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CFO’s and Clarity

I was recently speaking with a VP of FP&A. She told me she had left a company a few years ago because she did not understand the Vision of the company and the company ultimately started to drift down. Think about it, she was in the FP&A group so privy to the company’s detailed strategy so you would think someone in that position would really understand the Vision of the company.  If she didn’t get it, can you imagine what employees in other functions were feeling about the company’s Vision (or lack thereof)!

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Without clear Vision you don’t have a clear direction to go and without clear direction a business will at some point go off course. This means employees will start wandering, first going in one direction and then another and they ultimately end up wandering to another employer. The fact is it’s demoralizing when you don’t know where the company is going or how it’s going to get there.

It’s somewhat analogous to sailing. Think of the sails as the Vision. If you hold on tight to the sails (Vision) you will get to your destination.

You may have to adjust now and then when the wind changes direction, or picks up or slows down but you will get there.

But if you let go the sails (don’t have a clear Vision), you end up going whichever way the wind blows and you may very well end up on the rocks and sunk!

Imagine you live in an area which gets hit by hurricanes. When a hurricane is forecast to hit your area, you typically see on the news how people rush to the store to get basic supplies and nail plywood over their windows. They are doing this to protect their businesses, their homes and their families. They completely understand what needs to be done (Vision), they have a clear purpose and they are highly motivated. There is urgency and intention to their efforts. Just imagine if your employees had that same focus and energy level in your business!  All you need is clear Vision!

So what can the CFO do? Usually people think of the CEO setting the Vision and everyone else follows the Vision. However the CFO not only plays a key role in assisting in the process of setting the strategic direction and Vision the CFO should also play a key role in cascading that Vision to all the employees.

The fact is it’s a great opportunity for CFO’s to get out of their offices and get to know what employees are doing and thinking.

It gives the CFO the chance to move outside of the finance function which will do nothing but help the CFO develop as a leader.

It has an added advantage in that it allows the CFO to really talk to the employees and find out from them how the business is doing and what they’re doing right and what needs improvement. That knowledge is unbelievably helpful to the CFO.

There was a great article recently in the Wall Street Journal about how the CFO of Lyft, Brian Roberts, “regularly holds CFO chats – free-form, large group conversations open to anyone and everyone in the ride-sharing company – to facilitate communication and give employees greater clarity on company strategy.” What a great idea!

So CFO’s out there I challenge you to get out of your office, engage with your employees no matter where they are in the world and explain to them what the company’s Vision and Strategy are in terms that the most basic employee can understand and then ask them what questions they have. You will be amazed at what you learn and you will be so much better off for it.

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