How Can You Create Time for Strategic Thinking?

There’s a big change going on in the world of the CFO, and it’s a good one.

According to a survey run by Forbes Insights and KPMG[1], an increasing number of CEOs now ask their CFOs to contribute to performance, growth, and big-picture strategic thinking.

What does this mean in practical terms? CEOs now want finance leaders to become true partners with the business.

You heard that right, instead of simply being asked to keep the books in order, you now have the opportunity to step up, grab a seat at the table, and have a say in the decisions that really move the needle for your company.

This is a great shift for CFOs, and one we recommend embracing… but with a caveat.

Contribute as much strategic thinking to your organization as you can, but don’t drop the ball on your existing responsibilities in the process. 

Yes, your CEO now wants you to contribute a lot of big-picture thinking to the organization, but he still expects you to resolve budget battles, navigate regulatory pressures, meet compliance requirements, and continue to keep the company’s day-to-day financial operations humming along efficiently. Your new strategic mandate isn’t replacing any of your existing responsibilities. It’s being placed on top of a plate that many CFOs already consider full.

We tend to agree with CFOs on this point, but we also know that learning how to keep an eye on your existing responsibilities while finding time to dive into your new strategic mandate isn’t optional. Report[2] after report[3] shows that strategic thinking is quickly becoming a cornerstone requirement for CFOs. As McKinsey summarizes, “The Chief Financial Officer these days is expected to be a little more chief and a little less financial.”[4]

In short— if you’re going to remain an effective CFO, then you need to carve some time out of your already busy schedule to think about the big picture.

As a start, we recommend you set aside half a day—every week—to focus on nothing but strategic concerns. During this time you may read, research, go out into the organization and engage your stakeholders around their big-picture issues, and take on any other actions that help you develop, pitch and implement larger strategic initiatives.

To make sure this half-day doesn’t get swallowed up with non-strategic meetings and activities, have your assistant block the time off on your schedule as a single standing meeting. Simply removing this time from your calendar will keep others from scheduling meetings with you when you really need to be head-down and thinking.

However, preventing others from scheduling meetings during this time is only half the battle—you also need to make sure your half-day doesn’t get taken up by unexpected demands. Fires that need to be fought, crises that need to be managed, last-minute approvals and decisions that need to be made… all of those little reactive requests that will swallow your half-day whole if you let them.

You Can’t Fight Fires and Think Strategically at the Same Time

From our experience, we’ve learned these little one-off issues can’t be neutralized simply by blocking time off on your calendar. Fires, crises and immediate demands don’t respect schedules. They don’t respond to anything but attention. If you want to keep these reactive requests from intruding on the time you’ve set aside for strategic thinking, you need to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

To do so, you might need to:

  • Automate repetitive tasks
  • Create process around complicated decisions
  • Find untapped delegation opportunities to take requests off your desk
  • Identify and fix the hidden inefficiencies creating friction in your systems
  • Or take any other necessary action to introduce calm to your day-to-day operating environment.

No matter what creates the excess chaos that demands your attention, Advaion can help you create order in your finance environment. At Advaion, we have extensive experience helping CFOs transition from fighting fires to charting strategic directions for the business.

If you are looking to take this big step forward, just let us know one thing—how can we help you become the strategic thinking your company now demands?