Enhance confidence in your transition priorities

Incoming executives need to be realistic about priorities and the time required to drive specific results, and clear about the risks that can impede success and the resources that specific priorities will require.

There is no shortage of potential priorities that beckon the attention of most incoming executives during their transitions. But it is important to be highly selective and realistic about the signature priorities you choose to focus on. In reality, given what comes across your desk on a daily basis, it is very hard to meaningfully drive more than five priorities.

Before sharing elevator pitches about your priorities with stakeholders, it’s a good idea to be realistic about how far they can be moved forward in the first 6–12 months. Will you really be able to demonstrate tangible progress on your priorities in this timeframe and win the confidence of your key stakeholders?

For conversation’s sake, consider these five CFO priorities:

  1. Talent: Develop the finance team, and recruit critical talent to deliver a finance organization that’s able to partner with the business.
  2. Partnering: Reset partnerships with the businesses to proactively deliver facts and support decision making.
  3. Strategy: Align your capital strategy to cost-efficiently finance corporate strategy.
  4. FP&A: Improve financial planning and analysis capabilities to better forecast key business metrics and support decision making.
  5. Cost reduction: Deliver $500 million in operational cost savings.

Next, rank the priorities based on how confident you are that you can accomplish them in the next six months. List the higher-confidence priorities at the top of the table below. For example, you may have a lot of treasury experience, and you are confident that you can get lines of credit, extend debt terms, and lower your cost of capital. On the other hand, you may find HR to be unwilling to change and incapable of supporting your talent initiatives. As a general rule of thumb, greater dependence on others to get a job done should decrease confidence in your ability to accomplish that specific priority.

Next, ask yourself four critical questions:

  1. What could go wrong in executing a priority, and what risks can lower your confidence?
  2. What resources can enhance your confidence or mitigate risks?
  3. Who in your company will help you execute this effort, and do these people change your level of confidence?
  4. How much time do you need to realistically spend per week to accomplish a chosen priority?

For illustrative purposes, the table below has some of the common issues around talent filled in.

Confidence in Priority Risks Resources Talent Time
Cost Reduction
Talent HR will resist changing the compensation model to recruit key staff. Broken performance management will make it difficult to exit unproductive staff. CEO, audit chair, and CHRO support your attempts to upgrade your organization’s talent with changes to the hiring model and staff. John Doe from HR will oversee recruiting and exiting staff. Jane Doe from finance will build training and rotation programs to develop staff 8 hours per week

Identifying the risks that undermine each of your signature priorities and the resources needed to successfully deliver them can add a helpful dose of clarity to your transition. As you cannot accomplish all the work by yourself, you need to designate the right people to support you and make sure you are giving each issue the time it deserves.By identifying risks, resources, talent, and time around your signature priorities, you can begin to elevate confidence in your ability to execute your chosen transition priorities while remaining realistic in your time allocation.

By the way, talent is normally a top-five agenda item for incoming executives. In addition, on average, it will generally take about a day per week in the first six months to assess staff, recruit critical talent, and build a sustainable organization.

The takeaway: Be realistic about the priorities you choose and the time that you need to successfully drive specific results. Be clear about the risks that can impede success and the resources that specific priorities will require. Finally, make sure you have the right team supporting you on your critical initiatives. The simple exercise above can help you increase your confidence and chances at a successful transition.