March 25th 2019

The New FD: Can the leopard change its spots?

Finance directors can improve their personal impact and confidence through developing soft skills, says Simon Cannon, director of communication training firm Professional Voice.

Feature by Simon Cannon, Professional Voice appeared in Financial Director on March 25, 2019


It’s wrong to generalise. And stereotypes are very much out of fashion these days. So forgive me if I generalise for a moment about a stereotype! The FD. What’s the traditional FD like? The traditional FD is an accountant who focuses on the historical performance of the company (defined in numbers: turnover, P&L, variances, KPIs), tax liabilities and compliance requirements, and cost efficiencies. They’re intelligent, numerate, meticulous, with an eye for detail, but also err on the introspective side and can be positively shy and retiring when it comes to speaking and presenting. And what are the new challenges for the FD?

The transformation from a finance function which focuses on historical performance to one which is all about future performance is neatly summed up in a CGMA report of the Changing Role and Mandate of Finance as:

"Information to Impact"

The traditional finance building blocks of the finance function of "Information" and "Insight" are being extended to include ''Influence" and "Impact'.

But according to McKinsey in the New CFO Mandate,"Changing responsibilities, unchanged perceptions", 47% of executives outside of the finance function think that the CFO contributes most to the traditional roles of accounting, controlling and analysis, rather than the role being pivotal to the future success of the organisation.

The FD/CFO titles go some way to distinguishing the old and new roles of finance - but they don't go far enough. A personal rebranding exercise is required to change people's perception of the Finance head as having a lead role in change management and strategic development whilst still maintaining credibility and integrity.

In addition, key soft skill changes are required to meet the new challenges. The Finance leader needs to develop higher impact communication skills to initiate, drive and maintain company-wide transformation. Getting buy in to change, motivating cross-functional teams to embrace ongoing transition, becoming a role model for new mindsets and behaviours - and coaching and mentoring team members to do the same - are just some of the new challenges.

Most finance heads have not played an integral part in doing this historically and haven't developed these broader skills. Excellent communication skills and brand management have traditionally not been high on the FD's list of strengths. Typically it was the CEOs, Marketing and Sales directors that were the engaging ones, the so-called 'best speakers' and perceived as the 'most dynamic' directors.

It is not a comfortable transition that the finance leader has to make. What is certain is that time spent investing in self-development and upskilling will be time well spent.

Professional Voice has developed a new program to support the Finance leader through this transition. And it is appropriately named: Speaking as a Leader. The program focusses on helping senior finance executives to develop presence and optimise their communication skills to increase their impact. It builds on the executive's strengths as well as building new skills. Work is applied to every day business challenges, typically enabling the executive to:

» Command attention

» Project a positive ethos

» Distil the ‘Big Picture’

» Table new concepts with ease

» Turn round negative perceptions and create a positive working culture

» Give clear purpose and direction

» Motivate others and shape behaviours adeptly

» Align performance to organisational goals

» Move the business forward on a constant basis

This happens through small incremental changes over a period of months. But with focus and application executives will:

» Improve their personal impact

» Strengthen their image and style

» Become more effective communicators

» Maximise their value to their company AND their company's value.

So perhaps it's not a question of IF the leopard can change his spots but HOW.