Your First 30 days as CFO
You have been promoted and entering your first days as CFO / Head of Finance, your new position is broad, evolving, and requires the interaction of many people. The mere mastery of the technical elements is not enough and you will very quickly have to move up a gear. You will have to manage strategic and operational issues in parallel, with different teams, whatever the sector of activity.
Having worked as CFO for 15 years, in various countries for several international companies, I have managed large finance teams, different restructuring projects in complex matrix organizations.
It is on the basis of these experiences that I would like to share my thoughts / recommendations on how effectively to assume a new CFO / Head of Finance position during your first 30 days.
Think about the actions you want to take:
Be ready to act means to jot down your ideas for your first month, second month, and third month and eventually get a first idea of where you, as CFO, want to take your department.
Whether it’s your GM, your peers, or your direct reports, everyone expects immediate impact from you.
Don’t get caught up in the whirlwind of meetings. It’s up to you to control the tempo you wish to give to your actions.
Some CFOs fall into the trap of being too cautious for too long. Just having a plan will clear your mind and set you up for success.
Be prepared, but don’t jump into the action. Consider taking a step back for a moment.
Many newly promoted CFOs / Head of Finance work below current requirements. Find out what you need to do differently to become a strategic CFO and reject the comfortable model of your old role.
If you are promoted internally, establish a real stopping point: agree on a clear transition date with your boss.
Your former colleagues / peers but also the whole company still see you as a controller, so ask your boss to communicate in a formal way, to give full autonomy / legitimacy.
Define your list of priorities including the areas where you would be likely to have your first successes as these flow directly from the issues addressed during your hiring process:
And remember the major issues. If improving financial analysis and the budget process is vital to your stakeholders, what can your team do in the short term to show progress on this?
Define a plan, a gap analysis, with specific deliverables that will create value and influence momentum.
Your priority list should provide you and your team with clear direction, while allowing flexibility as you continue to soak up the situation.
If it has been a while since you have faced a steep learning curve and the fear of being incompetent can create a vicious cycle. Self-doubt, passivity, denial, defensiveness or, at the other end of the spectrum, arrogance as cover can follow.
On the contrary, humility and transparency will help you succeed and create a learning plan will guide you.
Too many companies do not have a formal onboarding program for their newly promoted executives. Either because resources are limited or because HR and senior management feel it is your responsibility to provide a structured learning plan as they would for lower levels.
So figure out for yourself who needs to show you (see my offer 1 / Diagnosis) tell you or just teach you what you need to know ASAP.
Don’t get distracted by the small details of the company or your department just yet. You will find them out soon enough. Stay alert and ask yourself the right questions:
Relationship building is as important to fundamentals as numbers and strategy.
To be accompanied by an experienced person (a CFO for instance) can also be useful in assessing the team and quickly finding the best way to deploy resources to meet challenges.
Take part in discussions, be visible, and above all, don’t stay behind your computers to analyze the digital situation.
Take advantage of this honeymoon period to ask all the questions you need to get a clear picture of the situation and prepare your plan.
Make sure your Managing Director and VIP Finance have visibility into the issues you are facing and see your progress. It also helps you stay in tune with their environment.
One of the main comments from the newly promoted CFO is that his boss is very busy and has no time (more on this in an upcoming article / How to deal with my busy GM).
Don’t be shy, go as with onboarding meetings and remember that the best way to get another date is for your boss to walk away feeling like it was worth it.
Schedule meetings with your GM but also with another operating partner, key stakeholders.
These interviews will allow you to understand:
Align expectations. What should you do in the short term for your GM? And in the medium term?
How does your GM prefer to receive information? I have seen problems many times arise because a CFO likes to send long emails while the GM prefers short face to face meetings or quick calls / WhatsApp messages.
Does your GM like a lot of details, while you prefer to convey only the essentials that he or she “needs to know”? What types of decisions does he want to be consulted on and which ones can you decide for yourself?
Be in sync to avoid certain pitfalls.
In conclusion, your overall roadmap, based on your first diagnostic should be written in your first few weeks or so, even if it’s just a rough list of items. Specify goals, priorities, milestones and due dates.
After you’ve been in the role for about a month, share this plan, even in draft form, with your GM and functional manager, if applicable. Start your communication campaign.
By doing so, it creates clarity and alignment on how you’ll be spending your time, what you’ll do, and what you’ll postpone. It helps you avoid gaps and keeps you from focusing on anything that may not be important to your boss and peers.
Then, review with your GM how you’re doing against the plan at the end of each 30-day period and adjust the plan as your initial assessment of the strategy evolves. It will certainly help you in internal communication but will also reduce the pressure, as you will have a clear view of what to focus on. And in addition, it reassures in case of stress.
See my Roadmap offer. As an experienced CFO, I can give you my support in order to make your first weeks and months on the right track, sharing my methodology and expertise to help you to take ownership of your new role in a calm, and serein manner, but with efficiency.
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