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Career development is top of mind for many employees. Some organizations have structured career development programs in place–others do not. Regardless of the career development structure, or lack thereof, that your company provides, it is 100% up to you to own and drive your own career.
Bill Thomasson, owner/CFO of Sedna Logistics in Iowa City, Iowa, shares his thoughts on what the road to becoming a CFO looks like. Although Bill’s perspective comes from the finance world, what he says applies to nearly any career path that you may choose. Enjoy!
Manifesto of Self-Proclaimed CFO
I have traveled the path of a finance professional with no regrets. Through the last few decades, I have armed myself with some ways to think and a few tools of the trade that have helped me along the way. I am hoping that some of these will be useful to you.
Ways to Get In
Educate. Education may not always improve knowledge, but it is the access point to get in. Get in the best school you can. Don’t kid yourself – Ivy League is worth more. Big Ten is great if you can’t go higher. Keep going. Masters Degree or higher is required. CPA – needed. Damn this one. Sarbanes-Oxley changed the finance world and now everyone has to show they are a real accountant. I don’t agree with this, but it doesn’t matter (back to access). Beyond the degrees, take a collegial finance/accounting or heavy thinking business class every few years. Keep one foot in the ideal plane of academia.
Know the Right People. This one hurts. The reality is that you can’t open the doors to top management by yourself. Find and get to know individuals that will likely be the next CEO or Executive Manager. Get to know Board members where you can, particularly the chairs of finance committees. Build relationships with your auditors. The CEO is likely going to pick the CFO and seek approval from the Board and potentially seek input from the outside audit firm. You don’t have to like them. In fact, I’ve learned a great deal from individuals I don’t personally like. Salute the position, not the person.
Rotate. While you can get to the CFO level with the same company through your career, count on a long wait. Always keep a fresh resume and a pulse on the job market. Get to know key recruiters in the area. Find a good one – I have been surprised how long I’ve known the same ones. Recruiters are likely the first point of contact for new homes. Keep elevating every few years and if it doesn’t happen internally, find a better deal on the outside. New places give you more tools of seasoning and exposure as well as an accelerated path to the golden door of CFO. You are the CFO of yourself.
Ways to Think and Work
Take on the Ugly. Give me the ugliest, most challenging, highest complexity, project available. The projects that no one wants, I want. The expectations for improvement on these projects can be very low. So the reward may be very high if improvement is made. And worst case, if little to no improvement, expectation met. Make a name for yourself as the “sweeper”. Everyone calls on you to solve the hard problems.
Be Different. No one follows vanilla or chocolate. We all want vanilla twist. Haven’t met a plain CFO yet.
Facts Speak for Themselves. Too often, I get subjective opinions not supported by data. Hard facts presented well don’t need more interpretation. They speak for themselves. Spend more time with facts than theories.
Be Cheap. Much of the CFO’s time will be spent developing the most efficient path to highest return. All CFO’s that are worth a salt are skinflints. Frugality is built-in and this generally extends past professional thinking. All spend has a return that can be quantified and evaluated. CFOs can exaggerate this point so clarity can be brought home.
Change for Change Sake is Good. This is contrary to a lot of thinkers. Within reasonable constraints (eg. don’t tank the ship), forcing continuous change has been a positive experience. Through change comes innovation. Become known as the innovator and build a culture that embraces change.
Fail Cheaply. The reality is that you will have failures. Agree to milestones that qualify the project as a failure and get out with the majority of your ass(ets) intact. Passion can drive a project and can be helpful – just don’t let it get in the way and don’t get too emotionally attached.
Empower. I’m not the brightest in the group. Never have been. I’ve always found quality colleagues. Armed them with the tools to succeed and put them front and center. They will always drive the organization further than you could have by yourself. I have seen too many Managers spend their time second guessing their employee’s decisions. The Manager’s decision may have been better. However, the loss from the second guessed employee is greater than the gain from the better decision. It is unlikely the employee that was second guessed will put their hand up to help next round. Takeaways are worth twice as much as gains. Give your employees a crack at success and win together.
Scorekeep. Give employees frequent updates of the business and their work activities in a quantifiable way (back to “facts speak for themselves”). I am always astonished how things improve just be the mere fact results are measured and published. Want something to improve fast (back to the “sweeper”) – simply educate the employees impacting the issue on the costs and measure these costs in a public way. Make them part of the solution. Problem solved.
IT . Good finance managers almost always find a way to align themselves with high quality IT professionals. The finance innovators are usually faced with finding improvements through technology. Learn the ways of IT. I have been served well by understanding the very fundamentals of all company systems. And generally, the IT department, which no one wants (back to “take on the ugly”), reports to the CFO.
On-Time Always. I am never late to anything ever. I can be counted on and people know this. A simple thing where most fail.
Work Hard. I overcompensate with high work ethic for my intellectual shortcomings (or at least fear thereof). Many work hard with a plan to retire later. What the hell is retirement anyway – retire to “what”? This is what I want to do and I like doing it. I will retire to more work. As a practical matter, there are higher priorities (eg. family/spouse) that need serious review and I am working to get better at these. That said, all quality CFOs have work ethics higher than the rest of the organization. That’s just part of the deal.
