The CFO Playbook

4 Tips for leading with curiosity as a CFO

15 November 2021  |   6 minutes read

To be a modern CFO is to strategically partner with the business.

Mark Nasiff, CFO and COO of cloud-based security company Lookout, recommends leading with curiosity in order to come up with strategic solutions:

‘To truly be a good CFO, you have to understand the business that you’re supporting. Be curious, go ask questions. Interact with the different functions within the organisation to understand what they’re looking for and take some risk.’

Recently, we interviewed Mark on The CFO Playbook podcast, where he shared his tips to ask the right questions to drive the business forward.

1. Leverage data

While it can be difficult to get the hard truths from your team when you’re in a C-Suite position like CFO, tracking the right data helps you get the full story.

Whether folks meet their goals or not, Mark uses data as a launching pad:

‘A big piece of it is understanding the big picture and connecting the dots within those and holding people accountable to what the goals were, right? And staying focused on what the goal was. Why didn’t we get there? Let’s dig in and understand how we did, what went wrong and then what we can do to improve it as we go forward.’

By digging deep into the data and using it to generate conversation amongst the team, you can better uncover what’s happening on the ground – not just the sugar-coated version.

2. Don’t underestimate the sales side of the business

It’s easy for finance professionals to take for granted the hard work of the sales team if they don’t take the time to understand it.

With a background in sales operations and finance, Mark emphasises the importance of both developing relationships with and becoming well-versed in the sales process:

‘Understanding the front lines, what happens in how a sales organisation interacts with that customer, helps you think about how you change or design processes and procedures internally in order to make sure that you’re a customer-friendly organisation.’

Communication with the sales team also helps you better understand the value the company is providing through their product.

3. Take a two-pronged approach to automation

Modern CFOs know that automation is key to unlock both the information and the increased headspace to transform data into action.

Mark is always looking for ways to gather more data to fuel insights:

‘Every six months we sit and look at what the things are that we’re spending more time on and are there tools out there that make sense for us? And then the tools gather more data on the business so that we can then interpret it.’

When you’re assessing whether automation is a fit for your team, consider whether it will both help them be more efficient and understand the business better.

4. Integrate finance with the rest of the business

When the finance team is siloed off, they don’t just miss opportunities for insight – they can get left behind.

At Lookout, Mark makes sure finance team members sit with engineering, marketing, and sales so they’re part of the group:

‘So that it’s actually not that hard [to budget and plan] because you’re not playing catch-up, you’re part of that team. And being part of that team, you have that knowledge. So looking at numbers and analysing them are much easier.’

Communicating across different functions is that much easier when you’re on the same team. And you’ll be quicker to ask the right questions when you experience other functions firsthand.

The right questions inform strategy

As CFO, your role demands the ability to balance risk and reward. But you don’t have to be the team member that’s putting the brakes on gutsy initiatives or the ‘voice of reason.’

By leading with curiosity, and asking questions that help you understand all aspects of the business, you’re better equipped to contribute to strategic decision-making that builds momentum.

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