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Cfo Collaborative

The Best CFOs Have a Hand in Company Culture, Innovation

July 6, 2022
Being approachable and taking an interest in leading and learning outside the finance department is so important.

An ever-changing world translates into an ever-changing workplace as organizations struggle to keep up with talent trends and company needs. So whose responsibility is it to cultivate a healthy workplace culture and encourage collaboration between departments? “The CFO” is likely not the first answer that comes to mind; however, good CFOs play an active and visible role in company culture and innovation.

In a recent PwC global culture survey, 66% of C-suite executives and board members polled believe culture is more important to performance than an organization’s strategy or operating model. With this data in mind, CFOs should work to make an impact on a company within the finance department and beyond.

Here are some things that CFOs should consider to cultivate a better workplace.

Prioritize a Collaborative Work Environment and Culture

Fostering a productive workplace is no longer just in the hands of HR professionals; this should be a goal of every CFO and executive. Guidance from finance leadership can stretch to every corner of the company and impact team members across departments. Encouraging a collaborative and open-minded work environment will enable employees to seek the help they need and provide guidance to others.

When CFOs contribute to work culture, transforming the perception of the finance department from unapproachable to one open to new and productive ideas, the company is more likely to succeed. The more collaboration that occurs across departments, the more progress the company will make towards its overall goals

If the finance department is viewed as helpful, other departments may be comfortable enough to ask for support for projects that will drive the company’s success. This approach may be new to seasoned CFOs in particular, who may be used to staying within the boundaries of the financial department; but the truth is that more cross-team collaboration leads to more successful projects that impact the bottom line. Cross-collaboration could involve helping the marketing department figure out how to finance an influencer campaign, or working with R&D to find funding for a project that might result in the next new product.

Take Some Risks

Another key to personal and company-wide success is risk-taking; however, most leaders try to keep risk and finance out of the same sentence. Traditionally, finance shies away from making risky decisions to avoid shortcomings that negatively impact the company. However, CFOs who take well-thought-out chances can impact their company’s bottom line in a positive way.

I took on a risk-taking mindset when I joined a turnaround company. When presented with this opportunity, I realized that my background was linear and I had played it safe thus far. While there were other, more stable job offers on the table at the time, I decided to take on the risk. This role required hard work and determination, but it was a rewarding experience--and in the end, I was able to broaden my skill set, thrive as a financial professional and advance my career because of it. I turned the company around by analyzing sales data, driving operational efficiency, selling non-core assets, retiring debt and leading a successful Chapter 11 bankruptcy. And this seemingly daunting job opportunity opened the door to new opportunities down the road.

Taking the leap when a new opportunity or financial challenge presents itself will not only make you a better all-around CFO but a better asset to the company. No company can guarantee a perpetual financial peak. Agile CFOs are able to take on challenges with a dynamic set of leadership skills, honed by new experiences, to ensure the business persists in trying times--and the organization as a whole feels supported enough to continue achieving its goals.

Ask Questions and Stay Open-Minded at Work

To overcome obstacles, CFOs must ask questions. “There are no bad questions,” is not relevant only to kindergarteners; the sentiment is true in business and finance. By asking thoughtful questions across departments, CFOs can proactively handle challenges and fuel triumphs. At the same time, they expand their industry knowledge and identify new opportunities for company growth.

It can be challenging for many people to admit that they don’t know something, especially at work, and especially in the finance department as CFOs are looked to as knowledgeable and detail-oriented team members. While this may be true in general, there is always more to learn. Taking the time to learn more about what you are not familiar with can be a huge asset to your team, as long as you show a strong desire to turn those learnings into meaningful action. While every CFO has a unique career, the elements of success are universal. 

Daniel O’Shaughnessy is the chief financial officer of 3D printing company Formlabs. O’Shaughnessy joined Formlabs following his time with SharkNinja as vice president of Finance and Treasury. Prior to joining SharkNinja, O’Shaughnessy was vice president of finance, treasury and investor relations at The Gymboree Corp., and M&A diligence manager at PriceWaterhouseCooper. 

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