What does a strategic CFO look like?
Just take a look in the mirror. If you’re a CFO today, chances are you’re already thinking and acting strategically. Over the past decade, the role of CFO has moved from one that was once primarily accounting focused to one leading organization-wide decision making.
As a strategic partner to the rest of the business, modern CFOs provide data-fueled insights and analysis that drive results through every aspect of the organization. But the best strategic CFOs aren’t just satisfied with a seat at the table—they want to be a voice that’s constantly pushing their business forward. And to achieve that, you can’t act alone.
To better help their business thrive, strategic CFOs need the support of a strategic-focused finance team. So how do you go about building the right one to meet the needs of your organization?
Building a Strategic Finance Team
What’s the difference between a strategic finance team and a non-strategic finance team?
That’s a question Vena CFO Darrell Cox posed in our recent livestream, CFO Confidential: The Rise of Strategic Finance—now available on demand to members of Vena’s Plan To Grow platform. In the session, Darrell invited Kansas City Chiefs CFO Dan Crumb, Climate Pros CFO Patricia Burkland and Vena Vice President of FP&A Tom Seegmiller to discuss the finance team’s rising role as a strategic business partner.
More efficient processes and technology advancements have helped the strategic CFO reach a point where they’re able to devote more of their time to analysis and insight, the panelists pointed out. “[That] makes the finance team a much more important member at the table than just the one who's keeping score,” Patricia added.
If you want your entire team to do more than just keep score, though, you need to build one that offers that extra value—or add new skills to enhance the team you already have.
Here are five things to consider as you do:
1. Look for People Who Aren’t Satisfied With the Status Quo
What sets a leading strategic-focused CFO apart? According to Dan and Patricia, it’s a belief that nothing’s ever good enough. By always striving for what’s next, they’re constantly searching out new ways to improve the business.
“There’s almost an element of being unsatisfied,” Patricia said in the CFO Confidential panel. And it’s because Patricia has that mindset herself that she says she’s always asking “Is this working? Is it not working?” and trying to find better ways to achieve growth—then continuing that search even after her business reaches its current goals.
So if those are attributes the best strategic CFOs draw on to help move their business forward, shouldn’t the team helping you do so have the same qualities as well? A team that constantly asks questions—looking for ways to improve your processes and make your systems better—is always going to have an eye on building company growth and improving on your current goals. They won’t be satisfied with riding whatever momentum you’ve already built—not when they can start building further momentum towards a new objective.
That’s a team member that won’t just get you where you want to go—they’ll help you move beyond it. Which definitely makes it a must-have quality on your strategic finance team.
2. Look for Storytellers
These days, your team needs to do more than “speak finance”—they have to act as translators, sharing the data-driven insights you’ve uncovered in a way the rest of the business can get behind. That means learning the needs of other departments, understanding their points of view and developing a wider understanding of the business as a whole.
“It's really about being storytellers, distilling that information,” Kansas City Chiefs CFO panelist Dan Crumb said in the CFO Confidential panel. “We take tons and tons of data, data points and information, and we carve out what are the most important things that each department needs to know.”
At Vena, we understand the value data storytellers bring to the finance function. Building a team of storytellers to support you—and arming them with the technology that will let them better tell those stories—will help you expand the value you offer the rest of the business and put the entire organization on the same page. All of which is key to establishing the buy-in and support you need to drive company-wide change.
3. Look for Data-Driven Mindsets
But storytelling is just the start. To know the right story to tell your team needs to be able to dig into the data and understand exactly what metrics to follow to help meet your business goals. All of which takes a data-driven point of view.
“I think that our skills are changing,” Dan told the CFO Confidential panel. “We need to be really proficient with data, we need to be able to look at data and [understand] what data is important.”
Since data is central to the new strategy-focused finance team, your team has to know how to extract everything they can from it and use it to plan ahead. That starts with capturing the right data—including data that goes beyond the financial numbers that are familiar to a more non-strategic finance team. It also means asking the right questions of that data, knowing how to put it to work and understanding which levers you can pull to stay agile to change.
While doing so involves a knowledge of the technology and processes that can help, it starts with a mindset, Dan explains. Your team needs to embrace data and everything it offers—always looking for new ways to apply it to the decision making at hand. Achieving that, in fact, sometimes means adding new skill sets to your team...
4. Look For New Skill Sets That Will Add Value
Sometimes, the traditional roles of finance may not be enough in this new strategic world. Dan, for one, has three data scientists reporting to him, building out his team’s strategic and analytic value.
At Climate Pros, meanwhile, Patricia has a programmer working predominantly for the finance team as they look for ways to further accelerate and automate their financial close—freeing up even more time for finance to contribute strategic value in the process. “We actually hired somebody that is working primarily in finance right now, until we get to the point where all those steps are automated,” she explained in the panel. “So we are doing coding to automate some of those functions.”
In other words, by understanding where the gaps are in your current team, looking at where there’s room for improvement and thinking outside of the box to fill your existing needs, you can add depth to your strategic capacity and stay ready for whatever comes next.
5. Look for People Who Want To Keep Learning
The role of finance continues to change—and that’s probably not going to stop anytime soon. As technology adds new efficiencies to their day-to-day role, teams are able to spend more time on strategy and analysis—and on exploring new tools and processes that will let them build on that added value.
With that kind of change underway, a strategic team can’t be stagnant. Finance professionals need to be constantly ready to develop their skills and add to what they bring to the table.
For a strategic finance professional, in other words, learning shouldn’t be an obstacle—it should be an opportunity. Which means you need to look for team members who are constantly excited to grow. “When it comes to the people side, making sure people are always elevating themselves [is key],” Patricia says. “It makes the job more interesting for them as well.”
Adding Continued Strategic Value
A strategic CFO can’t act alone. Not if they want the kind of results that help your entire business thrive, keeping it agile to new changes on the horizon. For that, you need a team that’s focused on the same things you are—and one that uses data to propel decision making forward, getting the whole organization behind you.
Putting that team together means adding to the traditional accounting skills that are a mainstay of a finance team—to embrace data storytellers, translators of business and data experts. Then it means always continuing to develop your team’s skills to keep up with finance’s continuously changing role.
“My number one challenge and [number one] opportunity is always around the depth of the team and the strength of the team,” Patricia said in the CFO Confidential session. “I think it really does always come down to the team, and making sure that we are developing the team and that we're giving them experiences [to learn from].”
To watch the entire CFO Confidential: The Rise of Strategic Finance livestream on demand, become a member of Vena’s Plan to Grow platform today.