You Are Only As Good As Your Team

Want to build a great finance team?

I was having lunch with a very smart CFO friend last fall, a gentleman I greatly admire for many reasons.

We’re both ass-kickers, but of two totally different flavors. Me, self-employed, urban-dwelling, consulting on a range of interesting, complex problems, with a peppering of novel human interactions. He, an MBA from a prestigious school, working with a VC-backed technology company on the 128 belt, building one company for one steadfast purpose. We were comparing notes on CFO-ing and catching up on life.

I asked him, essentially, “How is it you don’t get bored just being in the weeds, running one company?”

“Denice,” he said, “I have a team that manages the day-to-day operations of the finance department, so I can spend all day thinking about how to solve the next batch of problems.”

BOOM.

Thanks, Tom. This is why you are the absolute best.

I thought for many months about this conversation and how his sage words capture the key to success for a CFO—or any CXO for that matter. Ultimately. leaders organize people to do things that are important and valuable to the business, present and future. CFOs are no different. A great CFO is all about the people.

I’M ONLY AS GOOD AS MY TEAM

As a CFO, I know my personal success is a trailing indicator of the success of those who report to me. I can’t do jack without a fierce controller or my AP goddess. And don’t forget about the tax folks. And the lovely people who solve AR problems and sort out budget-to-actuals for line mangers. You get the idea. My team is everything. Period. It is not about me.

I am only as good as my ability to motivate others to do great work when I need them to be great. 

Motivating people is an art form in and of itself, but I make it easier on myself by conscientiously creating roles, offering competitive pay, and not stuffing people into jobs they don’t really want. It is terribly difficult to motivate a human to be great in a role they don’t want to be in.

The “right person” is the one who will be most satisfied with the role and will perform it with competence and enthusiasm. The work fulfils them. They want the job at hand, not just a foot in the door to wait for the next opportunity. They are 100 percent satisfied with the position as designed.

It’s like dating. The happiest couples are content with what they have today, not consumed with what they could be tomorrow.

SQUARE PEGS, ROUND HOLES

No one wants to work with someone who is not in the proper role. It isn’t perfect. So, here are my rules of thumb to avoid this kind of toxicity in the workplace:

1. Never try to justify a full-time role when there’s not one.

Don’t think up extra things that could be done to give them to someone whose main task comprises less than 40 hours per week. Nobody wants that job. Nobody wants to be Gal Friday. Really. No one. Stick to authentic tasks.

2. Don’t hire Mr. Wolf to process Accounts Payable.

Find people who want to be in the role at hand. It’s tempting to hire someone for a job that may not suit them just because they are intelligent, available, excellent, and you want to use their talents at some point in time. Resist the urge. The square peg will never fit into the round hole.

3. Stay open to remote workers and consultants.

To adhere to rules 1 and 2, contractors and offsite part-time resources are golden. Consultants love clients who don’t require their full attention! And they usually are delighted with doing the tasks on which they’ve built their reputation and expertise.

The right person rarely matches up perfectly with the back-of-the-napkin job definition. So, I may create multiple roles comprising less than 40 hours. Or, I will increase compensation to attract the correct skill level to a part or accommodate an excellent candidate’s request to work only between 2 pm and 6 pm. To create a top team, I determine what is essential to the work’s success and stay flexible on things that are not.

Then, if there is turnover, I don’t jump to immediately fill a vacancy with the nearest warm body or random desk jockey. I have no desire to square-peg-round-hole a person and a role simply for my convenience.

Building a finance team is often a bigger challenge than running it. But any decision involving the intersection of people and processes is hard. The earlier you solve this equation, the sooner you can free up time to think about the next batch of problems.

Just remember, it is not about you.