It is no surprise that SME (small to medium size enterprise) CFO’s (Chief Financial Officer) are leading the charge when embarking on portfolio style careers to suit their own schedules. Finance is an area where companies absolutely need experienced, astute stewardship, but CFO’s are expensive. Meaning that a flexible arrangement suits all parties and companies can benefit from a high quality resource for less. Automation within the finance function has made flexibility for SME CFO’s a reality, allowing them to focus on more strategic matters.
These senior professionals are often used to autonomy. They are self managing, deliver high quality work and know how to prioritise. Flexible working and “juggling” jobs feels like a step towards a more autonomous working environment and yet it can often result in less. Why?
The communication gap
One of the advantages of full time office based work is that communication can be patchy and yet the core message and priorities still permeate through. Simply by being there, one can assess what is important to the company that week. Of course this is often nonsensical as what people are often reacting to is false urgency and dysfunctional organisations deviating from a clear strategy. But the relationship between worker reacting to that “urgent” priority and boss remains intact.
With flexible working, this layer is removed. There is less time for idle chit chat and the CFO who was once in the know about every snippet of gossip, financial or otherwise, is now ruthlessly prioritising tasks.
On the other side, the business owner has bought into the upside of employing a higher quality person for less days and their MO with managing senior people is to (correctly) hand them accountability for that area and not to micromanage. Taking the finance department as an example, everything from chasing cash through to modelling for new business ideas and beyond is placed on this person’s desk.
The CFO is used to prioritising based on business priorities and they make a (smart) judgement call that certain paperwork can wait until next month. Except then the business owner is chasing for this paperwork because they have a meeting. A few incidents like this can quickly erode trust.
This paints a bleak picture for the CFO but it can be easily solved with three simple steps:
- Setting up processes
This is probably the most crucial step for a flexible CFO. There is so much technology to handle the day to day processing, leaving you clear to spend time on important, strategic work. Getting everything set up is not trivial and you might want help doing it (no shame in that). Xero, Receiptbank and GoCardless are just a few example platforms (which all integrate with the other)
- Status updates
Historically updating your boss on what you are doing and not doing in such a prescriptive manner feels like something from last century and certainly not something you expect to be doing once you’re proven, capable and clearly self managing. But with the great perk of flexibility comes responsibility and that means communication.
There are some business owners who will be very cognizant about how much work can be done by a CFO in one to two days. Maybe they’ve been one or maybe they’re just exceptionally experienced. Most won’t know and business owners tend to be optimists when it comes to time…
All of this means, it’s your job to manage them, not the other way around. A one hour, well put together status update on the core aspects of your role coupled with an up-to-date cash flow delivered on a weekly basis gives the business owner confidence that you are on top of things; which you are.
- Requalifying priorities
The urgency mindset is wonderful in a business owner but it’s often a red herring. More junior employees can get pulled from pillar to post and less charming senior ones sound extremely negative by saying no to everything. How do you strike that balance?
Let’s assume you have more time because a lot of the day to day has been streamlined. Let’s also assume you have a deep level trust with the business owner because you communicate what you’re doing well. Now is the time to challenge their thinking about what is important and what isn’t.
It’s important this step comes after step one and two (it doesn’t have to be long after). The reason being is that trust has now been built and your own confidence / space to deliver is also there. Without those building blocks, challenging priorities becomes a much harder task.
Say goodbye to outdated management
In summary, to work flexibly and “juggle” jobs, one needs to become almost entirely self managing. For the best professionals, this is a breath of fresh air and exactly what they have been aspiring to.