Strategy & Operations » Secret CFO: How to master the pivotal first 100 Days as a new CFO

Secret CFO: How to master the pivotal first 100 Days as a new CFO

Earlier this month, the Secret CFO shared their insights on what CFOs stepping into a new position should focus on

For any incoming CFO the first 100 days represent a critical window to set the tone and lay the groundwork for success.

In a recent interview with The CFO, the Secret CFO, they provided advice on some of the most significant actions someone should take in their first few weeks operating as the new financial head of an organisation.

“It depends what you are walking into. I’ve done jobs where I spent the first 100 days driving short term cashflow and nothing else. But assuming a more stable starting point,” they say.

Steadying the Ship vs. Hitting the Ground Running

While some CFO transitions require an immediate triage of cash flow issues, The Secret CFO’s advice provides a framework for taking the helm of an organisation on more stable footing. Their pragmatic suggestions range from hands-on reconnaissance to carefully crafting a comprehensive strategic plan.

“Get on the shop floor of the business, if only for a few days,” they stress.  Often an overlooked first step, getting out of the office and immersing oneself in the operational core of the business provides invaluable context.

The financials are an output representing the commercial engine of the organisation, but they simplify and abstract the intricate realities of how value is created. By physically visiting production lines, selling floors, logistics operations and other core functions, a new CFO can obtain direct visibility into how financial levers translate into operational actions and workflows.

This facilitates mapping the connections between employee activities and responsibilities at the operational level to ultimate financial outputs like revenue, costs and profits.

Beyond the operational insights, this approach also helps humanise the CFO’s relationship with the organization from the outset. Rather than being perceived as disconnected from ground realities, walking production floors or visiting facilities signals that the financial leader prioritizes understanding all levels of the business under their stewardship.

Take Stock and Listen Intently

“Understand what you are inheriting. Get a detailed inventory of issues,” the Secret CFO stresses.

When a new CFO steps into their role, their first task is to perform a comprehensive and discerning analysis of the organization’s financial health and the challenges it faces. This involves a detailed examination of the financial statements, key performance indicators (KPIs), reporting processes, and internal controls to ensure that the foundation of the financial operations is solid. Additionally, it is crucial to review the capital structure, assess liquidity, and scrutinize cash flow positions to understand the financial dynamics at play.

“Listen hard. You can build strong convictions, but they must be loosely held. Especially in those early days,” the Secret CFO says.

Beyond the numbers, the incoming CFO needs to evaluate the company’s revenue streams, identify key cost drivers, and leverage profitability mechanisms. This financial scrutiny extends to auditing risk exposures, understanding tax implications, and ensuring regulatory compliance, which are fundamental to safeguarding the organization’s assets and reputation. The operational aspects of the organization also require attention, including the examination of operating models, business processes, and technological capabilities, which are essential for strategic alignment and operational efficiency.

Understanding the broader operational context is equally important. The CFO should assess the efficiency of the supply chain, logistics, and distribution networks. Workforce planning, talent management, and organizational design are critical areas that influence the company’s ability to meet its strategic goals. Identifying operational inefficiencies and quality control gaps will help in pinpointing areas that need immediate improvement.

Strategic elements also require the CFO’s focus. They should familiarize themselves with existing strategic plans, growth initiatives, and any ongoing mergers and acquisitions. Analyzing the competitive landscape, market trends, and macroeconomic factors will provide a broader perspective on the environment in which the company operates. It is also essential to evaluate management’s strategic assumptions and their decision-making processes to ensure they align with the company’s long-term objectives.

To garner a holistic view, conducting listening tours with key stakeholders—both internal and external—is invaluable. Gathering 360-degree perspectives from teams, customers, suppliers, and investors can provide insights that financial data alone cannot. Identifying the confidence levels and concerns of these stakeholders, as well as any areas of misalignment, will guide the CFO in making informed, strategic decisions. As they undertake these tasks, the CFO must remember the importance of listening attentively and remaining adaptable, as initial convictions about the company’s direction might require adjustment based on newfound insights. This approach ensures that strategic decisions are both informed and flexible, adapting to the realities of the business landscape.

A License to Create, Not Merely Inherit

The Secret CFO, the first 100 days serve as the opening act for any new financial leader to make their distinct mark. “Spend the time building your plan. And present it to the board and your team at day 100,” they say.

It’s a time for the CFO to build a detailed, actionable plan that reflects both the insights gained through their initial assessments and their personal strategic vision for the financial future of the company.

The strategic plan that the CFO develops should be comprehensive, addressing both immediate needs and long-term goals. It needs to outline key initiatives such as optimizing cash flow, enhancing financial controls, and pursuing growth opportunities, whether through organic measures or through mergers and acquisitions. Furthermore, it should address any gaps in compliance, risk management strategies, and technological upgrades that could improve efficiency and reporting accuracy.

At the conclusion of the 100 days, the CFO should be ready to present this plan to the board and their team. This presentation is a critical moment for the CFO to articulate their vision, backed by the thorough analysis conducted during their review period. It’s an opportunity to align the board and team with their proposed direction, ensuring that everyone understands the rationale behind each strategic decision and the benefits these changes are expected to bring.

This strategic vision, vetted and enriched by the initial 100 days of exploration and engagement, becomes a roadmap that the CFO can confidently own. It sets the stage for their tenure and establishes their credibility and commitment to steering the organization towards financial robustness and strategic success. By effectively communicating this plan, the CFO can rally the entire organization around a shared vision, fostering a sense of unity and purpose as they move forward together.

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