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Four traits to cultivate.

Four traits to cultivate What was your job like 20 years ago? What is it like today? What are the most significant changes? Think about those changes and you may get a glimpse of what it will take to be a successful CFO in the 1990s.

Twenty years ago, the job of a CFO was to transmit information to line managers. Once you had transmitted the information, your basic responsibilities were fulfilled. Today, you must not only transmit the information, but you must interpret it. And your boss, the CEO, is probably asking what you can do to not only report what's going on, but to influence it. That's a radical change in scope.

Twenty years ago, your authority was unquestioned. Division and line people scrambled to get data to you for your monthly reports. Today, they have more autonomy. They don't respond as quickly or vigorously as they once did.

Twenty years ago, you seldom were involved in an acquisition or divestiture. Today, you could write a book on either subject, because you've been involved in both.

And 20 years ago, government regulations, interest rates, and financing arrangements were much simpler than they are today.

Twenty years ago, you worked for the same company from the time you graduated until the time you retired, and the ownership of that company was stable. Today, ownership changes, and the first thing a new owner does is bring in a new financial system. The practices that once were functional suddenly become dysfunctional, and the entire financial staff can be gone in a short period of time. These days, a "safe job" is an oxymoron.

Given all these changes, just what will it take to be a successful CFO in the 1990s?

1: Be smarter.

As far as raw intellectual power goes, not a lot can be done to improve what you have. But the way in which you use the power can make a big difference. Since the problems are more complex, the need for analysis is more vital than ever. Yet at the same time we're all running around with more to do than time to do it. Self-discipline to think through problems will be essential in the '90s.

How well you assess the intellectual power of the people you hire will also have a major bearing on your success. The complexity of a problem is a function of the number of variables that have to be considered in solving it. Intellectual capacity is, among other things, the ability to handle a number of relevant variables. Some people have the capacity to consider only four variables; others can take in five or six. If a problem has six variables, you can't give it to someone whose capacity is limited to four.

How carefully and systematically do you assess the raw intellectual capacity of candidates for a job on your staff? Maybe you've assumed that if a person has a college degree, he or she will meet the intellectual requirements of the work. But that assumption is no longer valid. The work has grown so complex that some college graduates may not have sufficient intellectual capacity.

There are several ways to assess a candidate's intellectual capacity during an interview. One is to pose a very complex question with a lot of clauses in it. Does the person's response indicate that the light is on or off? How long does it take for the interviewee to process this complex question? Another sign of intellectual capacity is the person's vocabulary level. At the end of the interview, ask yourself what kinds of words the candidate used.

There are only two of maybe a dozen indicators. Put them all together and you can make a pretty fair assessment of a person's intellectual capacity. Frankly, I want every IQ point I can get in my employees. That's why I make sure I also ask job candidates about their SAT scores and their college grades, both good indicators of intelligence.

Of course, some people who are extraordinarily gifted intellectually can be quite weak in other dimensions. They can be very rigid, interpersonally unskilled, even emotional wrecks. True, you can't alter what you've got in the people who already are on board. But, other things being equal, you can try to hire the smartest people, because you'll need employees with all the intellectual capacity you can get in the '90s.

2: Improve your influence skills.

Have you noticed that divisions and subsidiaries are exercising a new autonomy, even turning up their noses at the corporate staff when asked for data, for instance? You just don't get the responsiveness that used to be automatic.

There are ways of influencing people to do things for us without using authority. These techniques are called "influence" skills, and every member of the corporate financial staff needs them, including you. These skills will be especially important in the '90s, since many organizational structures will require people to prompt action from individuals over whom they have no authority.

You can work with staff members on their influence skills, particularly when they're having difficulty with somebody. You can brainstorm techniques for gaining cooperation when authority is not present.

You can also assess how much of these skills are present in job candidates. Find out how they've interacted with their peers, how they've managed to get things done without using authority.

3: Be more flexible.

After two weeks under new ownerhips, some CFOs will say that they absolutely, positively cannot work for the new owner. Don't let this be you. I'm amazed at some of the inflexibility I see following an acquisition or merger. Employees need to give the new arrangement some time. After all, there are ways of doing things other than what you're accustomed to.

Again, develop flexibility in the people who work for you. New demands will be placed on you that ultimately you will pass on to them. Watch how flexibly they handle these new demands. Work with them and make sure you are serving as a model of openness to doing things differently.

You can gain some insight into the flexibility of job candidates by discussing experiences they've had. Ask the candidates to describe some particularly rapid changes they've been through. What did they do under new circumstances? How quickly did they adapt? Or did they adapt?

4: Build emotional resiliency.

Everyone occasionally goes home discouraged and depressed, but most of us manage to come back to work feeling that somehow we'll make the best of it. Recently, however, we're seeing people derail because they can't bounce back. They lack the emotional resiliency to get past some crushing experience. Ambiguity, complexity, and difficulty will be the hallmarks of the world of the CFO in the '90s, and the ability to emotionally handle these demands is essential.

I worked with a brillian woman once. She had very strong perfectionistic tendencies, which was the reason for her success in the organization. She was promoted again and again, and her perfectionism always carried her. Until finally, after so many promotions, that perfectionism, which was once a great strength, became a major handicap. She could't tolerate slippage, and soon became an emotional wreck. Her job began to unravel. Ultimately, she took a couple of demotions to get back into a position where her perfectionism remained a strength. This is a case of someone who has all the other necessary attributes--intellectual power, influence skills, and flexibility--but lacks the emotional resiliency to succeed.

If there were ever a time when you need emotional resiliency, it's now. What can you do to build it? Maybe you can't help your feelings, but you can put them into perspective. Reflect on the changes in your position. The demands have become so relentless that you're bound to fail once in a while. In fact, if you are not failing periodically, you probably aren't pushing yourself enough. This kind of perspective can be very helpful in coping with the feeling that come with the high demands of the decade.

Without trying to be a therapist, you can also help the people who work for you. When a subordinate steps up to a major challenge and fails, be sensitive to the emotional consequences and use the occasion as an opportunityt to build his or her emotional resiliency.

Look for the quality in job candidates, too. In the interview, explore critical events in the person's life, such as failure in a job or at school, and find out how well he or she bounced back.

Dr. Spanberger is a corporate psychologist with RHR International in Denver. RHR International is a firm of corporate psychologists who consult with senior executives on managerial, organizational, and personal effectiveness issues.
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Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:financial executives
Author:Spanberger, Peter G.
Publication:Financial Executive
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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