June 14, 2017, 12:53 pm

Attention Aspiring CFOs: Are You Adding Value Beyond the Numbers?

by: The Financial Blogger    Category: Business,Career
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Becoming a CFO is no longer just about your financial chops. In our fast paced and fluid environment, companies are searching for financial leaders who can think strategically about overarching business needs while at the same time, applying their experiences and persuasive skills to influence members of the C-suite, boardroom, key stakeholders and beyond. In this new context, the CFO is emerging as the advisor who ensures the organization is translating numbers into opportunities. Yet, being viewed as a partner and a trusted advisor is often where many fall short and fail to break out of the accountant mould.

“The CFO has become the new Chief Operating Officer,” said Ross Woledge, CFO Practice Leader for Odgers Berndtson in Canada — a leading global executive search firm. “Traditionally, the finance role was about reporting the numbers. Now it’s about telling the story behind the numbers.” And while some of this competency can be chalked up to how leading CFOs look at the world, some of it can — and should — be learned.

A study of top Canadian financial executives, conducted by Odgers Berndtson, uncovered some interesting trends that defy popular stereotypes of financial leader traits. In examining the psychometric profiles of close to 300 top CFOs and finance executives in Canada, the United States, Asia and Europe, it became clear that the majority of today’s successful CFOs share the following four key leadership characteristics:

  1. Less process driven and rule oriented than other executives: While traditional CFOs might be perceived as set in their ways and detail-oriented to a fault, modern CFOs are much more willing to challenge the status quo and call for change among their executive cohort.
  2. Competitive and driven to achieve: Interestingly, the profile for these successful CFOs is more similar to that of business development executives or entrepreneurial CEOs than it is to that of budget- or control-oriented individuals. This high achievement orientation makes CFOs exceptionally well suited for executive roles — particularly if they’re gunning for future CEO positions.
  3. Resilient, hard-working and self-accepting, which allows them to deal with the pressures of high-profile roles where they’re accountable not only for protecting the financial integrity of their organizations but also, increasingly, for facilitating growth and capacity for innovation.
  4. Strong relationship-building skills, comfortable in the spotlight, which allows them to engage in meaningful interactions with co-workers as well as peers in the C-suite, on the board, and investors alike.

The study also revealed that diverse experience can make a difference. The most successful CFOs build both a depth and breadth of expertise that comes from seeking out as many varied experiences as possible. Among Mr. Woledge’s recommendations for executives looking to advance in financial leadership roles:

  1. Go beyond your accounting designation: Consider developing your capital market skills by pursuing a CFA. Or if you’ve got your sights set on being a CEO, an executive MBA can provide practical skills and know-how that can take your career to the next level.
  2. Take a “corkscrew” approach to your career: Take advantage of opportunities to move out from the comforts of the finance department, to work in different functions or industries altogether. The result is a CFO “who deeply understand[s] how the company really makes money, not just how to read what shows up on the income statement.”
  3. Hone your stakeholder skills: “You can be the smartest person in the room, but if you can’t bring people around to your perspective, you’re going to fail,” noted Mr. Woledge. If you lean towards the numbers-side of finance (vs. the people-side), then consider spending time with your Investor Relations team to hone your media and communications skills. Getting facetime with key stakeholders will enhance your ability to learn their pain points, speak their language, and ultimately, rouse support from among the C-suite ranks.
  4. Take risks and have an opinion: In ultra-competitive economies, CFOs are often called upon to be catalysts for change, to instill a financial approach that reduces costs while also helping other parts of the business perform better. Being an effective change-maker requires a degree of poise, flexibility, and above all else, an openness to dealing with ambiguity that comes from a combination of innate attitude plus the experience to know that taking calculated risks can often pay off with big rewards.

Advancement in any career requires taking on new challenges. You may also consider programs like the Business Leadership for Finance Executives (a partnership between Odgers Berndtson and the Rotman School of Management) that continue to develop the intellectual and emotional agility of finance leaders and critical leadership skills to accelerate their rise through the executive ranks.

And remember: Being a trusted advisor does not happen overnight. As with everything, it takes practice, and being close to the business (whether it’s the sales, marketing, operations or other teams) enables you to hone your approach to running a company.

 

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