Does Your Organisation Ignore the Advice of the Finance Team?

What CFOs can do to Improve the Situation

As CFO, you’re the acknowledged expert in your organisation’s finances. People listen to your expertise. And under you is a team of highly technical finance specialists, and they represent you in discussions right across the organisation. Unfortunately, their expertise doesn’t always command the same attention as yours. And it’s because they approach discussion with a technicians’ mindset:

  • They explain problems and point out mistakes, rather than helping create a solution.
  • They patrol rather than partner. They want financial rules to be followed, regardless of whether that prevents a positive outcome.
  • They explain technical concepts in a way that others can’t quite follow. Or they can’t quite make the benefit of their plans clear.

If your team is your manifestation across your organization, it’s important that the organisation respects its expertise. Challenge your team. Ask team members if they to be treated like a technical specialist, or if they want to present themselves as a “Master Expert”. That is, someone who builds on their foundation of technical expertise, adding a broad range of skills intended to persuade, influence and guide. Someone who, when they talk, convinces people to listen.

Technical expertise versus business mastery

There are stages to any career in finance, and one way to understand how successful you are is to understand the level of influence that you’ve earned. Put simply, who listens to you?

In their early career, experts help shape technical solutions for their department. They follow someone else’s to-do list. Lacking an understanding of the big picture, they’re too junior to understand where competitive advantage might realistically occur, let alone be able to pitch a plan to create it. Those experts are most useful within a limited technical sphere.

As an expert moves up the organisation, their influence increases, but it is still limited by two factors. First, do their ideas make sense? Could the ideas actually create competitive advantage? Second, can they express that competitive advantage in a manner that sparks action – ie, that convinces you, your CEO, and leaders of other parts of the business togetbehind their plans?

Spark action, not talk

An expert is focused on creating action, understanding the value of competitive advantage they can create, and in ensuring their ideas persuade others. Here’s a checklist of questions to ask your team, to test if they do the same.

Is a rational approach the best approach?

Even if your team is sure an answer is known, sometimes it helps to start a conversation with “Can I get some advice?”, or “Can you give me feedback about…”, or “You probably know more about this than me. Can you explain how I could make this idea work?”

Do they understand who might benefit?

Has the team analysed which internal stakeholders benefit most from piloting a new idea? Do they know if similar ideas have been tried, and by who? What benefits can they sell to stakeholders, and how will they express them?

Have they done the research?

Are your team reading widely about competitive breakthroughs in your industry? Have they considered how disruptive giants like Google or Amazon might approach similar problems? Are they exploring the thought processes that led to breakthroughs in other organisations?

Is the idea customer-centric?

Ask the team to express how their ideas benefit customers. It’s unlikely that customers care that “we’ve always done it this way” or “this is the easiest way for us to do it”, but we see experts fall into that thinking far too often.

Have they assumed that customer-facing teams “aren’t interested”?

How are you team building trust with customer-facing teams? Have they asked for the opportunity to observe your organisation’s interactions with customers? Have they considered what insights they need about customer behavior? Do they value time spent in close quarters with customers and customer teams?

Do they use some form of scenario planning?

What tools do your team use to imagine the future of the organization – in three years, five or further? Have they been formally trained to undertake a process like scenario planning?

What specialists from other teams should be invited to contribute to their thinking about the future? How are ideas about the future acted on?

What comes next?

Is your team clear which actions it wants stakeholders to take? Are they offering airy advice, or a plan that can be adopted with clear benefits, goals and milestones? Does the team understand that when stakeholders are successful, it is also successful?

These are all challenging questions. But ultimately, they encourage your team to take responsibility for finance influencing your organisation. Asking questions like these asks every member of your team to step up.


Alistair Gordon, CEO Expertunity

Alistair Gordon is the CEO of Expertunity, an expert coach, speaker and author, and a long-time veteran of the media and organisational-development worlds. He is the co-author with Dominic Johnson of Master Expert: how to use Expertship to achieve peak performance, seniority and influence in a technical role (Expertship Press $49).

Find out more at www.expertship.com