As a new year begins, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the frontline stories this column has been privileged to share. While they have been very diverse, they carry a common element of men and women using the CFO role to lead the charge in providing a greater value from the finance function. The goal of this column is to give you access and insights into their success and thereby help assist you in improving your finance performance.

In looking back on our first nine interviews, you can clearly see the enormous breadth and diversity of the CFO role. If you desire a more in-depth study of the CFO's role, I encourage you to read Reinventing the CFO (Harvard Business School Press, 2006), authored by my colleague Jeremy Hope. As research director of the Beyond Budgeting Round Table, Hope researched the evolving role of the CFO and interviewed numerous CFOs who had led dramatic transformations. He defines seven key roles that CFOs perform. This column reflects on how past interview subjects have performed the roles that Hope describes. It also presents selected key lessons I find most important from the interviews.

1. CFOs serve as freedom fighters who liberate both finance and business managers from huge amounts of detail and the proliferation of complex systems that increase their workload and deny them time for reflection. Creating space and time for higher-value work is a crucial step that turns transformation rhetoric into practical reality.

For example, see our interview with Mark DeLuzio (July 2007), in which he described implementing Lean accounting and setting a goal to reduce reporting time to only 25 percent of the reporters' time. DeLuzio's thinking evolved into what we today call Lean accounting, which applies the Lean concepts to the accounting process itself. "It is used to really weed out our accounting processes and really streamline our closing process, costing process, payable process, etc."

Also see our Steve Pace piece (October 2007), in which he shows how he helps the Big 12 Conference stay entrepreneurial.

2. CFOs serve as analysts and advisors who use the time and space created above to develop the right finance team that truly understands the business, can provide high levels of analytical skills, and contributes to improving the business. Advisors exhibit very effective communication skills, allowing them to teach and mentor on financial decisions. They use systems to eliminate low-value work, improve controls, enhance investment decisions, and earn a seat at the strategy discussion.

Laura Wright (August 2007) helped clear up the clutter when each department wanted 50 to 100 measures. There, the communication approach centered on a handful of magic numbers that could focus everyone's attention.

Walt Galvin and Bruce Eckhardt (November 2007) explained the detailed planning and control systems that Emerson has spent decades in refining. This system exemplifies the critical value that finance can play in driving value.

3. CFOs serve as architects of adaptive management to liberate managers from detailed annual budgeting processes by replacing them with more effective steering mechanisms such as relative targets and rolling forecasts. Controls are strengthened by the use of fast actuals, key performance indicators, and rolling forecasts, and trend analysis is focused on the future.

Kathleen Allen (April 2007) implemented the Beyond Budgeting principles at Millipore. This resulted in a five-quarter rolling forecast replacing the traditional budgeting process.

David Cooke (May 2007) also eliminated traditional budgets by implementing Beyond Budgeting at Park Nicollet Health Services. They use a quarterly reforecast process that goes out six quarters. This process is in support of their Lean enterprise implementation.

Laura Wright (August 2007) also uses an adaptive planning process in which significant changes to plans can be reviewed weekly.

Subsequent adaptive planning efforts are also in process at Kansas City Southern (Pat Ottensmeyer, June 2007) and DFW Airport (Chris Poinsatte, September 2007).

Emerson (Walt Galvin/Bruce Eckhardt, November 2007) continues to use traditional budgeting, but their robust processes create a continuous adaptive process.

4. CFOs serve as warriors against waste who focus on challenging and eliminating layers of costs that often go unchecked. The aim is to flatten hierarchy, centralize and standardize transaction processing, and ensure that all projects are necessary and add value.

Mark DeLuzio (July 2007) showed how Lean approaches can wage war on waste. His dramatic success enabled him to move into operations.

David Cooke (May 2007) applies those concepts in a healthcare environment. Park Nicollet Health Services has been able to reduce costs, improve customer satisfaction, and improve profitability for each of the past four years.

5. CFOs serve as masters of measurement who bring measurements back under control and provide clear guidance about their meaning. While kept to a limited and focused number (only six or seven), these measures clearly relate organizational purpose and strategy to each level, but are limited.

Walt Galvin/Bruce Eckhardt (November 2007) detailed Emerson's approach to measurement with an 11-year view of actuals and forecasts. Their systems are tailored to their strategy of being a low-cost producer.

