CFOs’ growing role: Culture champions

CFOs’ growing role: Culture champions


By Neil Amato

The title says “financial” squarely in the middle, yet CFOs these days are doing far more than overseeing an organisation’s standard reporting. Increasingly, the changing remit of the finance chief includes a greater role in shaping corporate culture.

Finance executives say culture can take on a number of meanings, from smaller things such as a company’s dress code or its social media presence, to key values such as integrity and transparency. And while a CFO certainly sets a standard for the finance team first, the role of shaping culture goes company-wide.

CFOs should assist the CEO in establishing the company’s code of ethical conduct so that employees in all departments follow the C-suite’s lead. If there is a lack of emphasis on ethics, “it can spin the organisation into trouble” in the eyes of employees, shareholders, customers, and regulators, according to Mark Biersmith, CPA, CGMA, a partner at Andre + Associates PC in Dallas.

CFOs can also model behaviours that go beyond must-haves such as integrity. Slightly more than half (51%) of CFOs are at least somewhat involved in shaping corporate culture, according to a recent survey of US finance chiefs by staffing firm Robert Half.

The main ways CFOs go about being culture leaders, according to the survey, are by:

  • Using company principles and values to guide actions (83%)
  • Contributing to the development of the company’s mission (79%)
  • Collaborating with other executives to define the desired culture (78%)
  • Speaking regularly with employees about culture (76%)
  • Contributing to training and onboarding programmes (72%)

Hiring as part of culture

CFOs who want to uphold and grow a company’s culture can use strategic hiring to accomplish that goal, according to Duncan Brodie, FCMA, CGMA, managing director of training provider Goals and Achievements. He said finance chiefs should not be afraid to hire people who might someday ascend to the CFO role.

“If you hire people who are better than you, hire people who have got high expectations, it raises the standard right up the line,” Brodie said. “Hire people who are smart and driven, and they’ll keep you on your toes.”

Biersmith agreed, saying that culture and hiring go hand in hand. CFOs should ensure implementation of culture to enable the organisation not only to retain staff but also to attract and hire new talent.

Building culture can also help better position a CFO for a CEO role. And that demonstration of non-financial acumen is critical for those looking to ascend to the CFO job. Showing support for employees, treating them with fairness and respect, and communicating how their work matters go a long way in modelling culture, Brodie said.

“You don’t get to a senior level in accountancy by being good at doing numbers,” Brodie said. “You get to a senior level because you’ve got good people skills. You can manage, you can lead, you’ve got strong interpersonal skills and can build relationships, and you understand how businesses work.”

Neil Amato (Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.