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Creating a dream team: Why strong financial staffers are key to the CFO transformation

Posted by  Alar Lange

Transitioning the ‘CFO as number-cruncher’ to ‘CFO-as-strategic-partner’ begins with building an exceptional team. After all, when basic accounting functions are rife with errors, executive leadership is hard-pressed to give credence to ideas outside of the position's standard scope, no matter how innovative they are. In addition to adding credibility, a strong finance team handles all of the traditional functions of the finance department efficiently, making the most of opportunities to automate, which frees the CFO to devote more time to strategic planning.

New technology offers tools to automate many of the transactional responsibilities of the finance department, making it easier than ever to develop a team that operates efficiently and effectively, without relying on the CFO for day-to-day activities. Top talent will contribute to company-wide perception that the finance department is a key player in overall strategic planning.

Hire for strategic skills

Consider the skills most commonly found in finance staff members. Most bring functional expertise to the table, and they are well-versed in the technical ins and outs of operating in the finance organization. Many high-quality hires want to improve their skills, and they are open to feedback and new opportunities for learning.

However, members of the finance department are not typically hired for the skills necessary to drive strategic planning, and a shortage of these skills in the division requires the CFO to step back in as leader. Instead of relying exclusively on functional expertise when making hiring decisions, consider adding supplementary skills to the role requirements.

Business knowledge

Seek out candidates that have a clear understanding of how the business operates -- or the interest and ability to gain in-depth knowledge of business operations upon hire. Staff members must be able to combine functional knowledge with business-specific knowledge in order to make connections between critical value drivers and financial performance. Ideal staff members are comfortable with strategic thinking, questioning the status quo, and pushing back against false or unnecessary assumptions.

Communication

Elevating finance to a strategic contributor position in the business requires excellence in communication. Consider selecting team members that are well-spoken and articulate, with an ability to translate complex financial concepts into audience-friendly ideas. Some hiring managers invite candidates to create a presentation for the hiring committee as part of the interview process, which can assist management in making informed decisions around candidates' communication skills.

Leadership

Finally, leaders in the finance organization must be excellent managers if they are to handle the day-to-day concerns of the department. Rather than bringing the CFO in to handle leadership responsibilities such as talent development and employee engagement, hire skilled managers that excel in these areas.

Bear in mind that for staffing and recruiting professionals, a focus on these additional skills could be a change from previous hires. Ensure that you interview more candidates with these supplementary skills by communicating with recruiters and hiring managers.

Develop existing staff

Typically, CFOs start with an incumbent team, and selecting candidates with a new mix of skills occurs along with normal attrition. However, a CFO looking for more immediate opportunities to contribute to the company's strategic conversation must begin the transition by developing new skills in existing staff members. Not every member of the team must be an excellent communicator and manager, on top of possessing functional skills, but increasing competencies will gradually increase the department's self-sufficiency.

Create opportunities for staff members to present financial results and strategically oriented ideas. This may start with presentations to peers and immediate managers, but as skills are strengthened, ask staff members to handle higher-profile presentation assignments.

Grow Leaders

Normal attrition means that the team will have a vacancy in leadership sooner or later. Preparing for this inevitability can take several forms. Some leaders assume that an outside hire is the best choice to fill responsible roles, and they give little attention to succession planning. However, forward-thinking leaders know that deep knowledge of the business comes with time spent in the business, and they develop future leaders from existing staff in hopes of filling leadership vacancies through internal promotion.

Such an approach requires focus on leadership skills from the time of hire, creating a consolidated training program that offers detailed functional training along with high-level business operations and leadership skills training. Often, larger organizations offer leadership programs in-house. If they're not available, pair new hires with mentors and explore outside leadership training opportunities.

Adopt automation early

Finally, a critical component of the finance "dream team" is staffing the department with individuals who are comfortable with the changes technology brings to their responsibilities. New tools are automating basic finance-related activities like invoicing and expense reporting, changing the way finance professionals do their jobs. When staff members push back against the adoption of new technology, they create an obstacle for the entire team.

When hiring, choose specific lines of questioning that reveal the candidates' experience with existing tools, and explore attitudes about technological change. Choose candidates that show enthusiasm for options that reduce the transactional nature of their work. In existing staff, work with department leadership to implement a change management strategy that encourages team members to embrace new tools already available. Include use of such tools as part of goal setting, performance evaluation, and reward and recognition programs for greatest impact.

CFOs know that their reputations are only as good as the work of their teams. Those interested in transforming their own roles from an exclusive focus on analysis to strategic planning must create a highly talented team.

CFO Strategic Empowerment

To find out how Unit4 can help you on your journey to become a truly strategic player see our strategic empowerment series:

CFO Strategic Empowerment Series part 1: Strategic empowerment for CFOs

CFO Strategic Empowerment Series part 2: Structured finance procedures

CFO Strategic Empowerment Series part 3: Efficient process execution for CFOs

CFO Strategic Empowerment Series part 4: Real-time analysis of Big Data

CFO Strategic Empowerment Series part 5: CFO business empowerment maturity model

Alar Lange

Alar is a results-oriented, problem solving leader with +20 years of comprehensive financial, strategic planning. Alar developed and implemented comprehensive financial strategies, restructered operations, had an active role in international joint ventures and conducted sophisticated financial analyses and modeling in global settings.