The CFO’s journey

ME PoV Summer 2019 issue

My experience at the CFO Transition Lab ™

Taking on the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) role, whether promoted from within or hired from outside, always comes with unknown territory and challenges. We have a limited period to make our mark within the new role and to set forth a plan that stakeholders will buy into and meet the business’ objectives. The challenge is how to do all of that and still deal with the day-to-day business of the job at hand.

Ideally as the CFO, you want to have your 180-day plan mapped out, know exactly what your focus areas are going to be and what actions you need to take to meet your objectives. With no CFO role being the same as another, due to varying operating landscape, economic environment, legislative requirements and talent considerations, to name just a few, there is no off-the-shelf answer book. Each CFO’s plan will have to be unique. The CFO Transition Lab™ supports the CFO in identifying and mapping out the broad strokes of that plan within a day.

The day

The day is all about the CFO.
The only people in the room are the Lab Facilitator, the Lab Manager, Lab Scribe, the Lead Client Service Partner and the CFO. Everyone has only one interest: to help the CFO be the best they can be and to walk away having mapped out their personalized 180-day action plan.

In preparation for the CFO Transition Lab™ stakeholders are engaged to understand their hopes, fears and what they wish the CFO’s legacy to be. This interaction is important for the team to be able to guide the CFO during the day, not only to the areas that the CFO wants to concentrate on, but also to the areas that are important to the stakeholders. It can provide context on possible development areas that the CFOs themselves may not be aware of.

A critical part of the day is understanding which aspects of the business the CFO currently spends their time on.

The four faces

Today’s CFOs are expected to play four diverse and challenging roles. The two traditional roles are steward—preserving the assets of the organization by minimizing risk and getting the books right—and operator, running a tight finance operation that is efficient and effective. It is increasingly important for CFOs to be strategists—helping to shape overall strategy and direction—and catalysts, instilling a financial approach and mindset throughout the organization to help other parts of the business perform better.

These varied roles make a CFO’s job more complex than ever.

It is often during this session that the CFO realizes that a shift in gears is needed and that their days cannot be consumed with spreadsheets, accounts and data. It has to be more focused on being part of the C-Suite of the business and adding value at a strategic level. In that sense, the CFO Transition Lab™ helped me to set the right focus and largely influenced how I am operating.


Recruiting and renewing talent is one of the most important tasks, if not the most important one, a new CFO faces in the early days. For this very reason a large portion of the day is spent assessing the talent within the CFO’s organization and understanding any gaps, challenges, non-performing staff, training needed or even the right people in the wrong roles.

The benefit of getting Talent right is immeasurable as it allows the CFO to trust their team and gives them the capacity to focus more on the catalyst and strategic roles they have.

The nature of the CFO Transition Lab™allows the CFO the freedom to assess staff in an authentic and factual way while being guided and challenged by an unbiased Lab Facilitator. As a result, I was able to form a decision in one day that I had been struggling with over the past six months.


Relationships are important in any role, but exceptionally so in the C-Suite. Many project successes and demises can be attributed to the relationships between the various stakeholders.

Helping the CFO understand which stakeholders they have in their corner and which relationships require attention is all part of the 180-day plan process. Elements in the plan will relate to stakeholder relationship development and management as needed.

Invariably, somewhere during the day, the topic of family and relationships is explored and discussed. The importance of this cannot be emphasized enough as the CFO role is a demanding one in both, time and energy. Having the support of those around you is critical and must not be taken for granted. The 180-day plans will often include important family commitments, holidays or personal goals, all of which help the CFO function at their full potential.

When one participant expressed their desolation at having relocated for their job and the stresses that that entailed, their difficulties were immediately discussed and personal goals set as priority items on their action plan.

The plan

The plan itself evolves during the day as various discussions are had and action items identified. Deadlines are marked in and by the end of the day, five to six critical focus areas are identified and the course of action for each of those for the next 180 days are documented.

For a CFO to have a personalized action plan that can be their road map for the most critical time in the role is immeasurable.

The value of a day

It is natural for each CFO to experience this day differently. The main takeaway for me was the clarity of mind I gained and knowing my next steps, neither of which I could have obtained in another way or form. To be able to have that after just a day provides a strong foundation for the CFO’s tenure.

As told to Rob O’Hanlon, Partner and CFO program Leader and Bronwyn Millar, Senior Manager, CFO program, Deloitte Middle East

The CFO Transition Lab

The CFO Transition Lab™ is an interactive, one-day experience based on extensive research on CFO Transitions. The agenda of the CFO Transition Lab™ focuses on the three most important resources CFOs should consider managing during their transitions:

  • Time – Personal and organizational time management
  • Talent – Talent in the finance organization
  • Relationships – Critical stakeholder relations

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