Ask Addi P: How Finance Leaders Can Collaborate with the C-Suite
Dear Addi P.,
I'm a finance leader at my organization, but I'm struggling to show the rest of the executive leadership team that my skills have value outside of the specifics of my field. How can I become more involved in my company's mission and broader initiatives — without sacrificing my job performance?
Ñ Pigeonholed in Portland
You're not alone in your C-suite collaboration problem. According to McKinsey, 72 percent of finance leaders claim that they're one of the key parties responsible for allocating financial resources and employees — yet only 29 percent of their C-level peers say the same about them. Obviously, there's a big gap to bridge.
As McKinsey suggests, focus on delivering value beyond the financial information to demonstrate that you understand the broader business objectives and strategies of the organization. It's important to not only to keep up with the evolving finance leader role, but also to help your organization navigate the changing environment in which it operates. This means that as the challenges of business develop, developing with them can strengthen your value both in your traditional role and outside of it. This will be particularly true in the areas where finance leaders coordinate with other departments such as HR and IT for reporting, strategy, regulatory compliance and risk management.
How Do You Bridge the Gap?
According to Strategic Finance, to bridge the gap in how the C-suite perceives finance, you need to fully understand the goals and missions of the other members of the C-suite. Meeting one-on-one with these colleagues to discuss their needs and objectives is a wise first step. Engaging senior leaders in this kind of dialogue allows you to gain a broader perspective of everyone's goals and how each individual interprets the organization's mission. From there, figure out how your role fits into the larger goals and strategy and where you can effectively contribute. Then communicate your ideas and how they will further the organizations goals. Whenever possible, put together the business case with details on budget, goals, timing, and how you will know it's working. Then report on progress and outcomes. This builds visibility, internal support, and enables the rest of the C-suite to better understand your role, your skills and how you can contribute in new ways.
If you're already involved in meetings with your C-suite peers, volunteer to assist them on nonfinance initiatives that arise, for example in operations or strategy. Or, if your organization has a board of directors with working groups, read their meeting minutes and determine which groups are tackling challenges that your particular skill set could help resolve. Then talk to your CEO about getting involved, including reaching out to the board chair or working group chairs about collaborating.
Are You a Finance "Person" or a Finance "Leader"?
Getting the attention of your C-suite colleagues may require reminding them that you're a leader. Simply addressing a drop in sales or earnings is reactive and only part of an effective finance strategy. Understanding the bigger picture and demonstrating the ability to both creatively solve problems and to chart new paths are important leadership skills. As you likely already oversee multiple functions, take the time to regularly step outside your office and interact with management and staff in those functions. Also, connect with senior leaders a level or two below the C-suite in other areas. This deeper interaction will afford you a 360 degree view of what is happening and why — and can in turn inform the value you bring to C-suite collaboration.
Just as consultants who are brought in to identify and resolve issues talk to people on all different levels to get to the root of the problem, you can do the same in your own organization. Engaging with others across functional groups and helping them resolve their issues will build your people skills and enhance your ability to think outside the financial box to solve problems. This will also help you move from being seen by others in the C-suite as a finance "person" to being viewed as a true finance "leader."
Although interacting more with colleagues at various levels and engaging your C-suite peers directly on initiatives they've identified can initially be time-consuming when added to your current responsibilities, over time, it can aid you immensely. By understanding others' roles and missions and effectively communicating your own, the perception and communication gaps disappear, enabling you to get what you need done thanks to the support you now have.
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