Transitioning Into a New CFO Role: A Checklist

CFO transition Checklist

The role of the CFO has evolved over the last decade. It’s moved far beyond the division that simply shared financial information with decision makers. In addition to overseeing the organization’s financial activities, today’s CFOs are strategists and value creators. 

CFOs take past, current, and predicted financial results and put them in perspective. They advise the CEO on a range of issues, including introducing new product lines, benefits of off-shoring or on-shoring the supply chain, and tax implications of things like work-from-anywhere initiatives.

This evolution has changed the way you need to transition into your new role. To be effective, you need to have a full understanding of the company that hired you. Looking at a balance sheet is a start, but to excel in the role you need to take time to get to know the company inside and out.

Owning Your CFO Role in the First 90 Days

If you’re like most new hires, especially in the C-Suite, you’ll probably want to make a big splash to justify being hired. However, making waves without understanding the company can lead to missteps that ultimately undermine your position.

Taking a strategic approach to the first 90 days while nailing a few quick wins will enable you to strike the right balance in the eyes of your peers. You’ll demonstrate your confidence and ability while building strong relationships that will enable you to move your agenda forward when the time is right. 

Throughout the first three months, you’ll begin by orientating yourself to the new company. From there, you’ll focus on assessing staff, processes, and technology gaps. The last 30 days or so will be spent starting the serious work that you were brought onboard to accomplish. 

Formalizing the CFO Transition Checklist

While every company is different, there are a number of universal activities you’ll need to do, regardless of the company you are working at. We’ll take a close look at each of the items on this checklist, but for now, here is your agenda for the first 90 days:

  • Define CFO Responsibilities
  • Build Relationships
  • Audit Existing Staff and Processes
  • Identify Urgent Needs
  • Learn the Culture
  • Sharing Your Vision and Creating a Finance Roadmap

Define CFO Responsibilities

As mentioned earlier, CFOs have emerged from a limited focus on compliance and quality control to business planning and process changes. As a new CFO, your fingerprint will be on hiring decisions, marketing strategy, go-to-market plans, and every other function in the organization. 

Financial reporting, overseeing the books, and statutory compliance are the basics of any CFO. However, you were brought on board to use your financial experience to advise on the percentage of revenue your company can afford on human resources. You’ll allocate a budget to marketing and sales based on the returns they generate. 

During your first 90 days, it’s important that you get a sense of your boundaries. You may have unlimited reach, or the organization’s culture might be such that your role is more strongly defined. See where your personal goals and expectations are aligned with the existing culture, and if you do run into a brick wall, assess whether it is worth pushing through or maintaining the status quo for the time being. 

Manage Your Payments With Full Control & Visibility

Build Relationships

Relationship building might be the most important thing you do during your first 90 days. Building a strong rapport with the CEO and COO is of paramount importance. They are going to rely on your judgment for financial matters moving forward, and you need them to trust you. Learning what is expected of them and how you can be a strategic partner within the C-suite will add value to your role. 

If you had a predecessor in your position and the parting was amicable, taking them out to dinner could provide valuable insights into your new employer. You’ll get the lowdown on who to trust, people to be wary of, and what you can expect in the years ahead. 

Your direct reports are critical to your chance of success. They should be among the first people you speak with. Try to meet in both formal and informal settings, to get a full view of your employees’ goals, aspirations, and concerns. You’ll want to learn how they respond to pressure and create an environment and relationship that gets the most out of them. 

In an organization with a board of directors, it is invaluable to spend time with each member. Board members are generally looking to build trust and want to see technical competence. It’s important to them that you act as a peer and partner for the CFO, and that you demonstrate commercial awareness for your new company. 

As you get to know people, start talking to other department heads, and get to know the internal perceptions of finance. Find out what they need from your department, how they would like to work together in the future, and whether they are encountering any roadblocks that you can help with.  

Lastly, don’t forget to meet with external stakeholders, such as investors, auditors, and bankers. Treat them as your business partners, listening to their concerns while sharing what you need from them. 

Audit Existing Staff and Processes

Over the first 90 days, you’ll need to make many assessments of your team, processes, and technology. 

Auditing your staff

Taking on an existing team can be challenging. While meeting with your team members, you need to be asking yourself whether these team members have what it takes to meet your expectations. 

In your assessment, you need to recognize whether the people you currently have at your disposal can meet your demands. Ask yourself these questions: