Successful businesses are built on a mix of the leadership team’s vision, sound execution, and a profitable engine. The CEO carries a heavy burden, but it is the synergy with surrounding players like the CFO that opens doors to stability and steady growth.
The importance of the relationship between the CFO and CEO cannot be overstated. They must be in lockstep, keeping their finger on the pulse of the present situation while gearing the organization for the future.
But according to a recent survey of financial executives by AAFCPAs, that relationship is not yielding the harmony needed to thrive. Sixty percent of respondents reported moderate to high levels of difficulty in meeting the expectations of executive leadership; this is striking, given the critical nature of the role.
“The importance of the relationship between the CFO and CEO cannot be overstated. They must be in lockstep, keeping their finger on the pulse of the present situation while gearing the organization for the future.”
As a CEO looking to establish or accelerate the rhythm of the business, here are three questions to consider to support a successful CFO/CEO relationship:
1. Are you supporting the “CFO sprawl?” CFOs are no longer just “running the numbers,” and they are consistently challenged by growing expectations from different internal departments, as well as external stakeholders. The finance function touches almost every area of the business, and senior financial executives are expected to understand everything from marketing to IT to human resources to product development. Knowing how each department functions gives CFOs the full financial picture of the organization.
It is a monumental task for CFOs not only to have their hands on every piece of the organization, but also to be able to react to the CEO’s concerns or ideas in a way that considers the breadth of information to which they have access and the perspective that comes with it.
2. Are you actively cultivating your CFO relationship? Running a business inevitably leads to difficult decisions, and if both leaders are confident they are on the same page, they can better relate to one another.
That means finding common ground, developing personal ties, and promoting trust. Something as simple as investing time to get out of the office together, or sharing a meal with your families helps to develop a deeper understanding of how you each view opportunities, and how you communicate. If the chemistry is not there, it often is best to make a change as soon as possible.
3. Is your communication process effective and in sync? Direct external communications was not always part of every CFO’s role. The range of their activity, however, now demands that they interpret and deliver the numbers in a meaningful way to constituents across the organization.
Indeed, 51% of respondents reported that the task their CEO relies on them for the most is to bring clarity to the financial situation. Your CFO needs to be able to effectively tell the story, and you should establish a process that supports the CFO in that effort. In fact, you may consider holding regularly scheduled meetings to discuss how messages will be delivered.
The CEO/CFO team always has been important, but the interdependency of the roles is heightened as the complexity of business increases. Think about how much of your success as CEO is dependent on how well you relate to your CFO. When the ideal match is in place it is more than magical. Assess what you have and be mindful of how and why to build those bridges!