Strategic CFOs Need Vision and Ability to Drive Change

CFOIndicator_WordCloud_28AUG2015When we polled global finance executives in our Q2 2015 CFO Indicator survey, the more than 325 CFO respondents had plenty to say about the characteristics of a strategic finance chief. The most frequently mentioned qualities included strong business acumen, an analytic approach, vision for the future, and the ability to foster collaboration. With nearly half of the CFOs responding that assuming a more strategic leadership role is the greatest change to their position, this feedback from peers provides a solid outline of what’s expected for the top seat in finance organizations.

We visualized and shared the CFOs’ responses to this open-ended survey question in a word cloud, then took to social media to get feedback from fellow finance leaders. Respondents on LinkedIn often mentioned that a strategic CFO should have excellent leadership skills, a visionary outlook, and a data-driven approach. Being analytically minded is the key for CFOs to lead with insight. Several responses also touched on the need for the finance chief to be visible among team members and across the organization, and a few cited that the role calls for hiring and developing the right talent—then trusting them to do their jobs.

Perhaps the most important quality of a strategic CFO in today’s world—or, one that may seem like the biggest shift from the traditional requirements of the role—is to provide a vision and be forward-looking. One LinkedIn commenter said: “Strategic business decisions have to be made looking forward. The environment and information changes so rapidly now that simply basing efforts on last week/month/quarter are insufficient. Traditional reporting is available in real time, meaning that more effort can be applied to the financial strategy needed to support the other elements of the business: growth, markets, M&A, capital. [You] always need to look back, do postmortems, etc., but without the ability to think forward in real time, the CFO is reduced to a ‘keeper of accounts.’”

Within the Adaptive Insights closed customer community, Torchbearers, three dozen users weighed in with their thoughts. The community is primarily made up of analysts, FP&A directors, and those who report to the CFO, so their responses had a nuanced perspective. Good communication skills and integrity were commonly mentioned as necessary traits of a strategic CFO. Collaboration and flexibility also bubbled up in the conversation. Perhaps most telling was the list of words that revolved around the responsibility CFOs face as the leaders of transformation within their organizations. Adaptive Insights customers know first-hand what it takes to drive change, and their responses listed the following qualities: decisive, perseverant, patient, “stick-to-it-iveness,” a get-it-done attitude, empathy, innovative, and good listening skills.

Yesterday, it may have been enough for the chief finance officer to focus on managing risk, compliance, accounting, and financial reporting. Today, CFOs are being called upon to serve as strategic advisors to the CEO in addition to extracting greater value from the FP&A function. Changes occur frequently in today’s fast-paced business world, and today’s finance leaders need to be ready to act.

To learn more about change occurring within the finance department and FP&A function, watch our webcast “Lessons From the CFO: Think Beyond the Numbers.” Adaptive Insights Founder and Chairman Rob Hull, an experienced former CFO, discusses the challenges and opportunities ahead.

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