How to Avoid Being Confidentially Replaced as A CFO

We commonly engage in confidential searches on behalf of our clients. There are positive reasons why, such as the launch of a new function that has not yet been announced, but more often than not, it’s to confidentially replace a finance executive where there is a performance gap. But what are some of the most common performance gaps as they relate to finance executives in high-growth companies? 

Read on to learn more and see how you can avoid being confidentially replaced. If you possess more than one of these traits, it’s even more likely you may have a “target on your back.”

1. You rely on the same bag of tricks (or abilities)

A friend of mine constantly reminds me that a growing company cannot rely on what got them to this point in time. What you did to-date is not going to be good enough to get your company to the next stage of growth. Instead, you need to think about what tools, systems and abilities need to exist for you and your organization to win over the next 3 years. A great book that can help set you up for success in your new role is “The First 90 Days” by Michael D. Watkins. 

2. You stifle innovation

You stop innovation by critiquing new ideas before they take shape. There is a need to support innovation and help decide which bets are the best ones. However, you will never be able to figure out which bets are the best if you critique too early.  This will create frustration for other leaders and they may see you as not aligned. 

3. Not Knowing the Business

Knowing the business means understanding how your business makes money, the ins and outs of each product line, and the position it currently occupies in the market relative to its competitors. By not knowing how you make money or who you compete against, you are disadvantaging yourself and are less likely to contribute to the growth trajectory of your company. 

4. Lack of focus

You are allowing too many side projects to consume company resources.  The opposite of the above is the CFO who cannot help the company stay focused. Founders often come up with crazy ideas and their favourite idea can be the last one they had! Like the point above, this is a question of How much innovation do we need?

5. Too tactical and stuck in the weeds

Are you being asked to think at a higher level? If so, you may be getting some not so subtle hints from your colleagues or boss. This is linked to the ability to think strategically (read 6 Critical Skills Found in Strategic Thinkers) and I am constantly asked to find CFO’s who are more strategic in nature as CEOs or founders are struggling to get the support they need.

6. Lacking in accuracy and timeliness

You’ve missed filing deadlines and/or you’ve misstated earnings. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but as CFO, the buck stops with you.

7. An integration or acquisition gone wrong

As CFO, you didn’t catch a costly issue during the purchase/sale of the company. Another way to avoid getting fired is to make sure you build the foundation and scale processes and systems as you grow, and not just hire headhunt to solve the problem with quick fixes.

This list is not exhaustive. It is only a quick snapshot of the things that we hear when being asked to support clients in a search for a new finance executive or CFO. Read John Rex’s account and how he turned it around in What I Learned From (Almost) Getting Fired As CFO Of Microsoft North America. If you are currently hearing any or all of these things then you should dig for feedback and ask for more detail so you can get ahead of any decisions being made. None of these are insurmountable provided they are identified early enough and you are proactive in addressing them. 

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Joe Diubaldo is the President of Clarity. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Clarity is a recruitment agency specializing in the placement of designated Accountants and Finance professionals in the GTA and Vancouver. Our mission is to improve decision-making in hiring by investing in behavioural science and hiring technology. We specialize in finance and accounting recruitment, project & interim resourcing and executive search for high growth companies. Connect

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