Finance with Foresight: 5 Ways CFOs Can Provide More Effective Strategic Guidance

As the economy gains speed, finance leaders find themselves at the center of the action: They’re the key players in designing strategic growth agendas to lead their organizations toward more fiscally sound futures. What best practices are today’s financial leaders adopting?

In Finance with Foresight, a white paper from Robert Half Management Resources, more than 200 finance executives in the United Kingdom shared how they deliver strategic guidance and use critical thinking to make top-level, wide-reaching decisions that can boost the bottom line. While the research is UK-based, it is widely applicable to North American organizations.

Here are five tips we’ve distilled from the report to help you and your finance team offer more targeted strategic guidance for your organization.

1. Get the board on board.

Strategic guidance isn’t worth much if it falls on deaf ears and isn’t implemented. After all, the goal of strategic thinking initiatives is to solve fiscal problems for management and the company’s board of directors. To accomplish this task, you’ll need to make a clear and compelling argument when presenting ideas to key stakeholders.  

If you are proposing the company invest in a new financial system, for example, explain how your ideas can help your company run more efficiently, save money and achieve better results. While businesses commonly rely on Excel for business reporting, you may recommend other complementary high-tech tools, such as predictive analytics or data visualization software that could add greater value. Additionally, increasingly popular cloud-based solutions offer real-time reporting, allowing finance managers to seamlessly and securely build reports.

2. Master the art of staff management.

Day-to-day tasks and long-term business planning are miles apart, so focus on these goals separately within your finance department. You will never find time to concentrate on strategic thinking if your team can’t handle their daily responsibilities as autonomously as possible. This is why it’s essential to maximize each employee’s potential by delegating duties according to each member’s individual strengths and skill set.

Similarly, encourage career development and make it part of your corporate culture. Leadership training, for example, doesn’t just groom future managers, it also boosts creativity, motivation and engagement among your workforce.

Your team needs all the pieces of the finance puzzle to function successfully, and every member needs to understand business operations in order to improve them. So promote comprehensive onboarding practices, rigorous training sessions and a solid mentoring program. Only then will you and your staff have the time and know-how to tackle long-term business planning.

3. Maximize data capture.

In order to get an edge in the market and capitalize on industry trends, finance executives need access to a wide range of data from a broad spectrum of sources. In Finance with Foresight, nearly half of respondents (49 percent) said their function should be proactive when it comes to identifying the right tools to extract maximum insight from data.

It’s important for finance executives to take the lead with testing data-harnessing tools and implementing better data-capture systems. Also, by housing all of the data generated across all business functions in one place, you will ensure data analysis is more accurate and accessible.

4. Take the lead on experimentation.

Strategic thinking, by definition, includes coming up with business insights not previously considered. Yet these groundbreaking solutions will never be heard if finance leaders are not bold enough to propose them.

As a finance executive, it’s important to take the lead on experimentation and adoption of new technologies or delegate a manager to champion these solutions across the business. When taking the helm on these experimental projects, be prepared to initiate difficult conversations about whether or not business tools will add value to the finance function. For example, explaining a software package you've been licensing for years isn't as good as a new one can be difficult — but it is an essential step toward honing your strategic guidance skills.

5. Rethink recruitment and retention.

As accounting and finance professionals’ toolboxes grow heavier, highly skilled talent is in significant demand. In this environment, it’s essential to vet your future employees not only for technical prowess but also for stellar soft skills, as they will work with colleagues and upper management across the business. As strategic guidance becomes increasingly data driven, you should also pinpoint employees with business analytics skills and the ability to interpret data trends.

Lastly, because demand for skilled employees exceeds supply, it’s imperative to do everything in your power to retain top talent. Your goal should be to groom future leaders who will become part of your succession plan. By revisiting their compensation regularly and offering opportunities for advancement, you can increase engagement and foster loyalty among your team.

For comprehensive results and additional insights on the research, request your copy of Finance with Foresight. Findings specific to small businesses also are highlighted in the infographic below.