Last year, 13 percent of chief financial officers changed jobs. Although this was down from 18 percent the prior year, Deloitte’s CFO Programs predicts CFO turnover will rise again this year.
The ramifications of turnover are huge. Tom Bonney, founder and managing director of CMF Associates, which offers temporary CEO, COO and controllership services, estimates that when a CFO leaves, efficiency in the finance department is automatically cut in half and exposure to risk increases. When a new CFO joins the company, the ramp up period is longer than other key executive roles, due to the CFO’s broad array of responsibilities.
A recent report from Deloitte CFO Services highlights practices that successful CFOs have used to get off on the right start in their new positions based in large part on interviews with more than 20 CFOs from varied companies with nearly $170 billion in combined revenues, most with more than $2 billion in revenues.
Step one: Get to know the business. Learn what works and needs to be changed. Use your team as a resource in the process. The ability to be a good listener, as well as a clear communicator is crucial as CFOs establish relationships and plan for the long term. Listening to your team will not only help you plan your business goals, but reveal your company’s culture, and establish you as a trusted leader.
Step two: Create a 180-day agenda. Most CFOs surveyed by Deloitte felt they had six months to establish their roles. This includes creating an agenda with their CEOs and peer executives, as well as recruiting and renewing talent to build an ideal team. Then clearly communicate your agenda to your team and begin establishing a long term vision.
Step three: Make an impact on the business. If the first 180 days are about getting to know the company, choosing what to do and getting the right team in place, the next 12 months are about execution and ratcheting up the contribution of finance to the business. Making this difference requires deploying resources and capabilities effectively to achieve key initiatives. To do this, align talent with top priorities, delegate with confidence, adopt effective practices, and encourage transparency and accountability throughout your team.
Be mindful about how you allocate your time. Focus on where you can get results, sooner rather than later. “You need to get quick wins,” says Ajit Kambil, Deloitte’s global research director.
You also need to gain a quick understanding of the trends and metrics of your company, especially as it relates to the industry you are serving. “This knowledge, along with the ability to communicate with the management team, will foster success for the executive and assist in reaching corporate goals,” says Thomas Galvan, CFO of Rising Medical Solutions, a medical-financial solutions firm.
Think strategically. If you move up from controller to CFO, instead of worrying about GAAP and FASB, you may be asked to participate in strategic decisions. “The critical relationships are now not so much between the income statement and balance sheet, but between the CFO and a CEO – as well as the board of directors,” explains Todd Ordal, president of consulting firm Applied Strategy. “The political skills required can be significant.”
Culture also counts. For example, in a small organization, it can be critical for a CFO to be hands-on, but in a larger organization, it can be critical for the CFO to delegate. Do your homework and don’t assume anything.
Ultimately, the Deloitte study found the critical issues fell into three buckets: time, talent and relationships. Says Kambil: “If you don’t get them right, you diminish the opportunity to succeed.”