CFO Skills in Today’s Finance Labor Model

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CFO Skills in Today’s Finance Labor Model


by Tim Hird and Jay Thompson

How will factors like robotics and automation impact management’s ability to create and maintain a competitive, agile workforce? FEI’s 2018 Financial Leadership Summit speakers share ways financial leaders can stay on top of – and ahead of – emerging trends.


After being acquired, a healthcare organization found it needed to not just maintain business operations but also meet new reporting requirements and update its financial system. It also had to accomplish these goals with an overburdened full-time staff and in the face of rising turnover.

Another company found itself falling behind with the routine processing of accounting transactions after a major upgrade to its enterprise resource planning system. After attempting to “burn the midnight oil” with existing staff, the organization realized this unplanned outcome of the system upgrade needed a unique response.

Two dire situations requiring large influxes of work, resources and expertise. Both organizations ultimately achieved success by employing a labor model featuring a combination of consultants, interim professionals and technology supporting their full-time teams.

Traditional staffing models face severe pressure today. Talent shortages create challenges, and employers frequently have resource needs that are of a finite nature and don’t require full-time hires.

In response, company leaders, including CFOs, are tapping multiple sources for skills and expertise. Options include consultants, interim professionals, co-sourcing and outsourcing arrangements, and the human cloud. Businesses also are working with external teams that can step in to tackle critical projects, such as building up a financial planning and analysis function, or fix problems like a broken accounts reconciliation process or post-acquisition dysfunction. These teams stabilize the situation for the organization and set the foundation for future success. An added twist from past strategies is the rapid adoption of technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA) that enable emergent staffing models and help an organization’s core employees focus on higher-value work.

Where do CFOs sit as traditional finance labor models are disrupted? Front and center. Already moving to a more strategic, prominent position within their organizations, CFOs must augment their traditional financial expertise with skills including:


While CFOs don’t need to be proficient with every aspect of RPA, artificial intelligence and data analytics, they must at a minimum be conversant in these technologies. With financial leaders more frequently working with their CIOs, and at times overseeing information technology departments, success requires an innate curiosity about technological advancements and an openness to adopting them. Resistance to these tools proves futile and can ultimately result in productivity disadvantages with the rest of the market.

Staff management

Workforce trends and technology are disrupting the traditional staffing model, but organizations enjoy access to a wide range of resources, from employees to service providers to interim accountants. CFOs will increasingly need to identify those core employees who will be critical to the realization of their workforce vision, while using flexible, specialized sources for other roles. This environment requires CFOs to discern which options work best for their companies, at which times, and the flexibility to make adjustments quickly.

Managing a multigenerational workforce

Building a team represents a difficult enough task, but demographic trends exacerbate the challenge. Four different generations – baby boomers and generations X, Y and Z – currently serve in the workplace, and each group brings its own wants, needs and attributes.

Today’s CFOs recognize the need to mesh these groups, pulling out their individual strengths while producing high-level team contributions. Executives cannot afford to wish some groups were different or bemoan perceived incompatibilities. The onus sits with the CFO to make the situation a fruitful one for the business.

Change management

Changes are coming at businesses faster and more numerous than in any previous era, and each one requires unique skills and technical solutions. Change can be scary, particularly when people perceive it threatens their livelihood. While not sugarcoating unpleasant news, financial executives need to explain the why behind any disruption, including how the business will benefit and potential opportunities for employees.

Communication and Collaboration

CFOs’ higher-profile and more influential role requires communicating with myriad audiences, from the CEO and the board to C-suite peers, direct reports and new professionals. Financial executives should be equally comfortable working with these different groups. Without the ability to collaborate with and inspire each one, CFOs will find themselves unable to meet the needs of their team, department and company.


CFOs are leaders at their organization, not just a department leader but a face of the company. They must be able to build a vision for the business and rally others around it, shape corporate culture, and help the firm attract and retain high-performing employees.

Today’s labor model drives the need for CFOs possessing shifting skill sets but also opportunities for those who succeed amid the change. Breaking the traditional mold, tapping into new and diverse staffing strategies, serving as a recognized leader within the organization, and embracing technology will set them on their way. Ultimately, CFOs will stand out by being the disruptor.

To learn more from the authors about the finance labor model in the digital age, register for the 2018 Financial Leadership Summit May 20-22 in Houston, TX

Tim Hird is the executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. Jay Thompson is managing director of managed business services at Protiviti, a Robert Half subsidiary.

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