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Managing Your Shift From CFO To President Or CEO

Contributor: John Lawler
Posted: April 28, 2018

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So you’re moving from CFO to President or CEO. Congratulations.

As the CFO, your role was to synthesize data, facilitate decisions, manage risk and influence strong execution to short-term results. As President or CEO, your role is to maximize multiple internal and external perspectives, evolve the culture, take risks, stretch the organization to growth, and achieve short-term goals.

Ready or not, there are 3 shifts you will need to manage well to be successful:

(1)  develop and BE your outside-in vision and growth narrative

(2)  evolve the culture by connecting with high-potentials on the edge

(3)  build your team to bullet-proof short-term and enable long term

Develop and BE Your Outside-In Vision and Growth Narrative

Shift from Mister (or Miss) No to Mister (or Miss) Grow. Embrace the discomfort and the imprecision of Vision. Get out and then embed your new-found external, forward-reaching perspective. Follow the Be – Do – Say model to reinforce:

BE who you are

Embrace your perspective as CFO. Leverage your knowledge of what drives profitability and bridge that to show how future growth will scale profitably.

DO your role as if you’re new to the organization

Externally orient yourself. Work backwards from customers, seeking to understand their concerns and needs. Visit customers and reps early and often. Listen in on Customer Service calls. Whatever you choose, make sure you show you’re all about the customer, and learning, right out of the box.

SAY it over and over

Your team is listening. Be intentional about your words and stories to reinforce the outside-in message. Share insights from your eternal learnings in a variety of venues. When you’re tired of hearing yourself talk, you’ll know you’re halfway there.

Related Reading: How To Be Successful Vs. How To Be Useful

Evolve the Culture By Connecting With High-Potentials on the Edge

Start before Day One by setting up a talent review with your HR leader. Take notice of your top performers and dig in to get to know them, how they’ve been successful, and what must be done to remove obstacles in the way of customer satisfaction and growth. Create a relationship. Listen.

CFOs can be stereotyped as overly formal. Prove the opposite. Be with top performers on your first days, listening and learning. Make it a habit in formal and informal settings. Look to the edges of the business for creative ways that your team is selling, delivering, serving your customers – these insights will give you hints on where the business could evolve.  Get connected and understand your sales force. When you decide to act, overtly connect your action to their feedback. You are building a loyal following amongst your best people.

Related Reading: Does Your Brand Attract All-Star Talent?

Build Your Team to Bullet-Proof Short Term and Enable Long Term

To bullet-proof the short term, backfill and onboard your CFO role ASAP and engage tightly with your Sales leaders. Your boss and the board are not going to let the numbers slide, and will want assurance that sound financial management will continue. Otherwise, you won’t be able to perform your new role, let alone succeed in it.

To enable the long-term, build a cohesive leadership team. Engage them in co-creating the vision and strategy. Embed a process for fluid communication and results-delivery against commitments. Deliver and celebrate confidence-building early wins. Determine if you have the right players in the right roles. Get all of this done in your first 100 days. And lean on a coach, mentor, peer, boss or board to help you continue adjusting to the inevitable twists and turns that come with the role.

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