It’s not all numbers …

I’ve been the #2 guy in several organizations for 20+ years now. Throughout, the Chief Financial Officer, several times I’ve worn the COO hat too. Typically my roles included handling some of the less desirable but necessary actions. Good cop – Bad cop goes with the territory. The CEO is Champion #1, unless they choose to handle some of the un-pleasentries, it’s my job. But and it’s a BIG BUT that many CFOs sometimes fall into don’t be the NO Guy / Gal. Be the one that people seek out for solutions. Be clear. If there’s one yes and one no to an issue – make sure both are clearly communicated. Few things frustrate staff more than two yes’s when that’s clearly not the “real answer”. I can’t even begin to count the times I’ve needed to sort such over the years. The dynamics between the CEO and the First Lieutenant are keys to success.

Building Culture is Vital

Much of my experience is with turnarounds and high growth operations. One of the things I’ve learned from this experience is that winning and losing attitudes are both contagious. I don’t want to sound like Hatchet Man yet you can be sure in some of those turnarounds staffing needed to be adjusted. In some cases personnel well equipped for their day-to-day responsibilities needed to be “adjusted”. “I told you we would fail, we’re failing, and ergo I’m right”. Losing had become their winning. Most of those “environment” changes worked out well for both parties. 10, 20 years later a fair number of us are still in touch.

Some of the things that have worked for me …

  • Get as close to everyone as you possibly can on some personal level. Make sure they know their skills and contributions are appreciated and needed. If they have a key date in their personal life, write it down and then follow up when that day approaches. There’s no excuse for forgetting with all the tools we have available to us today.
  • Make everyone feel ownership towards the company, have some initiatives asking for their opinion their suggestions that touch the whole company at some point, not necessarily all at once, before morale may be an issue. Be careful with this if morale is already an issue.
  • Don’t give all your employees the same praise or critique. Everyone wants to feel like they’re an individual, not a number. When you do give feedback, it will be taken a lot more seriously. In my various turnaround successes some were handling their responsibilities very well. Treat everyone as individually as you possibly can.
  • Focus on strengths particularly when areas where they may be less strong have little to do with performing their job responsibilities. Promote their strengths, suggest ways to enhance, how they can better use their skills to contribute towards achieving our goals.
  • Support creative thinking, better ways to accomplish goals, new ways to achieve new goals.
  • Support considered risk-taking initiatives. Your team needs to know that if they make a mistake, it will be okay — “surprises” … not so much. For a company to grow, some chance and risk must be initiated. Some of the best inventions resulted from mistakes. Without reassurance there will be less initiative. If employees are afraid to even suggest new initiatives you are promoting the same, sometimes that’s mediocrity. It’s safer to “just do” than strive to overachieve and risk mistakes. Give employees the freedom to own, contribute more, grow and improve.
  • Leave your door open – that’s a “no brainer”. Closed doors further hierarchy that will widen the gap between you and the essential components of your success.
  • Build a culture of respect between managers and employees. Don’t stifle all disagreement, some is healthy. None = apathy. Manage how disagreement is resolved not that there is disagreement. But when it’s resolved —  it’s resolved.
  • Manage up and down in much the same manner, absolutely with the same respect. Watch your managers, more than just a few manage up well but manage their staffs quite differently. When you spot this, address it quickly.
  • Instill the importance of deadlines. If there’s slippage as there invariably will be, make sure it’s clear to advise sooner than later.
  • Hire people who are passionate! They’re like sponges and absorb everything and usually quickly.
  • Exude confidence and faith in the future – even, especially when you may have some doubt — that is likely when they need it the most.

People perform at their best in a climate of clear direction, boundaries and mutual respect. Many will overachieve for people they do not want to disappoint.

Spend some time cultivating your culture – it will improve your bottom line.


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