If your company has looked to a chief financial officer (CFO) to help improve, reshape or rethink your business strategy, then you have already taken the first step in a meaningful transition. But hiring a CFO is not enough. CEOs and other C-suite executives who ask CFOs to work their magic must be willing to communicate and to relinquish control—which is easier said than done.
We sat down with Craig S., a freelance CFO in the Paro network, to discuss the hurdles new CFOs often face and how CEO-CFO relationships can be built effectively to improve the performance of both personnel and profits. Read on to discover six steps to a better CEO-CFO relationship.
1. Remember why you hired a CFO
Even the most skilled leaders need to surround themselves with a diverse group of problem solvers. Remember that if you’ve chosen to hire a CFO, it’s because your company yearned for a new way of solving financial problems.
Craig says, “A CFO is hired because there is complexity within the organization that can’t be solved by the skillsets of existing employees. Maybe your business has grown increasingly complicated and you’ve been relying on conventional wisdom—and it hits you in the face. Or maybe, out of nowhere, financial risk has skyrocketed. And now, bringing on a CFO is necessary.”
A CFO is typically responsible for a long list of financial duties, including developing a financial and operating strategy and rolling out a long-term plan to monitor, validate and improve that campaign. These strategies are nuanced and require an executive-level financial officer.
“If you’re going to make the decision to move from a controller’s skillset to a CFO’s skillset, then that’s because your CFO is offering you some sort of enhancement, whether that’s enterprise value, reduction in risk or increase in cash flow,” Craig says. “Once you’ve hired a CFO, you’ve got to let them do their thing. You need to understand their value.”
2. Ensure you have made the right hire
If you’re positive that your company truly needs the CFO services that the CFO provides, but the new relationship just isn’t working, Craig suggests that poor chemistry could be to blame.
“When hiring a CFO,” says Craig, “you need to make sure you’re hiring the right person. Choose a CFO whose culture does not conflict with that of the company.”
If you are having trouble letting your new CFO get to work, Craig advises that you ask yourself: “Why am I not trusting my CFO? Is it a function of history, or do I really not trust this person? Is it me? Is it them? Or is it the organization?”
Knowing exactly why you’re feeling uncomfortable with your CFO can help push you into action, whether that’s letting go of your own reservations or searching for a better hire.
3. Define the CFO role from the beginning
Craig believes that for best results, you should know—and clarify—exactly what you need from your CFO on day one. Remember that you hired your CFO to help you make calculated, well-considered decisions.
“In general, the CFO should offer prospective and retrospective guidance to the CEO,” says Craig. “A CFO should provide to the CEO information that helps him reduce risk, make informed decisions and align the company in a certain direction. Then, when the board gives direction, the CFO can arm the CEO with all the tools he needs to execute on that strategy.”
Craig also believes that CFOs should support CEOs by looking at how competitors communicate, identifying specific initiatives of the CEO’s vision and ensuring that progress is being made on every one of the board’s agenda items.
4. Take small steps to build trust
Even top-notch executives need a bit of time to warm up to each other and establish good rapport. After all, every good relationship is based on trust. That’s why Craig recommends that all CEO-CFO relationships kick off with a few humble, tiny tasks that establish confidence.
“CEOs and CFOs should initially establish relatively small steps that give others and themselves comfort and build organizational trust. That bridge has got to be built,” Craig says.
Craig’s advice for CFOs is to build trust with their CEOs by taking steps like these:
- Consistently delivering ahead of schedule
- Arriving at meetings prepared
- Delivering bad news prior to meetings
- Creating structure by creating a calendar of events
- Circulating information prior to meetings
- Developing relationships with service providers like accountants and attorneys
- Identifying ways to execute instead of finding reasons things cannot be done
5. Clarify deliverables and benchmarks
CEO-CFO relationships are more complicated than ever before, in part because most companies are no longer siloed. Craig notes that in the past, employees had tightly-defined roles and communicated about their projects vertically. These simple organization charts made everything clearer.
“But today, everything is hybrid,” says Craig. Employees of all levels from different groups—sales, finance, product development—are coming together to solve problems. And that’s great, but it can get messy.”
These hybrid solutions can make it difficult for even the strongest leaders to resist letting go on important projects. After all, the lines on what work belongs to whom have become increasingly blurred. Craig recommends combatting this problem by “clearly defining who’s running what on day one.”
“Deliverables and benchmarks for all executives,” Craig warns, “have got to be really tight.”
6. Champion communication above all else
While all the other touchpoints Craig mentions are certainly important, nothing is as vital as establishing strong communication between you and your CFO.
Craig asserts: “CEOs should establish incremental communication that develops a bond that builds a team. CEOs need to ensure everybody’s communication is aligned.”
Good communication begins with a CEO who has a vision and trusts his team can bring it to life.
“A CEO’s job is to align incentives,” says Craig. “So allowing a CFO to do their job is really about a CEO’s ability to trust people and really understand their company’s goals.”
Start building bridges with your CFO today
Whether you’re looking to hire a CFO in the near future or you’ve had one in place for years, there are steps you can take to improve the CEO-CFO relationship that are good for morale and great for business.
Start by remembering why you hired a CFO in the first place, and articulate what might be preventing you from relinquishing control to this person. Ensure the CFO’s role is clearly defined and start taking little strides toward building a bond with that person. To reduce confusion in today’s hybrid workplace, clearly define deliverables and benchmarks. And most importantly, implement excellent communication. After all, a CFO is there to take your company to the next level—and so are you.
Still looking for a CFO? At Paro, we leverage our proprietary AI technology to build flexible, focused teams of remote experts that help companies solve problems and drive growth. Our laser focus on finance allows us to quickly identify experts across the U.S. with the right mix of skills, credentials, and experience to achieve each company’s specific goals. Complete our form to request a consultation and get one step closer to gaining the CFO expertise you need.