What makes a top performing CFO?

If you’re in a CFO role you may be looking to bring as much value as you can to your organisation. What are the skills that you need to master in becoming one of the top performers in your field? Historically, the role was all about the financials of the business, but today it encapsulates many far broader demands in leadership. Whatever your industry or background, these are all essential attributes that today’s CFOs need to master:

Ability to adjust communication style

Flexible communication style is the key to success here. A CFO will communicate with a large number of stakeholders throughout their working week, from board members through to a wide range of staff, external partners, suppliers and media contacts. If a CFO can flex their style and message to the situation, then they will enjoy far better results and be positioned to build rapport with anyone. 

Building an environment of trust

Financial figures are the foundation of a business. If a CFO can create a trusted, transparent process for evidencing the financial health of the company, the organisation as a whole will benefit. Transparency builds trust; trust in reporting, trust in decisions and trust in the underpinning figures that support those decisions. When tough choices need to be made, trusted data and a culture of open, honest management will leverage buy-in from across the organisation.

Drive profits and cash flow

The CFO will naturally be responsible for the financial function of the business, and they will need to use this to make big decisions that help it to achieve its strategic goals. This requires putting in place robust systems and processes that measure the financial health of the business and which allow the leadership team to make decisions as to how the different functions work and how the company’s budget is allocated. 

The CFO will be responsible for maintaining the right level of cash flow, for meeting financial obligations, for keeping suppliers paid, taxes paid and generally safeguarding the health of the business. They must ensure that there are no nasty surprises.

Have presence and integrity

The person responsible for the company’s finances will require integrity and a character that is beyond approach. In combining this with presence, the workforce will place trust in their decisions and leadership. Excellent communication, combined with an open and accessible style, are key enablers here.

Build the company culture

The CFO plays a vital part in building the company culture, and this is just one of the many ways in which the role is changing. Finance underpins the business as a whole, and the CFO can be pivotal in embedding good financial practices that help managers to lead and employees to make decisions which will bring improvements to the business. At the same time, the CFO is pivotal in embedding a positive culture which recognises and rewards high performance and which celebrates success.

Look at the bigger picture

A CFO will see the bigger, strategic picture and have a clear view as to how the finance function will be placed to deliver against it. A broad view is vital for this role, as the CFO must be able to assess and respond to changes in the environment. For example, carrying out a PEST analysis to analyse the impacts, threats and opportunities of competition, regulatory change, legal changes and more.

Develop and manage talent

The finance function has always required bright and engaged talent, but today’s practitioners need to have skills in technology to succeed and to take the financial function forward. If the CFO can develop the talent base and nurture it towards high performance, the entire business will benefit. This means taking a genuine interest in people, looking for ways to develop them and to help them to achieve their own career goals, investing in financial training and qualifications, and delegating development projects.

It’s also essential that the CFO recognises the changing nature of the role. Role clarity is integral to the success of today’s CFO, and a forward-thinking viewpoint is vital. The CFO must recognise that an appreciation of the past is valuable for context and benchmarking. 

A CFO’s role is to shape the future and to take calculated risks when they need to. As part of this, they will need to create a productive, enabling relationship with the CEO, acting as a co-pilot in guiding the business in the right direction. Particularly important when the business is going through a period of change, which for most modern companies is continual. 

Primarily, great CFOs view the technical aspects of their role as something that can be handled by anyone with suitable qualifications. However, it is often their softer skills and leadership abilities that will lead them to success. 

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