Building CFO Capabilities in an AI-Powered World
Generative AI ushers in opportunities for talent leaders to elevate capability building across their CFO organizations. When harnessed responsibly generative AI offers organizations the opportunity to invert the typical pyramid organizational structure to a smaller, more fluid pyramid of contributors and leaders. Generative AI is accelerating broader applications of robotic process automation and other technologies to replace scores of lower-level transactional roles in favor of “intelligent” outsourcing. The next phase of disruption in my judgment will involve “scaling up” analytical capabilities and unleash new ways to scenario plan, risk mitigate and ultimately improve executive decision-making and organizational execution. Value will accrue to organizations that embark on a Capability Assessment of their leadership teams to ensure that “alpha generating” decisions are being maximized (i.e., better success rate making challenging and complex decisions) and translated into efficient execution (i.e., meeting financial and business objectives with constrained investment spend and ruthless prioritization). For CFOs and future CFOs this will require a hierarchy of skills to be mastered over one’s career. To illustrate a framework for this conversation I asked ChatGPT the following question: What are the most important skills of a Chief Financial Officer?
On June 8th, 2023 ChatGPT responded:
The role of a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is multifaceted and demands a wide array of skills. Here are some of the most crucial ones:
- Financial Literacy and Expertise: This is the fundamental skill set. A CFO must be well-versed in financial planning, accounting, budgeting, risk management, tax planning, investment strategies, and financial reporting.
- Strategic Thinking: Besides focusing on financial management, a CFO must be capable of devising strategic plans for the company’s growth and profitability. This includes setting financial goals, aligning financial strategy with business objectives, and assessing potential risks.
- Data Analysis: The CFO should have the ability to collect, interpret, and provide insight into data. This involves understanding financial metrics, using financial modeling techniques, and leveraging business intelligence tools.
- Leadership and Management: A CFO must effectively lead and manage the finance team, develop talent, inspire trust, and promote a culture of high performance and continuous improvement.
- Communication and Presentation Skills: A CFO must be able to clearly articulate the company’s financial situation, plans, and challenges to the board of directors, investors, employees, and other stakeholders.
- Risk Management: A CFO should have the skills to identify and assess financial risks, and develop strategies to mitigate those risks.
- Business Acumen: A CFO should understand the industry in which the company operates, the competitive landscape, and the business model. They should also be abreast of current economic trends and regulatory issues.
- Ethics and Integrity: Given the CFO’s role in reporting financial information and making key financial decisions, a high degree of integrity and a strong ethical compass are essential.
- Technology Savvy: Given the increasing role of technology in finance, a CFO must understand and leverage the latest financial software, ERP systems, and fintech solutions. They should also be knowledgeable about cybersecurity to protect sensitive financial data.
- Change Management: The CFO often plays a key role in driving and managing change within an organization, such as during a merger or acquisition, digital transformation, or restructuring. Therefore, they need skills in change management.
Remember, the importance of these skills may vary depending on the company’s size, industry, and specific needs.
My immediate reaction – Wow that’s pretty good! However, once I read over the response a few times I realized that while the points were 100% accurate a few were somewhat obvious and lacked “real world” context. Further as ChatGPT noted in their caveat…the importance of these skills may vary depending on the company’s size, industry and specific needs. This is a critical limitation of Generative AI and why humanistic leaders will remain in critical demand.
Recruiting requires a human touch because we are in the business of advising humans on how to hire the human for a given role. Talent assessment, leadership coaching, recruiting and other aspects of cultivating human capital requires judgment, interpretation and intuition. One of the most important parts of my job is to help clients sort through a multitude of desired skills and narrow the list to the MUST HAVEs and NICE TO HAVES. Since recruiters see both the buy-side (companies seeking to hire) and the sell-side (available pool of candidates) I have developed a Skills Pyramid Framework to help clients archetype the ideal executive profile based on the client’s unique situation.
- Ethics and Integrity
- Financial Literacy and Expertise
- Data Analysis and Technology Savvy
- Risk Management
- Leadership and Management
- Communication and Presentation Skills
- Business Acumen
- Strategic Thinking
- Change Management
After reviewing thousands of successful (and failed) hires it turns out that the ultimate success of a search can be directly tied to the first two weeks of the engagement. Yes, it’s true! Why because the most effective processes involve SIGNIFICANT time aligning and refining the Skills Pyramid to what is needed for the unique situation at hand.
For example, the vast majority of CFO briefs I read talk about strategic thinking and emphasize transformational capabilities. Transformational has admittedly become a buzz word as has AI for that matter. When I hear about a client asking for a transformational leader I immediately ask: “Are you sure?”. The reason is that transformational leaders tend to have personalities geared towards challenging norms (often sacred cows), asking root-cause questions (which can be annoying) and not easily taking NO for an answer. Transformational leaders challenge existing processes and prevailing culture. Organizations not prepared for this risk a hiring failure.
CFOs with the full range of skills spanning foundational, elevating and transformational qualities are in elite company. They are highly valued by their employers and have significant career optionality and upside.
So, what can you do to grow in your career and add to your pyramid of skills? How do you stay relevant and valued in your job? What is the best destination for you given your career and personal priorities?
All great questions that I’d love to discuss with you….follow me at Kingsley Gate!