The CFO And The Challenge Of Human Skills

In many circumstances, the CFO is faced with the need to negotiate, argue, compose and decide. So many decisions to be made (which often have serious consequences) in a minimum of time.

CFO: different types of school curricula

When one dwells on the typical route of a CFO, one is often surprised by the trajectories taken by the latter. It is not uncommon to see that CFOs belonging to the 40-50 generation have often been trained ‘on the job’. Many of them come from management control. Academically, they have often followed a path leading them to accounting. The technical skills they have acquired are therefore often those that would have been followed by a student wishing to become an accountant or to work in an audit firm.

How could human skills be acquired? We find that they have been tested through field experiments.

Problems that are evolving

Faced with the challenges faced today by CFOs. We can see that they are not the best equipped to deal with it. Indeed, we must admit that today and even more tomorrow, we expect much more from a CFO. Not only is it hoped that he will have very strong and broader technical skills, but also that he will be able to demonstrate very specific human qualities.

Is squaring the circle the ultimate goal of a CFO?

The financial management of a company must be based on its main facilitator. The DAF is the conductor of the musical ensemble that constitutes the finance team. Indeed, he is above all a human being with his qualities, his defects. The human dimension he personifies must take on its full dimension in the appreciation that one is led to make of him or her.

For this reason, it seems essential that the following human qualities be developed in the latter:

Hierarchical and transversal management of the CFO

The CFO frequents the upper echelons of the company (participation in CODIR/COMEX, relations with the general management). He also manages a larger or smaller team of employees. In both capacities, it must be both flexible and firm. He adapts his speech to his interlocutors in a broad spectrum of tones and this, in a unit of time that can be a day.

Discussing leave plans with staff and talking with staff about the implications of the new capital increase on the same day requires a rhetorical and speechalized gymnastics that must be had. Similarly, he appears as a coordinator. Indeed, he asks the operational departments of the company to feed his dashboards. He is thus a client to persons over whom he does not have hierarchical authority. It is therefore necessary to handle these relationships as skilfully as possible.

Need to be emotionally intelligent

The current company is an ecosystem in which several generations evolve. They each have their own code, their value system and the way they operate. Having the ability to decode these grids in the interest of the company and to make these different layers work together harmoniously is a real quality. It is rare but very popular with businesses.

The CFO must be able to work on these different frequencies. In addition, he must know how to combine teams that work well. The ethnic dimension and the resulting differences must also be taken into account. Finally, the direction of change, a primary axis, must be controlled. The DAF is the captain of the aircraft. He accompanies the change of course with around him a close-knit team focused on the same goals. He is the guarantor of this cohesion.

Know how to negotiate in all circumstances

Negotiation is a central point, whether it is with the social partners, the management of the company, its employees or its banker. In this regard, the DAF must demonstrate real competence. Techniques must be integrated and mastered. He is here the guarantor of the interests of the company. Again, his ability to vary his speech according to the frequency on which he finds himself is a real asset.

Gaining a leadership posture

This means being in its place in the company. The CFO is a key contact for executives. No major strategic decision avoids the financial side, often at the heart of the debate. From then on the DAF became an actor in the final decision. He is a decision maker, so he becomes responsible for the consequences like everyone else who participated in this decision. This responsibility for those who are leaders must be well integrated and accepted by it. He became an actor in the change of the company. Acquiring this posture requires time, experience, during which confidence is strengthened.

It is a state of affairs of what a CFO should develop as a toolbox of human skills. Of course, this review is by no means exhaustive and does not have the ambition to cover all the tools, but these few axes undoubtedly form the basis of it.

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