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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.
Like most workplaces, life at Skywalk Group isn’t always as exciting as it may seem. I know, I know; you would think a human resources consulting company located in the heart of downtown Cedar Rapids would be one big Mardi Gras day in and day out. Especially in the riveting world of organization development and training!
As fun as we are (or like to think that we are), even we are subject to being lulled into that familiar ho-hum state from time to time. We are a resourceful bunch though, and willing to take control of our own destinies. So, for our own amusement, we’ve decided to play a little game. One in which all of our loyal (Cedar Rapids-based) subscribers will enthusiastically participate (fingers crossed) with a selfless dedication to rescuing us from the concert of humming fluorescent lights and whirring servers that is our 3rd floor office. (Actually, it’s not totally selfless, because there’s a prize, but more on that later.)
You’re all on the edge of your seats, I can tell. So, with out further adieu, we proudly present the first ever Skywalk Group Name That Person Blog Contest. It works like this.
- Starting with this post, we’ll feature a blog article with some “not fit for a professional biography” facts about one of the members of our team.
- You’ll take that information and try to match it to one of our professional bio’s found throughout the website. (Hint: Look for pages called Meet the Team under Recruiting, HR Consulting & Outsourcing, and Organizational Development.)
- When you think you’ve got it figured out, .
- We’ll draw a winner from all of the correct answers submitted on the last Friday of each month. The winner will be treated to lunch at a local, downtown Cedar Rapids restaurant, accompanied by the correctly identified team member.
- THE FINE PRINT: Limited to one entry per person, per month. Must be willing and able to pay for transportation costs to and from the selected restaurant. Open to anybody that isn’t a current Skywalk Group employee, because that just wouldn’t be fair now would it?
Ready. Set. Go!
This team member is affectionately known around the office as Honey Badger for their uncanny resemblance to the subject of a wildly popular, albeit slightly inappropriate, viral video of the same name. Like the furry version, this person transforms from an adorable cuddly creature to a laser focused hungry predator if forced to go more than 2 hours without food. It takes regular fuel ups to maintain this persons jam packed schedule, perpetual smile and infectious laugh. Thankfully, it only takes a handful or almonds or a fresh, juicy apple to satiate our officemate, making it much easier keep the necessary staples on hand than their carnivorous counterpart.
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.
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.
Let’s just be frank about this. Most managers stink at giving feedback to their employees. And we aren’t just talking about developmental feedback either. Generally, even though there is a lot of positive feedback to share, it goes unspoken.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Time. Schedules. Fear. Inability.
Using this feedback model can dramatically improve the feedback process. It will improve workplace productivity and the morale of your team. It will even help build your credibility as an organizational leader. But don’t stop at the office. This same model can be used at home and with friends too!
The Feedback Model
Ask for permission.
This is meant literally. Ex. “Susan, can I give you some feedback right now?” Asking this allows Susan to opt out of receiving the feedback at that particular time. She may be having a bad day, in a hurry to a next appointment, or focused on something else at the time. This doesn’t mean that she can avoid getting the feedback indefinitely. If her answer is no, then you just say that you will be sending her a meeting invitation for some time that week to discuss the feedback with her.
Ask for the team member’s evaluation. Then give your evaluation of performance.
The important part here is to ask for their evaluation first. This is important for two reasons:
- It allows you to gain insights into how the employee thinks they are doing.
- Generally, people tend to be harder on themselves so getting them to think about the topic of discussion may be all you have to do.
Identify what will help maintain or improve performance.
Again, the strategy here is to ask the team member for their suggestions first. And then agree or add your suggestions to that. What you want to avoid is the perception that you are forcing your ideas on them. Let them own their own problems and solutions.
Agree on a plan.
Communication is good. Action is better. A game plan is a must if you are truly seeking a change in behavior.
Get commitment and set up a time to review progress.
This is an important piece of the puzzle. Both parties have to know and understand that they are committed to the change. Setting up a time to review progress keeps people focused and is a positive way to demonstrate commitment to the process.
Stay tuned! The next blog article will focus on how you can get better at accepting feedback, regardless of what your role is in the organization.
There is no “I” in team.
Two heads are better than one.
You know all the sayings and probably even believe them. But another reminder is a good thing, right?
This blog article is just that. A reminder to everyone about the power of collaboration (aka team work).
Collaboration Story #1: Goal Setting and Team Work
This summer, the Organizational Effectiveness team at Skywalk Group had a blog writing contest. The contest included individual and group goals. By effectively working together to assist each other in promoting blog articles, the team quickly reached their group goal. In fact, the group did such a great job that they have more than doubled their original group goal over the course of the summer.
This story shows how beneficial goal setting can be for organizations. Not only did working as a team toward an established goal bring the group closer together as a team, but it also has proved to be extremely valuable in increasing blog readership. It’s a win-win!
Collaboration Story #2: It Takes a Village to Raise a Child
Until having children of my own, I never realized how true this statement is. This semester, I started teaching a class at the University of Iowa called Individuals, Teams, and Organizations. So far, I love the opportunity but it has created some new challenges in my personal life. Luckily, I have fantastic friends and neighbors who are willing to help out. Without them, I am pretty sure my children would be sitting at home watching TV and playing video games instead of getting to and from school and having Nerf gun wars.
The point of this story is that most people are willing to help you out when you need it. You just have to ask. For many of us, that is the biggest hurdle: admitting when we need help. This is one example where without the help of friends, I would have had to pass on an opportunity. And for that (THEM), I am grateful!
Collaboration Story #3: Sometimes it Takes a Village to Work with a Client
Skywalk Group is a professional services organization that focuses on human resources, recruiting, and organizational development & training. In each of the focus areas, there are functional experts that work with our clients. On many occasions, we may start working with a company in one service area and soon end up having an expert from each area working with that one client.
It could be argued that it would be more cost-effective and productive to have just one employee work with that client. However, at Skywalk Group, we see our team as specialists who have a significant amount of experience in one area. It may challenge us from time to time on our collaboration and communication skills but in the end, we are confident that our customers benefit more by bringing in the village.
- Collaboration and team work opportunities exist every day. You just have to take advantage of them.
- We can all accomplish more in our lives through collaboration, in whatever form that takes.
- You can foster team work and collaboration in your organization. experts at Skywalk Group to learn more.