Finance can seem like a closed world to the majority of people in a professional services company – reaching top-of-mind to the average employee on what we gently call “an exception basis,” e.g., when expenses don’t get reimbursed, new business doesn’t get booked, an invoice doesn’t go out, or a vendor doesn’t get paid.
But so much goes right in most finance functions on a daily basis – and so many of finance’s processes and sub-processes are linked directly to company strategic decision-making – that CFOs need to be more open to, and active in, communicating to the company about the finance function.
In short, the CFO needs to periodically hit the road to communicate to employees (either at large meetings or via electronic channels) with three clear goals in mind:
Increase visibility for the strategic nature of finance and the value finance creates. After your roadies crank up the smoke machines and you burst onto the stage in your CFO jumpsuit, you will gain the audience’s attention with the news that finance is a critical partner in the firm’s strategic decision making. World-class FinOps processes are just table stakes in a larger value-added role for finance. Describe to the audience how the intellectual firepower resident in the finance function is being brought to bear on difficult strategic problems. Real problems.
Receive honest feedback on finance process efficiency and effectiveness. Ask audience members to relate horror stories from working with finance, take careful notes, and follow-up with more info later. Take personal responsibility for the ugly issues; deflect any praise to your highly professional team and its leaders. This is your first and best chance to really hear how finance is perceived, so listen carefully – because perception is reality here. Take a few hits with grace; don’t over-defend your domain; and lead by listening.
Shoulder some of the load of senior leadership communications. The CEO has less time for this type of communication than you do, so your service as the C-suite’s man on the spot also makes you a message deliverer, and reinforcer, for key issues that the senior leadership team wants employees to absorb and react to. The CFO can deliver real value to the CEO by serving as a two-way communications conduit in these employee meetings. The CEO may even be inspired to follow suit himself.
We’ve yet to hear of a CFO road show where the finance function, and company, didn’t benefit. The CFO can start with low-hanging fruit – the offices you were already planning to travel to. We were kidding about the smoke machines and the CFO jumpsuit, though.