The Best Ways For CFOs to Stretch Themselves and Learn

June 29, 2016 Don Mal

Financial executives are constantly evaluating their own performance as well as their organization, and that’s a healthy sign

There’s more than enough stress in being a CFO today that you wouldn’t think anyone would seek out a tougher job than they already have, but that’s what Jeffrey Bornstein says got him to where he is today.

In a recent video interview on Bloomberg, the financial leader for General Electric was asked what kind of advice he would give his 20-year-old self, where such a thing possible. His answer? Taking on bigger risks even earlier in his career.

If your stomach isn’t turning over a little bit in terms of your competence, you’re not biting off enough,” he said, adding that if your stomach isn’t churning a little bit, you may not be reaching your full potential. “Almost all your personal and career growth is when you really stretch into a job you’re not sure you can do.”

The relationship between stretching yourself, learning and ultimately growing is something that applies not only to CFOs, of course, but to all of us. So what’s different about CFOs? Probably the ways in which they can stretch themselves and learn, and what they can use to tackle those stomach-turning challenges.

To get a better idea of how to do that, it’s worth looking at the results of a workshop that took place among attendees at the Wall Street Journal’s 2016 CFO Network Conference. Executives were divided into groups and asked to discuss the way they would rank the various items on their agenda. This included working with financial technology or fintech startups, more broad-based IT products such as cloud-based software, and simply being a modern-day CFO.

What’s interesting in that last area was what the group in question said about communicating “market realities” to the rest of the business, using their budget as a key vehicle.

Use the budget as the tool to drive messaging to employees, the board and investors. Use benchmarks to help frame the budget, then expand the use of leading indicators to move the discussion beyond the financials and into operations. Educate investors about the business environment in which you operate, clearly identifying competitive threats, the impact of technology and other innovations.

This is a great summation of not only what the CFO’s role in budgeting should be, but what it might be possible to achieve with the results of all the effort that goes into budgeting. No one is saying budgeting isn’t getting more difficult or complex (although great technology exists to make it easier). But even if things get hard, it’s when you stretch and learn that you ultimately do something your 20-year-old self would be proud to see.

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