To advance from CFO to CEO, double down on soft skills
CEO Insider

To advance from CFO to CEO, double down on soft skills

Often enterprise CFOs want to become CEO. According to a survey from Robert Half Management Resources, 64 percent of CFOs are motivated to make the leap to the top post.

Turning that dream into reality, however, is often easier said than done. In addition to waiting for the right opportunity, CFOs must showcase their potential to handle a seat at the top. From expanding their operational experience to developing soft skills, the following four tips can help prepare CFOs for their opportunity at a CEO position.

Develop operational experience 

One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of a transition from CFO to CEO is exposure to each and every aspect of a business’s operations. In fact, 45 percent of CEOs cite lack of experience outside of finance as a top perception CFOs must overcome.

When it comes to finding a way around such roadblocks, initiative is everything. Instead of focusing exclusively on finance, CFOs must make an effort to hear from employees and partners throughout every level of an organization. After all, the CEO is responsible for all of a business’s operations – not just finance. The sooner CFOs become familiar with the people and processes within each area of the company, the better chance they’ll be able to hit the ground running.  It is also equally or even more important to spend time in the field with customers and key partners.  Being actively involved with key external relationships and business activities ensures the CFO knows the true market reality of the business.  It also allows a CFO to develop and prove their ability to drive results with important customers and partners.

A broad base of both internal and external experiences makes for both a smoother transition to the CEO role and will help the CFO start on day one with higher confidence from the company’s employees, partners and customers.

Master employee management 

Nearly every CEO agrees the key to improving finance operations is attracting and retaining top talent. Unfortunately, CFOs often struggle to do just that. A report from KPMG revealed only one-third of CEOs would give their CFOs a passing grade in talent management. In order to advance in the C-suite, CFOs must flex their management muscles.

To level up on the talent management front, CFOs who aspire to CEO positions should familiarize themselves with the biggest enterprise-wide pain points involving talent management. As a study on broken corporate processes by Nintex revealed, more than half of enterprise employees report that their company’s administrative processes are broken. And when it comes to the list of broken administrative functions, the top three biggest issues cited by employees – annual performance review systems, promotions and raise negotiations –  all involve talent management. To be successful CEOs, CFOs must prioritize personal development of talent management skills.

Leave no question unanswered

Ask and you shall receive. Rather than assuming things about a business’ operations or structure, CFOs should track down the truth through visits with more experienced employees. Something as simple as grabbing lunch or coffee once every few weeks can go a long way toward supplementing a CFO’s knowledge of their organization. Better yet, such meetings can help cultivate cross-functional relationships that give CFOs a leg up on other candidates in terms of internal support

Be dependable 

With great power comes great responsibility. CFOs hoping to move into the CEO role must make every effort to establish themselves as trustworthy and reliable.

If, for example, a potential candidate can’t be trusted enough to run a single area of an organization, chances are they won’t be given the keys to the entire ship. One way CFOs can gain a top-notch reputation is by being realistic about bandwidth. Making plenty of promises can quickly backfire, especially if work begins to pile up. CFOs that communicate early and often can help ensure there aren’t any surprises as deadlines approach.

CFOs often set their sights on the CEO position. But the responsibilities that accompany each role tend to vary. To successfully assume that extra responsibility, CFOs must be willing to take their skillsets to the next level. From expanding operational experience to drawing upon the insights of others, the four tips outlined above promise to prepare CFOs for their time atop the C-suite.

Eric Johnson

Eric JohnsonVerified account

Chief Executive at Nintex
Eric Johnson brings more than two decades of financial and operational experience at mid- and large-sized software companies to his role as CEO of Nintex, a fast-growing intelligent process automation company. From 2014-2018 Eric served as Nintex’s CFO where he was key in driving the company’s move to the cloud and subscription pricing.Prior to that, Eric served as vice president of finance for Jive Software, where he helped lead the company through its IPO process, and before that, as vice president of worldwide sales operations at Serena Software. He has also held financial and operational leadership positions at Merant, InFocus Corporation and IBM (formerly Sequent). Eric graduated with honors from the University of Portland with a degree in finance.
Eric Johnson

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Eric Johnson brings more than two decades of financial and operational experience at mid- and large-sized software companies to his role as CEO of Nintex, a fast-growing intelligent process automation company. From 2014-2018 Eric served as Nintex’s CFO where he was key in driving the company’s move to the cloud and subscription pricing. Prior to that, Eric served as vice president of finance for Jive Software, where he helped lead the company through its IPO process, and before that, as vice president of worldwide sales operations at Serena Software. He has also held financial and operational leadership positions at Merant, InFocus Corporation and IBM (formerly Sequent). Eric graduated with honors from the University of Portland with a degree in finance.