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5 Tactics to help finance leaders build company-wide trust

To be successful in your role, stakeholders across the business need to view you as a trusted partner. Russ Keefe, VP of Finance at Corelight, tells us how to achieve that.

Posted on 05 October 2021 by Janelle Van Deventer
Russ Keefe, VP of Finance and Operations at Corelight
Russ Keefe, VP of Finance and Operations at Corelight

Finance leaders are responsible for more than just the numbers. They help companies and employees flourish by creating opportunities for growth. In order to do this, however, you must first build trust throughout your organization.

Russ Keefe, VP of Finance and Operations at cybersecurity firm Corelight, believes the key to success as a financial leader is transparency, collaboration, and empathy.

We interviewed Russ on The CFO Playbook podcast, where he shared five tactics finance leaders can use to build company-wide trust.

1. Cultivate transparency

The first step to building trust within your company is to be transparent.

Russ noticed a positive shift in Silicone Valley due to greater transparency around fundraising, valuations, and stock prices. Your employees deserve to know the specifics of what those options are worth, and it’s your duty to inform them.

If you want to build a trusting relationship with your employees, Russ says one of the most important things you can do is educate them:

‘I do think it is incumbent on the company to try to educate their employees. If I want you to value this equity as a meaningful part of your compensation, then I should educate you on why that is such. It takes a little bit more energy and calories to do that, but the outcome is so much more beneficial and builds a foundation of trust.’

The more open you are with your employees about the reasoning behind your decisions, the more understanding and trusting they will be of your leadership. Even if things don’t go as planned, your employees will understand why those choices were made.

2. Challenge senior executives

A trusting environment promotes dialogue and pushback from the bottom-up and top-down.

Russ says one of the warning signs of weak interpersonal trust is when senior executives or stakeholders agree with all benchmarks created by a CFO without challenging the roadmap or resources to get there.

According to Russ:

‘I think you really need to make sure to bolster the other executives around you to go and do that triple-check into the numbers to make sure that they really understand them and are resourced to deliver against the roadmaps.’

To build a healthy, cooperative working environment, challenge your senior executives and allow them to challenge you. The more you question the status quo, the better equipped your team will be to achieve realistic goals for the company.

3. Collaborate, don’t negotiate

The best CFOs work in tandem with their teams to come up with healthy solutions for the business.

If you want to build trust, you have to take your employees’ needs and requests seriously, especially when it comes to budget season.

Russ says your goal as a CFO is to collaborate, not negotiate:

‘If you create a system whereby everyone knows they have to ask for twice as much because you’re going to cut it in half, that’s a bad process. What I try to do is build that trust early on and from time to time say, “You should go spend more.”’

When your employees see you’re willing to listen and work with them, they will trust you have their best interest at heart. This also promotes an environment of collaboration and camaraderie.

4. Create opportunities through automation

More and more, employees want to be challenged to grow and expand their knowledge, and in order to create those opportunities, you need to rely on the automation of rote tasks.

Automation frees up your employees to do more complex, interesting work, which attracts better talent to those positions, Russ says:

‘[Automation] creates those opportunities for folks to do the type of work that is so much more enriching than, “Here’s a playbook, stay within the lines.”’

So while it can be more work in the short term to automate certain processes, in the end, your employees feel you support their mission and truly want to see them grow. The more you invest in your team, the more they will invest their trust in you.

5. Center around empathy

Empathy helps your finance team better serve the company as a whole. The more you empathize with the engineering team, the marketing team, the operations team, or the support team, the more you’ll understand their challenges.

Russ says:

‘My team is not called the finance team, we’re actually called business services. We talk about what our role is. Our role and our customers for the business services team is everyone else in the company. Our customers are the employees. Our customers are the managers. Our customers are the VPs or the C-suite, and we’re meant to be trusted advisors for them.’

Russ also encourages you to take an operations role, if the opportunity arises, in order to gain a deeper appreciation for the business, the people, and the emotional and psychological aspect of running a business.

By centering empathy within your team and your leadership style, you will create an environment of trust where employees from all departments will feel you understand them on a deeper level.

Thrive through trust

Your position as a finance leader is based on trust – trust in your employees, their trust in you, and the trust your customers have in your company.

When you create a strong, collaborative environment, you will work more efficiently, develop high-caliber employees, and your company will be pushed toward greater growth.

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