Do finance leaders need a new job title to reflect their focus areas, or is it really about walking the walk?
Where there were once chief marketing officers, there are now chief brand officers. VPs of HR are now sometimes referred to chief people officers. This makes it only natural that something similar might happen with CFOs.
In a recent interview with The Australian newspaper, executive and co-founder of Sheldon Harris Consulting, John Sheldon, discussed just how challenging it has become to source finance leadership talent. He suggested that this is in part due to the rise of CFOs being re-imagined as “chief performance officers” — putting an extra emphasis, not on the fact that they look at financial information, but that their work leads directly to improved organizational performance.
“Their role will include performance improvement and strategy — we’re now living in a digital world and disruption happens daily,” he said. “They’ll look at that disruption and what it’s producing, how do you harness that and put it to the organization, and somebody has to pull that together. The requirements of the role are much more than we’ve ever seen before at this level. There isn’t going to be a queue of 100 people who can do it.”
The notion of a CPO may align well with the fact that corporate performance management using Excel has evolved to the point where it is easily available via the cloud and can connect to something as fundamental as spreadsheets. Still, there has to be more to this increased emphasis on performance than merely giving CFOs a fancier job title, doesn’t there?
FEI Daily may have gotten close to a glimpse of what the specific concerns of a more performance-minded CFO look like when it interviewed an executive from ERP vendor SAP:
When I talk to CFOs, they say, ‘Look, I want insights. I want to be able to make decisions on things. I want to know that if I have a short-term cash-flow issue in one of my emerging countries, and I’m going to miss payroll, that I can find access to a low-interest, overnight loan that I can get from a variety of vendors and that I can get an instant decision on that. And I can’t do that unless I know my cash position.’ Really, at the CFO level, it’s more about insights, it’s more about the narrative.
The narrative in question is really a story about how companies become more proactive, agiler and ultimately better at judging when and how to act. The person living and breathing that narrative might be called the CFO or the CPO — it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the hero of the narrative wins in the end.