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Growing from Controller to CFO

Monday, September 12th, 2011 by Troy Schrock

The following was developed to help a specific person, but in our experience as ActionCFO advisors, we have found it to have wide application.  A controller who would like to grow into a CFO should focus on the following: 

  1. Build leadership and management skills.  Controllers tend to be great technicians, but they are rarely good managers.  A CFO, however, must be skilled in managing staff and nurturing their professional development.  Of course, this is not a “finance thing;” it’s a management thing.  Effectively delegating, dealing with performance issues, setting staff goals, and identifying specific areas of development for career growth are basic skills requied for any manager to be successful.
  2. Connect business strategy to financial strategy.  Which activities generate the best value?  How do they connect with the business’s value proposition? It is the CFO’s job to provide the financial perspective to strategic discussions with the CEO and executive team.
  3. Shift focus from data to information.  Transactions, recording, compliance – all primary tasks of the controller – are all about data.  But this data is meaningless if it is not converted to information – insights that can be used to make decisions.  A CFO must be able to discern meaningful information from the data. 
  4. Increase time spent presenting relevant information to decision makers within the business.  It is incumbent upon the CFO to talk with leaders and understand what information will help them do their work more effectively.

These skills will move a controller form a rear-looking mindset (recording what has happened) to a more strategic forward-looking mindset (anticipating what will happen).  In determining what the data means and persuasively communicating how it should affect business decisions, it may be helpful to ask these three questions: 

  1. What happened?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. Now what?

The “what happened” should really be handled by the financial staff.  Once that basic analysis has been done, the CFO can focus on “what does it mean?” and “now what?” in helping the executive team make good decisions.

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