Integrity. This is core to everything. Everyone trusts and comes to you for honest, fact based counsel. I will not cheat anyone for anything. Work is voluntary and if requested to even bend integrity, I will move along.
You must be trusted and counted on.
Congratulations on your journey to CFO. It’s a trip worth taking.
One of the greatest challenges faced by small to medium-sized businesses is making the transition from “what made us successful” to “what will keep us successful.” Clearly understanding the difference between individual development planning and performance management is critical in moving an organization to the next level…or “what will keep us successful.”
What is Individual Development Planning?
Also known as IDP, individual development planning is a process that allows an employee to own their career. Although the organization establishes an IDP process, it is up to employees to take advantage of, and own their own IDP. Research has shown that when employees are actively involved in and own their development process, they not only experience individual growth but also positively impact the organization.
A typical individual development planning process includes the following steps:
- A self-assessment. There is only one person who truly cares about your career, and that is you. You may have a great manager and work for a great company, but in the end, you have to control your own destiny. Understanding your talents and passions will help push you towards finding your career best.
- Feedback surveys. Commonly known as 360s, these surveys help you gather feedback from your manager, peers, direct reports and/or others regarding your strengths and areas of development. This is a critical step in the development process as it helps us compare how we see ourselves to how others perceive our behaviors.
- Coaching/training. Receiving and interpreting feedback isn’t always easy. Utilizing an outside coach/trainer to interpret and understand your feedback is a must. This person can also coach you in how to approach your manager regarding your development plans.
- Action planning. Once the employee assesses where they are at today and determines where they want to go, it is time to create a plan. This plan should include no more than three critical goals or action items that the employee wants to complete. The plan should also indicate what steps need to be taken to reach that goal, what resources are needed, and who is responsible.
- Manager and organizational support. An employee can do all of this work and still run into roadblocks without the support of their manager and organization. It is imperative that organizations understand the value that IDPs provide: aligning an employee’s talents and passions with the needs of the organization equals a career best for that employee. This results in an engaged employee for the organization. Win-win.
What is Performance Management?
Performance management is a process that is owned by the organization. It is an attempt at establishing and rewarding employees for achieving individual goals/objectives that align with the organization’s strategic goals/objectives.
Most companies do a mediocre job of performance management. This can be for a variety of reasons:
- Failure to create objective and quantifiable strategic goals.
- Inability to create individual and/or department goals/standards that align with the established strategic goals and objectives.
- Inability of organizational leaders/managers to hold others accountable for meeting those established goals/objectives.
- Establishing subjective or non-behavior-based measurement tools. Ex. “Comes to work with a positive attitude.”
Why Development is Better than Performance Management?
Most small and medium-sized businesses are still very much focused on critical issues like cash flow, customers, process improvement, and more. This is to be expected. Unfortunately, people processes are generally some of the last things that these organizations review and make a priority.
The good news is that implementing a development program is affordable and has huge pay-offs for a small to medium-sized business. On June 20, 2012, Skywalk Group will be offering its first ever workshop designed to help employees with their individual development process: The Engaged Employee. For just $299.00/employee, an organization can create an IDP process, help their employees align their talents and passions with the needs of the organization, and have happier, more productive, and engaged employees in their company. Again, a win for employees and for the organization.
This week we are featuring a blog from Maureen Collins-Williams at MyEntre.net.
For decades, women have failed to thrive as much as men in the workforce. They’ve struggled to rise to management levels in top corporations, to have their voices heard in the boardroom and their efforts fairly compensated. Today, many women believe there’s another way. Perhaps women don’t have to follow traditional rules of business success—perhaps for the first time in history, they can bypass them altogether. How? Technology.
In order to improve an organization’s effectiveness one must understand the role of organizational behavior within the workforce. It is important to understand how an organization’s behavior impacts key business drivers such as profitability, motivation and higher retention rates.
What is Organizational Behavior?
Organizational behavior is the study of human behavior within organizations. If people are an organizations most important asset then understanding how humans behave in organizations will lead to insights that can improve productivity, job satisfaction, employee relations, and more. Organizational behavior focuses on the impact that individuals, groups, and structures have on behavior within organizations. Below are just a few of the components that need to be taken into account:
- The job itself. What kind or type of job is an employee doing, and what is the design of that job? How does the job fit in with other job’s employees are working on? Knowing the type of job an employee is working on can help determine how the employee will react with that job.
- The nature of the work. This goes along with the job because if the nature of work is compatible with the employee then it is more likely that the work will get done well and in a timely manner.
- Turnover. If a person is compatible with the work environment and likes their job, they will be more likely to stay and be high performers at the company. Organization’s rarely take a hard look at the cost associated with turnover. Therefore, cost savings associated with improving the recruiting, selection, on-boarding, and training processes are often ignored.
- Productivity. If an employee is productive, they tend to be more motivated and more likely to enjoy the work that they are doing. This is a win-win for the organization and the employee!
