Financial leaders need to tell a convincing story about their organization’s potential growth, which starts by having good data.
Everybody has to do a dog and pony show at some point in their lives. For CEOs, it’s often when they’re in startup mode and trying to get funding from venture capitalists. For sales teams, it happens every time they’re trying to get customers to make a purchase. And for CFOs, it can come during an investor call, an AGM and everything in between.
This role of CFO as showperson was one of the more interesting takeaways from a series of profiles of financial leaders recently published by MiBiz, a publication that covers news in the Western Michigan area. MiBiz recently hosted its own CFO of the Year awards, and recipients suggested a big part of what they do is not only managing information, but conveying it as honestly as possible. Even with brutal honesty at times:
“My voice in the room had to be the one that dropped the pile of ‘you know what’ on the table,” one said. “It drives the discussion in a way that makes sure you’re keeping all the constituent voices in. It’s a very uncomfortable place to be sometimes but you suck it up.”
“You really can’t go anywhere until you’re brutally honest with your situation, the pitfalls and what your dreams for success are,” said another. “You’re not sugarcoating any of the problems. If you’re going to have that uphill battle, you better be prepared and have all the footsoldiers around you in line. Hopefully they all got the message that you’re not turning back.”
As honest as they may be, however, finance executives also need to have enough data to pass on those difficult truths. That comes with the right technology and tools, of course, but also a deep passion and commitment to learning as much about the business as possible.
The Wall Street Journal recently suggested this is becoming difficult for CFOs in certain sectors. Semiconductors, for example, may be a critical part of what runs most smartphones and PCs, but attracting CFOs to such firms isn’t easy. A principal at executive recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles told the newspaper it’s not just a matter of having domain expertise, but expertise in what the rest the C-suite is talking about:
The more knowledge you have in all of the senior management roles about the likely future of the sector, the better off you are. All of our boards and CEOs are looking for people with that depth, because it just helps to be part of the senior decision-making.
Maybe this is the best way to think about this journey: finance executives should start with a sense of purpose about the organization for which they work. They should want to connect with all the relevant stakeholders and form a collaborative alliance. They should get the technology they need to gather useful insight. Then they should be ready to deliver that insight as honesty and in as helpful a way as possible.
A tall order, perhaps – but this is what will mark the very best CFOs, whether they win a CFO of the Year award or not.