Beatty D'Alessandro (December 2007) tracks his development from heading strategic planning to a CIO role of implementing an enterprise-wide ERP system and ultimately to CFO. The key to reaching these milestones has been a keen focus on the critical measures of success.

Laura Wright (August 2007) has honed Southwest's measures down to a handful of magic numbers. These communicate the key indicators they follow.

6. CFOs serve as regulators of risk, providing an effective framework for good governance and risk management. This can be done by using multiple levers of control that support corporate governance controls, internal controls, strategic controls, and feedback controls. The focus expands to the whole enterprise and the project portfolio so that the right balance of risk can be effectively managed.

Pat Ottensmeyer (June 2007) illustrated how he is identifying and addressing risks at Kansas City Southern. One key risk is a lack of knowledge about the prospects at KCS. Pat's detailed approach to his investor meeting shows how he is helping overcome these challenges.

Beatty D'Alessandro (December 2007) explained how he deals with complex project implementation risks. He is now applying those skills across all of finance.

7. CFOs serve as champions of change, leading both the changes in finance and, by extension, changes to the entire organization.

Nearly all of our interviewees were selected because they are champions of change. Mark DeLuzio (July 2007) has moved from Lean accounting into Lean operations. Both Kathleen Allen (April 2007) and David Cooke (May 2007) have eliminated their budgets in 2005. Pat Ottensmeyer (June 2007) has started the same efforts at Kansas City Southern Railroad. Likewise, Chris Poinsatte (September 2007) is leading as much change as he can within the governmental constraints of his industry. Beatty D'Alessandro's (December 2007) entire career has been about change.

Summary Comment on the Future

Future columns will continue to illustrate the CFO as champion of change as well as filling the other six roles. Independent of this column, we will be taking a different look at other frameworks for evaluating the finance function as well as discussing the latest trends with key thought leaders.

I would like to know what you want to read about.

Do you have any good CFOs to nominate for an interview?

Any key thought leaders to evaluate?

Would you be interested in attending Finance Transformation training?

What else is on your mind?

I look forward to hearing from you!

Summary of Key Points

Kathleen Allen -- Millipore

1. Don't settle for time-wasting processes like traditional budgeting. Find a way to change them.

2. Changes in leadership create an inflection point to leverage new ideas.

3. Link strategy to actions to measurements through an integrated system of process, systems, and tools as illustrated by their Global Performance Systems (GPS).

4. Shift your measures to tracking continuous improvement toward achieving your strategy. Measure progress relative to your competition.

5. You get better internal control from analyzing trends in actuals relative to what is happening in the business.

David Cooke -- Park Nicollet Health Services

1. Use Lean techniques across the entire enterprise to focus on continuous improvement.

2. Budget processes can be simplified or eliminated by implementing the 12 principles of Beyond Budgeting with a focus on planning as opposed to budgeting.

3. Budgets are often used by managers to avoid decision-making. If an item is in the budget, managers explain why they must do it. If it is not in the budget, managers explain why they can not do it. Either way, they never decide whether they should do it.

4. Nimble response is created by quarterly reforecasting. Two versions are used: a "run-rate version" based on the past 12 months' trends and an "improved version" based on planned changes being successful.

5. Change is like a large flywheel. When you first start, it takes a lot of energy to get it going. It seems like you are barely moving. But slowly you build momentum going faster, and it gets easier.

Pat Ottensmeyer -- Kansas City Southern

1. Hired the right accounting resources to make sure that financials were provided on a timely basis. This team, led by Chief Accounting Officer Michael Borrows, reestablished basic internal control discipline.

2. Developed a unified, strategic plan to focus management efforts.

3. Restored liquidity from less than $40 million to over $340 million in cash and borrowing capacity. This creates flexibility to execute the plan.

4. Understand what drives shareholder value, which for long-lived asset companies such as railroads appears to be undergoing a fundamental shift.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. KCS's most recent shareholder discussion provides far more strategic information than usual. This is posted on the company Web site at www.kcsouthern.com/en-us/Results.aspx?k=shareholder%20discussion.