Organizational Behavior Challenges and Opportunities
With everything in life, there are challenges and opportunities, and organizational behavior is no exception.
- Economic pressures impact both individuals and organizations. Employees may have to fight to keep their job. This may encourage the employee to be more productive throughout the day and strive to do excellent work. Competitive pressures are tough in the business world. In a highly competitive society, every organization wants to be recognized as the best.
- Workplace diversity is prevalent. Employees from all over the globe are applying for positions. Diversity is a good thing and can become a competitive advantage that inspires innovation. But it also creates individual and organization acceptance and appreciation challenges.
Ultimately, it is up to the employees in an organization to work with one another and to recognize the differences and skills that each other have. This is crucial within a workforce and a great reason as to why organizational behavior is an important tool to be aware about and understand.
–Annalise Bandel, Student, Loyola University
The new year has a way of making us all think about change. We create new goals for ourselves. Fitness goals. Diet goals. Career goals. At the same time that we are making our personal goals for the new year, senior leadership at companies across the nation are doing the same thing. Although the focus may be slightly different, i.e. how they can capture more market share, reduce costs, create a succession plan, or increase employee engagement, the end result will likely involve some type of change.
How Successful are People at Making Lasting Changes
More often than not, people do not stick to their New Year’s resolution for very long. In one study over two years, about one in five people (20%) were able to keep to their resolution. On the other hand, three in five (60%) dropped their resolution within 6 months. In a recently reported British study, 22% of people reported that they were “very successful” in keeping their resolutions. Source: WAIBTV. Those percentages are pretty dismal when you think about it. And those are your own personal changes that YOU want to make.
Now, imagine you are the CEO of a company. Your company has 200 employees in 3 different locations and you have just decided to purchase another company in a fourth location. How likely is it that you can successfully implement this large-scale organizational change and get everyone moving in the same direction, working towards the same goals? There is no sugar coating this answer. It is going to be very difficult and require a tremendous amount of energy, patience, communication, and outstanding leadership skills in order to make this happen. And you can bet that energy, patience, communication, and leadership abilities DO NOT fit neatly inside a brown paper bag.
Change in a Brown Paper Bag
You may be wondering what that means. Too many companies try to implement organizational change through a “brown bag lunch” process. Has this happened in your company?
“Our managers need leadership training. Let’s schedule some brown bag lunches and teach them how to be better leaders!”
“Our health insurance costs are increasing. Let’s have a wellness speaker come in for a brown bag lunch presentation!”
“Our employees say they aren’t engaged and satisfied. Let’s have a company-wide monthly meeting over lunch and motivate them!”
Steps to Effective Organizational Change
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if all of a company’s problems could be solved through the brown bag lunch process? Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Organizations who successfully implement change do the following things:
- Collaborate. Share ideas with employees early in the process to get feedback and buy-in.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. There can never be too much communication when change is involved.
- Be transparent. Not only about the change but also that you may not always know the answers. Even with the best plan in place, there are unknowns.
- Be compassionate. Change is a process for everyone. Even for those who embrace it. Help people move towards acceptance. That process will be different for each individual.
- Allow and demand questions. Employees should have questions. Part of helping them move towards acceptance involves education and inclusion.
- Celebrate. Make a big deal about the little things along the way as well as celebrating major milestones.
Today I had lunch on the ped mall in Iowa City. This is normally something that I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to. However, today was a totally different experience. One that still has me feeling shaky and uneasy. I am sure you are wondering what horrible thing happened today.
Here it is!
Yep. This little snake caused me more anxiety and uneasiness than any work or personal challenge I have faced in recent history. After keeping an eye on him (in reality, that means being frozen in place) for about 45 minutes while I was perched on top of my park bench, I was finally able to get up and escape to The Java House. Unfortunately, as I sit here now, I still find myself scanning the perimeter for snakes and having weird sensations on my skin that make me feel like things are crawling on me.
I pride myself on being an incredibly rational person in nearly every situation that life throws at me. But I will admit, I have an irrational fear of snakes. I have absolutely no idea where this fear has come from. I have never been bitten by a snake. I have seen relatively few snakes outside of contained situations (zoos). But none of that matters. That tiny snake had me completely frozen and under its control.
The Impact of Fears
My situation today reminded me that we all have fears. Some are extreme and keep us from doing certain things or going certain places. Other fears might be less extreme but they still create challenges or stress for us.
In the workplace, fear of failure may keep us from trying new things, taking on a new project, or applying for a promotion.
Outside of work, fear of the unknown may keep us in an unhappy or unhealthy situation.
Imagine how productive and happy people we all could be if those fears were eliminated. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to do that. I wish, for my own sake, that I did. However, there are some practical tips and suggestions that may be helpful in working through some of your own fears, especially as it pertains to the workplace. Stay tuned for that article next week. In the meantime, please take a moment and subscribe to the Skywalk Group E-Newsletter to receive industry tips, trends, and entertaining tidbits like this blog article from the blog writing team at Skywalk Group.