Various Roles for the CFO During Real Strategic Planning (Part Two)

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Having helped over 800 clients do real strategic planning, I have had the privilege to work with lots of fabulous CFOs who are a competitive advantage for their companies.  These CFOs are open-minded, constructive, and instructive.   

Because strategic planning should be tailored for each unique company, the role of the CFO changes too.

It’s a joy to do strategic planning with companies that benefit from open minded CFOs. Instead of jumping to conclusions and shutting down discussion, effective CFOs help executives consider expanded options.  The CFO can also ask if they should consider approaches like acquisitions, private investors, an IPO, or franchising to lift off a stubborn plateau, compete more effectively, penetrate a new market, develop exciting products, or pick up speed.  Feasibility analysis and determining optimum pacing for those strategies comes soon enough.

Recently, we helped a client retain the services of an interim CFO. This client was experiencing several behavioral symptoms (blaming, silos, passive aggressive communication, and avoidance) that would sabotage successful implementation of any strategic plan. At the time, we were utilizing our Synthesis ™approach to strategic planning that features a teambuilding process running parallel to the strategic planning sessions. The Controller of this family owned business was an in law who contributed to the continuation of dysfunctional behavior.  They benefited from the Interim CFO’s objective questions, capacity to imagine success, and expansive thinking.  I wasn’t the only person who could envision growth and emphasize leveraging their strengths.

It’s not surprising that the majority of INC 500 companies have CFOs who are optimizers.  They think of ways to find more money, know how to squeeze cash flow, understand currency rates, and have established strong relationships with external resources.  I’ve noticed that the CEOs of highly successful midsized companies, who are guests on my syndicated weekly peer to peer talk show, frequently brag about their visionary CFOs. (Visit www.GrowthStrategistShow.com to access the archive of 300+ interviews.)

Recently, a client needed our Catalytic™ approach to strategic planning which includes a problem solving process that runs parallel to strategic planning.  They had tolerated the chronic recurring problem of generating inadequate gross profit from their primary service way too long.  The CFO played a key role in the success of both the problem solving and the strategic planning.  She dove in and captured the necessary data, provided reports to help the account managers and department head, and participated in executive level decision making.  Compiling financial data, creating reports, and participating in decisions are central to the CFO role, but you would be mistaken if you assume that all CFOs would have risen to the occasion as well as she did.

There has been great progress, but unfortunately…fabulous, optimizing, open minded CFOs are still not the norm. Too often, CFOs play the role of “naysayer” during strategic planning.  The Marketing VP starts to talk about new products or expanded markets and the CFO is the first person to say why the company shouldn’t even consider expansion.  The CIO shares the observation that the company will need to “go to the cloud” to serve clients better and/or reduce downtime and the wet blanket CFO asks about cost too soon.  The Sales VP shares information about how/why competitors are landing larger accounts and the grouchy CFO complains about the current high cost of account acquisition.  Or the negative CFO becomes condescending when the HR Director suggests that the company may need more career advancement opportunities or increase compensation formulas.  The lingering period of uncertainty that has followed the 2008 recession doesn’t help.

Usually such pessimism develops in CFOs when:

  • they are really Controllers and not trained to think strategically,
  • their informed advice is discounted too often,
  • they are overburdened with too much day to day accounting so their minds are preoccupied with details and reports, or
  • the CEO/CFO relationships push the CFOs into the negative role.

A company clearly increases its growth potential when the CFO addresses the causes of any negativity before the next round of real strategic planning should start.  Having a bright, open minded, optimizing, instructive, constructive CFO is a competitive advantage for any company.          

Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP has earned the right to be called THE GROWTH STRATEGIST®. She has won over 2 dozen national and statewide “entrepreneur of the year” awards for the resilient growth of her international businesses across 4 recessions.  Her midsized BtoB clients get on…and then stay on…the published lists of the fastest growing privately held companies. She owns and operates a suite of companies that help privately held midsized companies achieving accelerated growth with sustained profitability® through opportunity & resource analysis, 4 approaches to strategic planning, executive advisory services, growth financing, and targeted search.  2012 is Ambler’s 8th year hosting a weekly peer-to-peer-to-peer syndicated on line talk show that features interviews with CEOs/Presidents of midsized companies (typically between $20 and 200 Mil/yr) sharing success tips about the growth strategy-of-the-week. An archive of over 300 interviews is available at www.GrowthStrategistShow.com. She can be reached toll free at 1-888-Aldonna or at Aldonna@AMBLER.com.    

About Aldonna Ambler:
Known as The Growth Strategist®, Aldonna Ambler built and grew a suite of companies to help midsized B2B companies achieve accelerated growth with sustained profitability® A Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), Ambler has addressed over 2000 audiences and hosted a syndicated online talk show about growth strategies for 9 years. As a growth financing intermediary, Ambler raised over $1 Bil dollars for midsized companies. The winner of over 2 dozen prestigious national and statewide "entrepreneur of the year" awards, Ambler is available to speak about “profitable growth during any economy” and/or serve on the board of a growth-oriented privately-held company.

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Aldonna is very perceptive. It's amazing how quickly she grasps the unique strengths and weaknesses in a company. Her assessments and recommendations about local entities served as an important spring board for my work with local presidents within the region. She has worked with bright executives, appreciates the complexity and is constructive in her advice.

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Formerly of Ricoh/IKON Office Solutions

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