Why successful CFO’s are ‘invisible change leaders’

By in Accounting and Finance, Business Trends, Leadership, Technology

Disruption is an opportunity for CFO’s to make positive change within their organisation – not something to be feared, according to a leading expert at William Buck.

Chris Brown, Director Corporate Advisory spoke at the recent fourth annual Perth CFO Symposium at the Pan Pacific Hotel in the heart of Perth’s CBD – telling almost 200 CFO’s and finance directors, they are the invisible leaders within business.

“CFO’s and finance directors can use disruptive measures to play a key role in directing positive business and cultural change within their company,” Chris said.

“In the age of disruption, there is further opportunity for CFO’s and finance directors to influence change and disrupt any poisonous cultures,” he said.

Equating disruption to change, Chris told the audience that while CFO’s may not receive the accolades CEO’s of a Board receive for a company’s success, it is often the CFO’s or finance directors who provide a key platform for that success.

He implored the CFO’s in the audience to become “change leaders”, adding that change must also come from within.

“You have to unlock your humanistic, 360-degree potential,” he told the Symposium attendees.

Chris said it is important that everyone in an organisation has a job they love, highlighting the positives a disruptive cultural change and a positive change leader can bring to even the biggest and most successful organisations.

The Microsoft story

Chris shared insight into the story of Satya Nadella of Microsoft fame, who added $250 billion worth of financial wealth to that business within 3.5 years after taking the job no one wanted.

“Nadella, who had been working in the company for 15 years, was literally handed the job that nobody else really wanted because of the reputations of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer who had built the giant Microsoft organisation,” Chris said.

“At the time in 2014, when Nadella took control as CEO, the major hedge funds investors in the company had wanted an outsider, had wanted a tyrant to take over because the company had lost market position.”

“Nadella elected not to replicate the dictatorial, strong minded values of Gates and Ballmer, but instead attributed his acclaim to his young son who had cerebral palsy.”

“In doing so, Nadella became a change leader,” Chris said.

“Nadella said my focus was on how can I create a better life for my son? So I put myself in my son’s shoes and thought what would give him a wow factor experience,” Chris told the Symposium audience.

Chris said that Nadella’s  way of thinking epitomised Design Thinking.

“In today’s business world, we use the language of design thinking and that’s exactly what design thinking emulates,” Chris said.

“Go to the customer end, figure out what they want as a wow factor”.

“In the terms of customer, I am talking about every stakeholder. Some of you may have internal customers that you serve within your organisation, some of you deal with the outside customers.”

“Build the profile of what you are offering on the value chain and put a wow factor in every piece of it. If you did that, every person in the organisation is doing a job they love to have.”

Chris also pointed to Nadella’s success in completely disrupting the management culture at Microsoft – from top to bottom.

“Nadella went to the leadership group in his organisation and said I want you to read a book. He gave them a book about non-violent communication, all about empathy and engagement and collaboration, and they realised at that point that they weren’t going to have the same Microsoft as before,” Chris said.

“This then spread through more the 120,000 employees.”

“Why did he do it? He realised the untapped potential of a soft style being more engaging. A soft style that wasn’t one size fits all.”

“Every human being has a special need. So, if every person in the organisation recognised every other person’s need that they interacted with, maybe it would make a better place.”

“What does that achieve? Creativity,” Chris told the audience.

Chris said that creativity can often mean getting out of your comfort zone and bringing in changes.

“Today we refer to change as disruption. Disruption means opportunity.”

He added that the pathway to success can often be littered with failures.

“Failure is simply a definition of the pathway to learning.”

Be a positive change maker

In further discussing the importance of workers loving their jobs, Chris highlighted the results of a recent study that found that globally, only 13% of employees are engaged in their job.

While he added that Australia had better rate at 24%, the figures were still “frightening”.

“How are you going to motivate someone if you don’t love what you do?” Chris said.

“If you want to reset the boundaries, go back to your thinking. Think positive thoughts. If you think positive, you will enhance your work.”

Chris also discussed the issues of generational change and how this is disrupting the world of CFOs.

He pointed out that people under 35 who are digitally connected are changing things and that the reach of the digital marketplace is changing things.

“How will CFO’s cope with all of this?” he added.

He said an ability to adapt to changing circumstances is critical, and that the audience needed to become change leaders and must also subject themselves to continuous learning – which must be undertaken ‘daily in bite sized chunks.’

He also further highlighted the importance of managing people in creating positive change within an organisation.

This includes CFO’s nurturing talent, inspiring creativity, collaboration, motivation, utilising people’s strengths, and looking for opportunities to provide mentoring.

In summing up the “Big Picture” of becoming a successful, disruptive, CFO, Chris told the CFO’s it was critical that they focus on their health and aim to achieve a good work/life balance, offering tips.

“Instruct yourself to be happy.”

“Think positively.”

“Sleep is a big issue for people today. Stop doing business after 9pm.  Stop being workaholics.”

“And remember that disruption is nothing but opportunities for CFO’s.”

1 Comment

  1. Great article Chris! I have a CFO who embraces disruption. Where others see loss and misfortune, he sees opportunity to change for the better. He actually seeks to disrupt to ensure change is adopted by the business to continually improve it’s performance.

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