How CFOs Extend Their Influence Beyond Finance

20 Nov 2017

How CFOs Extend Their Influence Beyond Finance

Ross Woledge, Partner at Odgers Berndtson explores how finance leaders can optimize their day-to-day performance with top Canadian CFOs.

Argyle Executive Forum hosted the 2017 Chief Financial Officer Leadership Forum in Toronto on November 2nd at the Westin Hotel to over 100 financial leaders. The panel discussion titled How CFOs Extend Their Influence Beyond Finance was moderated by Ross Woledge, who drew insights from senior leaders Kay Brekken (CFO & EVP, First Capital Realty), Manjit Sharma (CFO, GE Canada) and Bill Tofflemire (CFO & EVP, Mattamy Homes). The expert panel offered their expertise on how finance leaders can optimize their day-to-day performance through the following strategies:

1. The Business-Partnering Culture in Finance

CFOs are responsible for building and maintaining relationships with C-suite leaders, as well as executives within other departments. He or she must drive collaboration to ensure an organization can achieve its immediate and long-term goals.

At the same time, CFOs must maintain open communication within their own departments. If silos form within a finance department, problems will likely arise that prevent an organization from succeeding. Fortunately, CFOs who foster collaboration and open communication may be better equipped to help finance departments become vital contributors to an organization's success.

"It's all about adding value in ways outside of a traditional finance box," Tofflemire said. "It's important to understand where the company should play and how it's going to win. … Adding value to those discussions can go a long way [for CFOs]."

2. Building Leadership Within an Organization

In addition to serving as business leaders, CFOs frequently are responsible for developing leaders within finance departments. How CFOs approach this responsibility may have far-flung effects on an organization.

If CFOs search for finance professionals who are willing to learn and are open to new ideas, they may discover talented individuals who can help an organization innovate and expand.

"[People who] listen to lots of different perspectives and have the humility to say, 'I don't know everything' … are the types of people that I want to have on my team," Sharma stated. "Those are the people that like to learn and are open to new ideas."

Furthermore, CFOs should search for finance professionals who understand their strengths and weaknesses. Finance professionals should also be ready to help an organization in any way possible, as well as collaborate with professionals in other departments to drive long-lasting business growth.

"You don't want to go into any situation with biases," Sharma noted. "You need to be open … and be able to step back to understand what you bring to the table."

3. Driving Influence Among C-Suite Leaders

CFOs must be able to provide other C-suite leaders with financial data. That way, CFOs can help CEOs and other C-suite leaders make the best possible decisions.

"You need to be able to equip the CEO with information," Brekken indicated. "You need to be able to give the CEO answers and ensure there are never any surprises."

In addition, CFOs should consider the perspectives of leaders within multiple departments. This approach empowers CFOs to collect timely, relevant financial data that can help C-suite leaders achieve meaningful results.

"You want to understand the business from the perspective of your leaders," Brekken stated. "If you've got the information that helps your company's leaders … then you can build great relationships with them."

4. Bridging the Gap Between the CFO and Various Business Departments

CFOs and IT departments often work closely with one another. The relationships between CFOs and IT departments may prove to be mutually beneficial, as CFOs can provide IT departments with the insights they need to help an organization become more productive and efficient.

"The CFO often has a great view into the organization … and who could be better than the CFO in weighing the costs and benefits associated with IT," Sharma pointed out. "There are some synergies in having those groups together and reporting as one."

Comparatively, CFOs must allocate the necessary time and resources to collaborate with a wide range of departments. This will enable CFOs to develop a broad business perspective, leading to more informed business decisions.

5. Maintaining a Positive Outlook

Although CFOs help organizations develop budgets, they are also required to reject financial proposals at times. Doing so may prove to be difficult, but CFOs who maintain a data-driven approach to their everyday operations can maintain support from departments across an organization.

A data-driven approach enables CFOs to explain the why behind assorted financial decisions. Thus, CFOs who collect data and perform deep data analysis can remain objective as they review an organization's finances.

"You've got to be armed with data, because it's hard to be objective without data," Sharma said. "If you can come back to somebody with an objective stance, and that stance happens to be, 'No,' then I think you'll be able to get people on board."

This article was originally published in the ARGYLE JOURNAL by Argyle.