There are many areas where collaboration can be undermined. The EY report into the CFO-CMO relationship pointed to a lack of common tools and processes as the foremost barrier preventing a closer relationship between those two leaders, followed by the absence of clear KPIs linking financial performance and the marketing agenda. Other obstacles included cultural differences and a lack of perceived value of this type of collaboration.
In order to work more effectively with other C-suite executives, finance leaders should focus on three key factors:
1. Build a good understanding of their C-suite peers’ pressures, priorities, and goals. Different functions will face different expectations from key stakeholders, including the CEO and the board. Understanding where other leaders are coming from can be invaluable.
Regular meetings and calls can go a long way towards better C-suite collaboration, as can actively bringing peers into specific projects where they can bring something to the table. It’s also worth considering how CFOs can support and empower their colleagues by providing the data needed to support their decision-making. For example, they can provide other business leaders with specific KPIs on a self-service basis.
2. Ensure you understand each other’s language. As well as understanding each other’s goals, CFOs also need to understand other leaders’ communication styles in order to build more effective working relationships. Central to this is the ability to speak the same language. In the world of business, two people may speak the same language on paper. However, if their roles utilize highly technical, disparate jargon, this can give rise to ineffective communication.
In fact, Workday’s research found that 68 percent of finance leaders say that “effective collaboration between CIOs and CFOs is limited by the fact that IT and finance don’t speak the same language.”
Dr. Ilya Strebulaev, professor of finance at Stanford University, emphasizes the importance of the CFO-CIO partnership in creating a more data-driven organization, but says it will require learning how to better understand each other.
“CFOs need to partner closely with CIOs on this data-driven revolution and help them understand what kind of data they need,” Strebulaev says. “The challenge in the past has been they often speak different languages, so improving that communication channel will be important.”
3. Explore cross-functional career paths for next-generation leaders. The path to effective collaboration should begin long before an executive reaches the C-suite. Individuals with previous cross-functional experience may be better equipped both to understand the benefits of collaboration and to take the steps needed to achieve those benefits.
Deloitte’s report observed that leaders with a broader range of experience across different functions were more likely to say that their C-suite does, in fact, collaborate regularly. So, as well as improving communication across the existing C-suite, companies may also consider how cross-functional career paths can promote better collaboration among the leaders of tomorrow.
A companion piece to this article—“Global Finance Leader Study: Why CFOs Must Find Common Ground with their HR and IT Peers”—takes a closer look at the power of the golden triangle between finance, HR, and IT and how this relationship can bring significant benefits to the business.
For the full research findings behind the “Finance Redefined” global study, read the report here.