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He particularly emphasizes the importance of the CFO properly getting to know every function that reports to them. “You need to spend enough time with them to understand their issues and challenges, and strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the finance function. You also need them to educate you on important issues within their area – for example, cybersecurity in the case of IT.”


They set the right tone

‘The fish rots from the head’ is how the ancient proverb goes. And this is as true when it comes to leading the finance function as it is in any other aspect of business – or life. If a CFO wants their team to follow the highest professional and ethical standards, they need to make sure that they are following those standards themselves. They also need to be aware that their people will be paying very close attention to what they do. “You set the tone, and if your tone is wrong then the tone will be wrong all the way down – unless you are lucky enough to have a very good person in-between,” says Geraldine Matchett, CFO of Dutch nutrition giant Royal DSM. “Not having a hierarchical mindset myself, it took me a long time to realize the extent to which people watch what you are doing, what you spend time on, and therefore what seems to be important to you. As the CFO, your behaviour sets the tone for the whole function, as well as its values – whether you like it or not.” Matchett also points out that the culture of a finance function will be heavily influenced by the CFO’s vision. “Your vision may be a

finance function that is extremely efficient,” she says. “So you will be focused on areas such as automation, processes and shared services. If that is the tone that you set at the very top, then people will know that improvements are going to be made in those areas. “Alternatively, you may have a very efficient finance function, but one that is disconnected from the company. So, here, your tone should reflect the need for the finance function to learn about the organization, and to know what their purpose is. The function may be able to process an invoice in a split second, but is that truly enough if their purpose is to make the organization successful?” Matchett believes that, when it comes to setting the tone at the top, a finance leader needs to recognize the needs of their people. Only by doing this will they get the buy-in they need to achieve the objectives. “When people realize that you are interested in developing them, they are much more excited about making the function really effective,” she says. “They realize that it’s about balancing the two.”


They build a great team

No CFO ends up with a great team by accident. Instead they will have deliberately built a strong team by hiring and developing finance professionals with specialist expertise – people who are far better at doing their jobs than the CFO in question would ever be. “You need a very disciplined hiring process,” says Tilston. “Motivating and retaining people is all about continuous development and improvement, and moving people into different

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Dialogue Q3 2017  
Dialogue Q3 2017