioritise observing to identify needs and room for improvement. Do not neglect your soft skills; conversely, make it your priority to become a skilful communicator. To fulfil your role as a strategic thinker, be forward-looking, and be the enabler of digitalisation and automation. Last but not least, don’t forget that you and the CEO are now the dynamic duos at the core of the leadership.