Managing change at a time of extreme volatility has in many ways become the primary task of CFOs in recent years -- and one of their primary reasons for stress. Whether it’s felt from pressure in uneven company performance, shifting regulatory requirements and ambiguous strategies, charting a steady course amid a shifting landscape lies at the heart of a CFO’s duties.
But according to recent research from Deloitte, a new form of stress has become dominant on executives’ plates: major change initiatives. Nearly 56 percent of all CFOs queried by the research firm in its second quarter CFO Signals report said change initiatives as their largest career stress, citing the upward rise in mergers and acquisitions, shifts in organizational strategies and structures and new investments IT.
According to the study, there are several dynamics behind the shift: the broader change in business environment over the last 18 months, as well as the large cash reserves organizations are sitting on.
“Many of these CFOs are being evaluated by how well they respond to this turmoil,” says Greg Dickinson, who leads the Deloitte CFO Signals survey. “They’re under enormous pressure to make a lot of important decisions. With all of that volatility, companies are putting major rework into their strategies. CFOs are having a big hand in helping make those decisions.”
A second key finding from the study was that CFOs and their finance organizations are clearly playing broader and deeper roles. In the aftermath of economic turmoil, CFOs in previous surveys with Deloitte reported to having perform “steward” and “operator” roles.
Those responsibilities have subsided greatly, according to the most recent survey. As domestic economies have rebounded over the last several quarters, companies have shifted back toward growth, and CFOs are spending more of their time in “strategist” and “catalyst” roles.
That high-level strategy perspective though will require skill sets gained through experience that many executives might not yet possess, says Dickinson, such as operational knowledge, turning a proposed strategy into executed action and building support for it throughout an organization.
“You’re starting to see a different type of person being attracted to the finance function and the CFO role,” says Dickinson. “It has attracted people who are less of the guardian and protective type and are instead more pioneers – people that posses the desire to get things done.”
The shift also illustrates the nature of CFOs is shifting both in terms of base personality type, but also organizational role. As changing business environments force companies to change strategies, select and execute major change initiates and manage a broad range of risks, CFOs appear to be playing bigger and more formal roles in each of these areas.