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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.
What’s so great about recruiting consultants? If you have never had the experience of sharing a search with an effective recruiting consultant, you are missing out!
A new search can be daunting- knowing what you’re looking for in candidates, and knowing how to recruit them, are sometimes two different things. Having a knowledgeable partner in the process (ok, maybe not really a superhero) can make a huge difference! Recruiters can turn the hefty task of your next great hire into an enjoyable experience.
Recruiters have dedicated their professional lives to being the best at identifying, qualifying, and placing the best talent. Sometimes this means employing tools of the trade that just aren’t in the toolkits of others.
What Can a Recruiter Do for You?
- Help you find candidates that aren’t looking- the best candidates tend to be happy, productive workers- not necessarily actively applying to your company’s external job board. We know where they are, how to communicate with them, and how to make sure the qualified people we send you will be happy, productive workers for you too.
- Conduct professional interviews – we do it every day and know how to dig into what makes a candidate tick. “Practice makes perfect” may not be completely true, but recruiters have built up vast experience interviewing various candidates. We can utilize interviews and candidate assessments to really get you the best match possible, not just the one that tells you what you want to hear.
- Reduce search time – we can draw upon our strong local and national network to get referrals for the right person. We’ve worked with great people in all kinds of fields, all over the country. When one of our network asks “who do you know?” our ears perk up, and we recall that great professional we knew, and what would have been hours of searching becomes a quick phone call to an old friend.
- Give guidance on what you really need to get the job done – experience is a great teacher, and knowing up front that a candidate with x years of experience, really isn’t going to cut it for that position will save time, resources, and the stress of having to learn those lessons on the fly. Industry, geographic region, and other market factors can make a big difference in a successful search, and when you start the search with realistic expectations, you’ll be more likely to be successful.
Recruiters know their markets, their region, and their area of expertise- so, while recruiting consultants may not be superheroes, they are super-helpful!
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.
It isn’t just a coincidence that there are several hit TV shows and movies that mock office-life and the capabilities of those in charge. Think Office Space, The Office, and most recently, Horrible Bosses.
Not every manager is as bad as Kevin Spacey is in Horrible Bosses. However, there are many organizational leaders and managers who don’t fully understand the impact of every decision they make, every comment they make, or their own behaviors. Have you ever stopped to think about why being an effective leader matters? Or how to become a more effective leader?
Join Skywalk Group Partner and organizational development expert, Tim Sieck, for a free leadership breakfast on Friday, March 2nd at 7:30am. Tim will share evidence that supports the need for leadership development, discuss why it is such a challenging task for both individuals and organizations, and provide practical tips on how to improve leadership development in organizations.
Also, the first Leadership & Development Public Workshop series of 2012 kicks off in March. There are still seats available for this 4-session series that focuses on practical skills that every manager needs to be a successful leader.
Don’t be a horrible boss. Be a solution in your organization-not part of the problem. Participants who attend the leadership breakfast on March 2nd will receive a 10% discount on registrations for Leadership & Development Public Workshop or The Truth About Becoming a Manager.
As a great hiring manager, you always listen carefully to a job candidate’s interview answers, pay attention to their body language, and take note of all of the candidates interactions with your company, both in, and outside of, the interview.
What owners and hiring managers often overlook is that their management style is also under review during the hiring process. Potential new employees are reviewing the company culture and management style of a possible employer at each and every step of the interview process. While the recent economy has put more candidates on the market, there is still a shortage of outstanding A-level potential employees. Because of this, you need to make sure you are putting your best foot forward at each and every step of the process.
Here are some hiring process situations and how your candidates may view the situation.
DELAYS IN THE INTERVIEW PROCESS
FACT: There is a long delay in getting back to people after the initial conversation or, if working with a recruiter, you don’t provide feedback for a long period of time.
PERCEPTION: The candidate may view this as either you don’t operate with a sense of urgency, or you don’t value other’s time enough for a prompt response.
THE INTERVIEW PROCESS IS SCRIPTED
FACT: Every step of the interview process is scripted and the only questions asked are off of a printed, prepared question set.
PERCEPTION: The candidate will view this as a sign that you are overly formal and that your organization values process over free-flowing ideas.
THERE ARE TOO MANY INTERVIEWS
FACT: There are more than 2-3 interviews in the process.
PERCEPTION: The candidate will be concerned that either nothing moves quickly in the organization, you don’t believe they are the right fit, as a hiring manager you may be reluctant to make a decision, or that you don’t view the position as valuable.
TOO MUCH NEGATIVE INFORMATION IS SHARED
FACT: You have a negative interview style and ask questions like “Sometimes you need to work 100 hours per week, we will swear at you and your equipment won’t work – are you okay with that?”
PERCEPTION: You may think that you are doing people a favor by letting them know what they are getting into, but in reality you are telling people that this is the culture you support…and if this is the case, be prepared to lose A-level candidates in the process.
LOW BALL OFFERS
FACT: You present a low-ball offer…just to see if you can get the candidate to go for it, or feel that you have to negotiate anyway.
PERCEPTION: The candidate will feel that everything at your company will end up being a battle.
If you are serious about attracting top talent to work for you, take a minute and walk yourself through your own process and think about every step from the candidate’s perspective. The little details can make all the difference in creating the kind of experience that will make the best candidates want to work with you.