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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.
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.
Sometimes I would rather stick a fork in my eye and twist it than go to another meeting. In most corporate environments meetings are a vital element of life in the office. They dictate our days; form our schedules and consequently, we often find ourselves getting few things accomplished as a result of them. So why do we need ANOTHER meeting anyway?
Obviously, meetings are a necessary evil in running successful businesses. They bring people together by uniting creative minds and are vital in achieving the strategic goals of the company. Leaders who know how to run productive meetings can be the most valued employees of the organization.
Meetings can fail for a variety of reasons. Some of the most important are a lack preparation, agenda or goals. Lacking respect for participant’s time and failing to follow up on specific action items can result in frustrated participants and fewer results. Whether your meeting is at the office, via Skype or conference call, how do you lead an effective one? Reader’s Digest author, Graham Buck, recently gave a few tips:
- Start and end strongly. Conduct every meeting with a purpose and close it with a plan for “going forward”. Denver based consultant Teri Schwartz noted that running a meeting is like “Flying a plane. Most crashes happen at takeoff and landing.”
- Pick a leader. Assign someone to lead at the beginning of each meeting.
- Think small. Be realistic about what you can accomplish and keep the number of attendees manageable to stimulate discussion.
- Direct, don’t dominate. Encourage others to speak up and get involved, especially junior staffers.
- Lay down the rules of engagement. Everyone should understand who will take notes and how decision will be made. Assign follow-up tasks during the final five to ten minutes and then reiterate them later in a group email.
A final tip that I’d like to add is to respect participant’s time. As an HR consultant, one of the biggest complaints that I hear is that employee’s never have enough time to complete their own projects because of all the meetings they are required to attend. Smart business leaders understand the value of participant’s time. If a meeting is scheduled for an hour, be respectful and end it on time!
Does your company struggle with leading successful meetings? Skywalk Group’s Employee Development and Training can help.
In our last article, we talked about how managers can improve the way they provide performance feedback to their employees or anyone else in their lives. This week, we are going to talk about how everyone can get better at accepting feedback.
Is it SARA or SARAH?
There are some normal responses that people have to receiving feedback.
Generally, people aren’t use to receiving feedback. Therefore, it comes as a surprise when it is provided. If you remember from last week’s article, that is why we suggest that people ask permission to give feedback. It helps reduce or eliminate the element of surprise.
Depending on who is providing the feedback and whether or not they are seen as credible, the receiver may be annoyed by the feedback. A friend just told me a story about offering golfing tips and advice to a beginner when she was struggling to hit the ball. I asked the obvious question, “Did she ask for help?” The answer was no. Then I asked the next question, “Did you ask her if she wanted help?” Again, the answer was no. In that situation, it is very likely that the receiver was annoyed by the feedback that she received and she probably went straight to the rejection phase.
It is human nature to want to reject the feedback that you receive, especially when you may feel that it is a personal attack. How long people stay in the rejection phase is variable. For some, it may just require a few hours or days to process the feedback and move to the acceptance phase. For others, it may require receiving the same feedback from multiple sources or multiple occasions before they decide to accept it.
Finally, after having some time to process the feedback, most people are able to accept the feedback and choose how to modify or enhance their behavior accordingly. The only exception to this rule is a fatal flaw. Fatal flaws are either innate personality related issues or values/behaviors that we are personally unwilling to modify or change regardless of the feedback that we hear from others. For example, if you are an introverted individual and you receive feedback that you need to be more extroverted, it is unlikely that you will be able to successfully make that change.
And sometimes, Sarah spells her name with an “H”. Once you have accepted the feedback and made the decision to change, there may be times when you need to ask for help. This could be the case in the workplace or in your personal life. If you are committed to making a change, asking for help can go a long ways towards accomplishing your goal. Not only does it help hold yourself accountable for the change, but it demonstrates to others around you that you are committed to the change.
In an upcoming blog article, we will discuss how not to accept feedback as well.
If you find this information valuable, you may also enjoy Skywalk Group’s Leadership & Development Public Workshops. In addition to learning how to provide performance feedback, participants learn how to be an effective leader, improve their communication skills, and set goals and hold team members accountable for their performance.
Did you miss last week’s article? Read How to Provide Feedback to Employees (Or Anyone Else) now.