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A non-traditional approach to finance management


By Neil Amato

Tom Steiner would like to get CFOs to stop thinking so logically all the time. He contends that the world is emotional, not logical, and that “linear, logical people that concern themselves with numbers” are too focused on tasks instead of the people performing those tasks.

Steiner, nicknamed “Dr. Tom” and “The EnterTRAINer”, has a 12-item plan, but he doesn’t always hit each part, letting his mind and audience guide him. He might not deliver his points in numerical order, either – and that, he says, drives CFOs crazy.

Steiner, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology and works as a stand-up comedian, has provided training at companies throughout North America. He’s also worked as a university professor and a cab driver in New York City.

He spoke at the AICPA CFO Conference this week in Marina del Rey, California. CGMA Magazine talked to him before his presentation, “Emerging From the Darkness Into the Light: What to Do in the Next 90 Days”. Here are some of his tips:

“PMA” matters: Just about all companies have been through tough times. Steiner says there is a difference between A-, B-, and C-class companies in how they approach a lean year or two. “C-class companies cut costs, B-class companies hunker down, and A-class companies create new niches and pump people up,” he says.

Those top-notch companies have what Steiner calls PMA (positive mental attitudes). Steiner says it’s possible for companies to be upbeat without glossing over facts. “They put a positive spin on their situation,” he says.

Speed and agility matter: CFOs want logic, committees and five-step approval processes, Steiner says, but the world moves too fast for every decision to be made after drawn-out consideration. “It doesn’t matter how fast the world is moving. It matters how fast you’re moving in relation to it,” he says. “To the CFOs who are moving slowly, the world is unpredictable. CFOs blame the world rather than themselves.”

Steiner believes budgeting should be done in smaller windows of time to adapt to volatility. “The idea of a five-year plan, or even an annual budget, is ridiculous,” he says. “The only thing I can guarantee about your budget is that’s it’s not gonna happen.”

That’s not to say he’s against planning, only that CFOs should be more agile with budgets. He suggests a quarterly budget, done three ways: for best-case, worst-case and middle-of-the-road business environments.

“Change is constant. It’s the order of the day, and CFOs hate that,” he said. “They want order.”

Trust matters: “The greatest catalyst for moving faster is trust,” Steiner says. “When (employees) trust, they don’t second-guess; they move forward.”

Steiner says that there’s a difference between being an authority figure and being trusted. He says that CFOs need to work more to build trust. If a company has trust gaps, then it also has operational gaps.

Meaningful work matters: For many finance leaders, work is work, Steiner says. They don’t believe that employee engagement is “in their ballpark, but it is.” He says the companies that excel are the ones that get people excited about work.

“If you give them meaning, people are much more willing to go the extra mile. Do you have a mission and vision and values that drive people’s behaviour?”

CFOs’ focus should be more on the human element, not the financial, Steiner adds. “You can worry about the numbers and hope the people get on board, or you can worry about the people and hope the numbers do,” he says.

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Neil Amato (namato@aicpa.org) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.

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