Beyond finance: Five tips for aspiring CFOs in the post-pandemic world

As the business world moves beyond the pandemic, CFOs are shifting their focus from short-term survival to a longer-term, strategic view; and the role itself is changing, too.

Beyond finance: Five tips for aspiring CFOs in the post-pandemic world

Having overseen everything from furlough to HR and remote-IT during lockdowns, CFOs are now expected to continue shaping vision right across their organisations. 

Aspiring CFOs need to broaden their vision, too, if they are to successfully develop their careers and move into the CFO role. Here are five tips to help you prepare.

Cultivate a growth mindset 

According to our recent CFO and Financial Leadership survey, 80% of companies are looking externally for their next CFO, rather than developing talent in-house. And in those situations, very few will allow for a newcomer to learn on the job – they will want to hire someone already experienced. So, to narrow the gap, you will need to develop a growth mindset, take responsibility for your own learning and development, and hone excellence both in finance and in broader business skills.

First up, find an established CFO to be your mentor and help identify any gaps in your experience.

Actively manage and track your finance skills

With your mentor, work through your current finance skills and check you have experience in some key areas before applying for the top job. You will need to demonstrate a breadth of finance experience including FP&A, strategic, commercial and operational finance, and management accounting, as well as a grounding in financial stewardship, ensuring the business is financially resilient and can finance its strategy.

Internally, you’ll need to show you are supporting and challenging the CEO and the senior leadership team; while externally, it’ll help if you’ve worked with investors and analysts, banks or advisors to help them understand the business, the leadership and the plan.

Above all, the modern CFO will need to show strategic thinking, so look for chances to work with the CEO on developing and delivering change in anything from M&A and organic growth to restructuring, and increasingly, ESG and ED&I.

Develop broader skills beyond finance

The modern CFO is now a business leader, not just a bean counter. This means being visible, setting direction, and creating a great environment for employees. Our recent survey found that boards may want CFOs to go beyond finance and lead in areas such as HR, procurement, IT, commercial and legal. Exposure in these areas will help you prepare and will also provide you with a wider perspective on the business.

This broadening of the role was viewed positively by most CFOs we spoke to, but it presents an additional leap if you’re trying to grow into this role – so make sure you plan for it.

Build your profile

As you position yourself for the top job, either internally or elsewhere, look for ways to build your profile and be seen as a credible successor.

Volunteer for challenging tasks which build trust and credibility, and seize the opportunity to lead strategic, cross-function projects. Stay up to date with your company’s business strategy, beyond finance, and build strong relationships across the organisation. Develop your network and build your presence on social media, particularly LinkedIn.

If it’s not happening already, then offer to support the executive team with tasks such as business cases, proving KPIs or tracking and reporting on a project’s return on investment – anything that secures your skills and positions you as a trusted advisor.

Learn to lead through crisis and change 

After two years navigating the pandemic, businesses now assess leadership style, values and behaviours as much as capabilities when looking for a CFO. It’s essential that anyone in the top role can lead through crisis and change, so look for theoretical learning, leadership programmes and 360-degree feedback as you develop these skills.

Of course, the best learning experience is gained by tackling big challenges. So put yourself forward and you’ll quickly develop a reputation for taking on difficult and diverse problems and delivering positive solutions; attributes which will hold you in excellent stead when you are finally in that top role.

Amy Luke
Amy Luke

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