Mark DeLuzio -- Lean Accounting Horizons (formerly at Danaher Corporation)

1. When your organization is in dire straits, you can often get rapid action.

2. Traditional cost accounting often works against the goals of Lean enterprises. To be successful, you must change your traditional costing approaches. You need to rethink everything. Your measures need to promote the right behaviors.

3. Value stream mapping is an excellent tool for identifying waste and streamlining operations. The capacity freed can be used to assist with business improvement.

4. To make sure that your team is getting close to the operations they support, move their desks to the shop floor they are supporting.

5. When you are implementing Lean, the objective needs to be more than replicating the Toyota Production System. You need to drive to your strategic business imperatives.

Laura Wright -- Southwest Airlines

1. Metrics should begin with a heavy emphasis on customer satisfaction factors, as these drive overall revenues and sustainability.

2. Find ways to celebrate success, such as the Triple Crown Award (even if you have to create the award yourself).

3. Planning can be more effective on a continuous basis, monitoring performance, strategies, and how performance is compared to goals and to the external business environment.

4. Use innovative ways to educate and communicate key financial metrics that drive business success. The Bizlit process drives understanding of the magic numbers at both an overall and a departmental level.

5. Use profit-sharing and stock options to help create an ownership mentality and a firm focus on the impact of cost on employees' future well-being.

Chris Poinsatte -- DFW International Airport

1. Even quasi-governmental organizations need to have an understanding of the costs and profitability of their different activities. The many choices present great opportunities for finance to add value to their organizations.

2. While you may be presented with many opportunities, keep a clear focus on successfully executing your core business.

3. To achieve their vision of "Connecting the World," DFW Airport drives its strategic plan with four key drivers: customer satisfaction, employee engagement, operational excellence, and cost competitiveness. Using only a handful of measures keeps everyone focused.

4. Finance can serve as a support organization for transforming the entire organization. Doing so requires providing staff with new training and new tools to play new roles.

5. When you have unexpected windfalls (such as the $186 million lease royalty), you need to tighten your processes (rather than relax them).

Steve Pace -- Big 12 Conference

1. Finance can bring an entrepreneurial viewpoint into your organization, allowing you to think in nontraditional ways.

2. Finance can play significant roles in growing revenues by looking for new sales channels, new revenue opportunities, and ways to reduce costs.

3. Finance professionals need to develop an ability to communicate with multiple levels of people. This greatly enhances your potential.

4. Some finance jobs are fun. Look for situations that would match your desires. Take charge of your career.

Walt Galvin and Bruce Eckhardt -- Emerson

1. You can deliver consistent performance if you deploy the appropriate processes and then diligently work them. The consistent, integrated monthly, quarterly, and annual planning processes have been a key to Emerson's continued success.

2. Splitting the discussion into two meetings -- one focused on growth and the other focused on profitability -- helps to make sure that both topics receive detailed attention. This allows contingency plans to be developed.

3. Business is generally driven on an understanding of sales. Tracking of sales orders signals the appropriate budget actions to keep your cost structure in line with future business.

4. The regular management process creates a joint commitment by the management team that uses follow-up to reinforce commitments and make sure that they turn into action.

5. Make sure that your process focuses on developing people and allowing them to learn from their mistakes. This enables them to take greater responsibility in the future and helps you to find out the jobs for which they are best suited.

6. People at corporate tend to make work for people in the field. To keep this work to a minimum, limit the number of people at corporate.

Beatty D'Alessandro -- Graybar Electric

1. Be willing to change jobs to expand your finance skills and obtain a deeper understanding of operations.

2. Keep developing the number two person in your organization so that they can fill in for you when a great learning opportunity is available. Having them ready makes it easier for you to move up.

3. Be ready to change your business rapidly to respond to market shifts. This requires understanding your cost structure and knowledge of how to remain responsive to shifting customer demands.

4. Be clear on the questions you need to answer and why they are being asked. This clarity can help you to drive to clear thinking and more actionable answers.

5. When you are asked to do complex things that neither you nor your organization have ever done (such as install an enterprise-wide system), leverage experts and best practices from others, link everyone to a shared outcome, and manage scope ruthlessly. Help everyone see the benefits of success.

Editor's note: To read the complete interviews from Steve Player's Finance Transformation, please visit Businessfinancemag.com.