The CFO Confidence Crisis
Few roles are as important as the chief financial officer at most companies, but the CFOs today who are thinking about tomorrow are growing nervous about a key talent issue. They just don’t think anyone else in the company can assume their role.
Indeed, according to a new Korn Ferry survey, 81% of CFOs surveyed say they want to groom the next CFO internally, but they don’t believe that there’s a viable candidate in-house. Currently, about half of new roles are filled internally.
“The current CFO is the one charged with identifying and developing that talent, and since they know best the skills required to meet what’s coming, they are realizing the internal bench isn’t fully prepared,” says Bryan Proctor, senior client partner and Global Financial Officers practice lead at Korn Ferry.
The lack of confidence is owed in part to CFOs feeling that their firms’ leadership development programs haven’t kept up with the rapidly changing role of CFO. Core functions such as finance and accounting are increasingly being combined under one role, with CFOs citing a lack of resources or skills and career development opportunities as reasons for the merging. Korn Ferry surveyed more than 700 CFOs worldwide, asking them about their own internal talent pipelines. The top two abilities CFOs feel their direct reports need to develop are “leadership skills and executive presence” and “strategic thinking.”
“The tapestry of skills and experiences CFOs of today and tomorrow need are vastly different than what was needed in the past,” says John Petzold, senior client partner and CXO Optimization lead at Korn Ferry. “The reason subfunctions are merging is because the focus is less on a role or person and more about the capabilities that need to be covered by a set of individuals.”
In essence, the CFO function is being deconstructed for optimization. Leaders are breaking down necessary functions based on their organization’s strategy and identifying people with a combination of those skills and piecing them together to get the right set of talent to execute against that plan. Core financial functions such as taxes, capital allocation, and M&A still need to be done accurately and in compliance with regulations, of course. But experts say the CFO role is becoming more about adapting and deploying talent in the most efficient manner possible.
“The leadership profile of the future CFO is less about tactical, direct experience, and more about learning agility, adaptability, and big-picture global perspective,” says Proctor. “That kind of nimbleness and ability to pivot isn’t naturally ingrained in the typical CPA.”