The one question that will help CFOs keep their CEO happy

Written on Sep 21, 2017

By Jessica Salerno, OSCPA content manager

The role of the CFO is evolving, so the relationship between the CFO and the CEO is evolving with it.

Tiffany Crosby, CPA, MBA, CTP, CGMA“CFOs initially were more compliance focused,” said Tiffany Crosby, CPA, director of learning at The Ohio Society of CPAs. “They were viewed as the ones who made sure there was sufficient cash on hand for the operations to run. And what has started to evolve is, CFOs are more on the front lines helping to set strategy and not just on the back end executing and securing the financial elements.”

Increased visibility in the strategic planning of the organization opens up new opportunities for CFOs to establish themselves in the CEO’s eyes. With this in mind, Crosby suggested CFOs ask themselves one question.

“So, if you’re asking ’How can I make the CEO role easier?’ then consider the top risks they’re dealing with,” she said. “Think: how could I possibly help to give better insight on that risk, mitigate that risk, and then how can I help keep them abreast of those things?”

Crosby said this is more than dumping data you think they might find interesting on the CEO; it’s to digest that information yourself and then give recommendations. The actionable insights a CFO gives will make the CEO’s job easier when it comes to making decisions today, tomorrow or months from now.

But there is uncertainty when it comes to offering recommendations and suggestions. You might never have all the numbers you would like, and making what might feel like an educated guess with incomplete information can be unsettling. This possibility of failure is something CFOs must get comfortable with if they’re going to grow their roles, Crosby said.

“CFOs have to demonstrate they should have a seat at the table,” Crosby said. “They have to demonstrate value beyond compliance.”

She also mentioned the idea of “servant leadership” when it comes to the CEO-CFO relationship. CFOs are also leaders of the company, but leading in harmony with the CEO can sometimes prove tricky depending on personalities, management styles and vision for the company.

“CFOs have to grab hold of that element of leadership,” Crosby said. “To be a good leader you also have to be a good follower. Because helping to bring someone’s vision to life is all about being willing to apply your talent and skill set in a directed and focused way.”

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