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. 

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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:

  • Do they have the skillset you require?
  • Do they have the capacity and willingness to change?
  • Do they need additional training? 
  • Do you have the time it takes to bring people up to speed, or do you need to bring someone in from the outside? 

These aren’t easy questions, and oftentimes it can be more time-consuming to onboard a new employee rather than train someone who is already in place and knows the system. 

Auditing Your Processes

There are two types of internal process audits you need to conduct. The first centers on where your data comes from. Review the tech stack your company is using to see the flow of financial information. 

When this audit is over, you’ll know how money comes in and out of the company, the tools used to track it, and the policies that guide corporate spending

The second process audit focuses on the way your division engages with other teams. After talking to stakeholders within the company, you should have a good sense of the issues internal customers are facing from your department. If bottlenecks or constraints are emanating from your team, it’s time to review those processes and see if there are more efficient methods your team should be using. 

When the audit is complete, you should be able to spot any red flags that are in urgent need of fixing. 

Auditing your Tech Stack

Technology changes and the legacy systems that were implemented in the past might be inefficient and unwieldy. At a minimum, you should have these categories of products:

  • Accounting tools
  • Payroll management and HR platforms
  • An ERP system
  • Payment processing tools
  • Spend management tools

Assess whether the software in place is adequate and see if any gaps stand out. At the same time, now is a prime opportunity to look for new technologies that help drive a competitive advantage. Look for places to introduce AI, cloud technology, or blockchain in ways that give your company a unique advantage in your market.  

Identify Urgent Needs

After completing your assessment and meeting with internal and external stakeholders, you should have a good sense of the issues that need to be addressed. Triage issues based on their status, urgency, and impact.

Once you’ve triaged the issues, look for low-hanging fruit that aligns with your agenda and will deliver quick wins. As the new executive, everyone from the CEO to entry-level employees has their eyes on you. Starting off with some successes will build trust in your abilities. 

Learn the Culture

Culture for a CFO presents an interesting conundrum. New CFOs are often brought in during times of change and holding on to an existing culture might hold the company back. At the same time, disregarding corporate culture could interfere with relationship building, and ultimately hurt more than it helps. 

CFOs need to tread carefully as they introduce new technologies into an existing work culture, especially among employees who prefer doing things the old way. They must manage risk, and make a compelling business case for the changes they are advocating to generate employee buy-in. 

Sharing Your Vision and Creating a Finance Roadmap

After getting to know the work environment, people, and technology in place, it’s time to update and share your vision for the future. The role is yours, and the more you take ownership, the stronger your hold on it will be. 

While it will take time before your vision will be fully realized, as you near the end of your initial 90 days you should start transforming management’s mindset and showing them the direction that you are taking the company. 

Your vision and roadmap should lay out the transformation you are embarking on. It should define priorities for the coming 1-3 years, and be developed in part with other members of the finance team, to generate stronger buy-in. 

Every initiative in the roadmap should be tied to a value target, and as time marches on your quarterly reports should tie back to your initiatives. Be sure to include some quick wins in the first year and highly achievable wins in subsequent wins to help build confidence and drive momentum. 

The combination of people, processes, and technology is central to any roadmap vision, and aligning career growth with initiatives will motivate team members to advance your initiatives. 

With the roadmap in place, you can focus the rest of the year on delivering value, enhancing processes, and team building. 

Embracing the CFO Role

The CFO plays a critical role in the growth of any great company. They have the tools to place their signature on something truly remarkable. Taking the first 90 days to learn about the company and listen to the needs of everyone around you while knocking out some quick wins will place you in a position to succeed.

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