Aspiring CFOs get plenty of advice on what they should do, most of which is solid if somewhat generically applicable to all positions of authority. Assuming the role of a C-level executive also comes with pitfalls, though, and even having extensive CPA experience isn’t always enough to avoid them. Whether you’re a first-time CFO or simply new to the position within your organization, these don’ts can help you navigate your new responsibilities well.
Don’t Try to Remain ‘One of the Guys’
C-level executives are expected to look and act a certain way, and that means leaving behind some of the habits and outfits you may have found comfortable in the past. This is the time to step it up and put a more professional polish on your wardrobe, communication skills and office habits. If you’re moving up from an assistant’s position, you face a dual challenge because you’re now above your former colleagues. The intricacies of getting a promotion and managing former co-workers could fill whole books, but one of the most basic ways in which you can set yourself apart is through your appearance. You’re expected to look and sound more formal now that you’re the CFO; that means suit dressing, professional-sounding communications and earlier work hours.
Don’t Cut Too Deeply
When you first step into your new office, your first inclination may be to root out and carve away waste, but don’t be too hasty. Until you’re sure you’ve identified problem areas, you can’t offer cogent solutions, and by slashing too quickly, you run the risk of alienating other departments. Work with other executives and supervisors to understand their concerns and see what they consider their greatest budgetary challenges. You’ll gain insight into problematic issues and forge stronger interdepartmental bonds. Jumping in too soon is also a good way to find yourself in financial quicksand, so take the time to understand the terrain and choose your paths carefully.
Don’t Tackle Too Much at Once
Unless you’re working for a small start-up, you’re the chief financial officer, not the only financial professional in the organization. You can’t do everything at once; no one can. Spend some time getting to know your personnel, then delegate intelligently, assigning each some tasks that let their skills shine. They’ll appreciate being valued, and you’ll have time to focus on key aspects of your work without feeling overwhelmed and overloaded.
Don’t Wait to Find Your Experts
One of the greatest challenges people face when they first assume a leadership role is building a knowledge base from which to draw inspiration and find information. You aren’t expected to know everything, but you will need to have a staff that can find out everything you need to know, so learn who can get the job done. By surrounding yourself with smart people, you ensure you get the detailed, accurate knowledge you need to make the big decisions.
Don’t Live in Your Office
To be effective as a CFO, you need to work well with your fellow executives. That means attending their meetings, spending time in their offices and going to lunch with them. If you’re always lurking in your office instead of going out and proactively forging stronger relationships with others in your organization, you may find yourself shut out of important discussions. They need to know you’re accessible and invested in their concerns, so engage in relationship-building early and often. Paying attention to people first and finances second will make your job vastly easier when it’s time to appropriate funds for a budget or get necessary information from colleagues in other departments.