Finding Your Bearings as a New CFO

Just about every experienced, successful CFO had a time when he or she sat in the office with that new title on the door and thought, “Am I ready for this?” On average, CFOs stay in that office for five years before moving on to new opportunities, so you have plenty of time to find your sea legs and learn how to be the captain of your own financial ship. Here are some tips to help you prepare for a successful tenure whether it’s your first time ever or just your first few weeks with a new organization.

Gather Allies

Successful CFOs surround themselves with people who are loyal, observant, and knowledgeable. You may be the C-level executive, but unless you’re in on the ground floor of a start-up, you’re working with finance professionals who have been there longer than you. Invest some time during your first weeks in getting to know them better and getting their input. You’re starting off with an advantage, too: Most professionals genuinely want to foster an excellent relationship with new executives, and this is your opportunity to help make that happen. Also, making connections with others quickly allows you to build a more detailed composite view of what’s expected of your department.

Stay Connected

As important as it is to forge stronger connections with your finance team, it’s even more valuable to position yourself as a collaborative ally for other C-level executives. Your first stop is the CEO’s office, but bring everyone into the loop to create stronger strategic connections. Your CIO and CISO are instrumental to maintaining security and working with state-of-the-art technology. Your CMO is responsible for bringing in the capital that is your department’s life-blood. Vice presidents and directors play critical roles within their departments into which you can gain needed insight.

Take Control of Controllership

If your goal is to be a strategic partner to other C-level executives and not solely a number-cruncher and record-keeper, you need to have a plan to manage day-to-day controller functions with ease. It may be your largest responsibility, but it’s also the one you want to spend the least time managing. If all your time is taken up with the mechanics of your position, you will rarely get a chance to launch new initiatives and strategies. From the outset, you want to establish your controllership functionality. Hire new personnel, reorganize your team, or restructure your work-flow to set the baseline, then adapt your methodology as you settle into your role.

Effectiveness vs Efficiency

When you’re unusually lucky, effectiveness and efficiency lie in the same direction. More typically, they’re in different places. One mistake many new CFOs make is to clamp down on spending and aim for efficiency, but effectiveness is the goal to prioritize – even if that means increasing spending for a time. As a new CFO, you currently have more leeway; now is the time to hire new personnel or reward top talent. If you come in with a determination to subtract for the sake of efficiency, you could find it a challenge to add back capable, engaged people later. You’ll also earn the goodwill of your finance team, many of whom may feel some uncertainty with a new CFO in charge.

Listen Well

While it’s important to be an effective speaker as a CFO, your listening skills will get more use when you’re new to the role. Finance chiefs who spend more time talking and less time taking notes could find themselves short of vital information they need to make decisions. Your initial ideas are valuable too, but after listening to input from others, your first impressions may change substantially. As you listen, pay attention not only to the words people say, but how they say them; you’ll learn a good deal about what your fellow executives, your team members, and your organization as a whole value most.

Whether your CFO role is entirely new or simply new to you, the people around you are ready to help you make your organization successful. Connect with them, listen to them, and value their input to shine.

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