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The CFO Alliance Blog

Evolution of the Modern CFO Part 2: What Keeps CFOs Up at Night

Courtesy of Jennifer Dignum, Xactly corporation

Last week we published the first half of a two-part blog series on the evolution of the modern CFO. In the piece, entitled“From Mr. No to Chief Trusted Advisor,” Ernie Humphrey, a recognized CFO thought leader, shared his insights about the changing role of the CFO.

In this week’s blog, we continue our conversation, discussing key findings from the 2017 CFO Sentiment Study. Just released by The CFO Alliance, the report shares insights from over 500 Finance leaders across a wide spectrum of industries relative to what matters to CFOs in 2017. In his position at The CFO Alliance, Ernie was closely involved in overseeing the development of the study and was the lead author on the 2017 CFO Sentiment Study report.

In last week’s post, we talked about the need for CFOs to engage more within their organizations. Do you have any specific recommendations?

CFOs need to create an environment where team members and staff aren’t afraid to talk with them candidly, and bring up issues as they arise, before they create a crisis. How CFOs accomplish this really depends on their personality and communication skills. One CFO in our study actually took his door off the hinges to promote a true “open door” policy with employees – but, obviously, not everyone will want to do that.

Another CFO makes a point to walk around the office every single day to talk with staff. He talks with employees in his own department and in other departments, such as customer service and sales. He does this to strengthen relationships and to become a trusted advisor, which ensures that he is supporting the productivity of each and every member within the Office of the CFO.

We also had one CFO tell us that he never ate lunch alone for two years. Every day he took someone new out to lunch.

The point is that there is no substitute for personal interactions and earning trust.

What do you think keeps CFOs up a night?

The biggest thing keeping CFOs up at night is – not surprisingly – “too much to do and not enough time to do it.” CFOs are stretched to full capacity, and figuring out how to get everything done is a challenge.

Having strategic agility is another top concern – and one that’s very closely tied to having the right systems in place. With outdated technologies, CFOs are operating at a disadvantage. More and more data is being generated than ever before from more and more sources. Having visibility into the right data is invaluable to a CFO. If CFOs aren’t leveraging systems that can deliver timely and accurate information, they can’t pivot effectively to relevant market dynamics.
CFOs have an opportunity to become the “data steward” within their organizations. By doing so, they can teach other departments about the value of putting metrics and ROI behind their programs.

According to our survey findings, a third thing keeping CFOs up at night is concern that their teams don’t have the skills needed for growth. Today’s CFOs need to ensure that their each team member within the office of the CFO is operating at top performance. To do this, the office of the CFO needs to increase his or her ownership of human capital optimization.

What surprised you most about the study’s findings?

We were actually surprised by the optimistic expectations of CFOs. However, our hypothesis is that it’s likely caused by the plans of the new administration to roll back and limit regulation. For CFOs, the potential upside of a less regulated environment outweighs the risks of unexpected election results and the strong protectionist tone of the Trump administration.

What’s your advice for CFOs in 2017?

I have five pieces of advice for CFOs. They’re all based on the survey results and what I’ve experienced in the last few years surveying and engaging with CFOs. I think these five things will still ring true for CFOs even 10 years from now.

Being more engaged in customer relationships throughout a customer’s lifecycle.
Understanding what marketing colleagues need in terms of technology, data, and analytics to optimize execution and helping them get it.
Reviewing business systems to ensure they optimize strategic agility across the enterprise.
Owning the optimization of human capital within the office of the CFO.
Striving to earn the role of chief trusted advisor at their company.

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