Being a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and leading a phenomenal finance team isn’t just about financial management and strategy - it’s about people and being an effective people manager. 

Think about it – finance teams are usually juggling intense workloads paired with extreme pressure to get things right down to the last decimal point. It's a demanding role, that’s for sure, which is why they need a leader who can keep them motivated, engaged, and thriving.

At the end of the day, your people are your biggest asset. So, how can you support them and build a legendary finance team?

Keep reading as we reveal tips to help you become a people-centric CFO who empowers, motivates, and supports your team.  

Table of contents:

The cost of a disengaged finance team 

Before we get into the tips and strategies to help you grow as a people manager, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves why it’s so important to build a strong finance team.

Some potential consequences of a disengaged finance team include:

CFO people manager - cost of a disengaged finance team

1. Reduced productivity

Unmotivated team members usually don’t put their best effort in. When productivity dips, it can slow everything down and lead to missed deadlines, increased stress, and errors in reports. Not to mention, a higher risk of burnout which can impact your team’s well-being.

2. High turnover

If you have a high turnover, the constant churn is likely to disrupt workflows and leave a sizable knowledge gap in its place. As you can imagine, high turnover also results in costly recruitment efforts to hire and train new employees. 

3. Poor decision-making

Disengaged team members are less likely to go the extra mile, resulting in missed opportunities to identify cost-saving measures or strategic financial insights. For a finance team, poor decision-making can have consequences like lost revenue and increased expenses. It can also lead to costly regulatory or compliance failures.  

4. Low morale

A team riddled with low morale can create a toxic workplace. This negativity can spread throughout the company, impacting overall morale and hindering collaboration. For finance team members, who often work under pressure, low morale can exacerbate the challenges of their roles.

The bottom line? 

A disengaged finance team is a drag on your company's success.

By prioritizing people manager responsibilities as a CFO, you'll not only build a happier and more motivated team, but you’ll also reap the rewards of a high-performing finance department that contributes to achieving company goals. 

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What is a people manager?

A people manager is someone in charge of leading, supporting, and developing a team of employees. They're not just supervisors; they're leaders who understand the value of building strong relationships with their team members. 

Some people manager responsibilities landing on your plate include:

  • Hiring the best: Find and bring in top talent for the team.
  • Setting goals & tracking progress: Make sure everyone knows what to achieve and how they're doing.
  • Keeping them motivated: Create a positive environment where people want to do their best work.
  • Helping them grow: Provide opportunities for them to learn new skills and advance their careers.
  • Smooth sailing: Address any issues that come up and keep the team working together well.

A good people manager communicates effectively, provides feedback, motivates their team, and helps each member grow professionally. It’s about guiding the team towards achieving their goals while ensuring a positive and productive work environment. 

But what does any of this have to do with being a great CFO?

The simple answer is that CFOs need to be people managers to build a high-performing finance team that's motivated, skilled, and thrives under pressure. 

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10 tips to turn CFOs into great people managers

Here are some actionable tips to help you become the best people manager for your finance team: 

1. Listen more than you speak  

Make it a habit to truly listen to your team. This doesn’t mean just nodding along; it means engaging with their ideas, concerns, and feedback. You’ll be surprised how much you learn and how valued they’ll feel. 

2. Transparent communication

Keep your team in the loop about the company’s financial health and their role in its success. Uncertainty breeds anxiety, while transparency builds trust. Remember that when your team understands the big picture, they’re more motivated to contribute to it. 

3. Empower, don't micromanage 

Trust your team's expertise. Being a great people manager doesn’t mean micromanaging everything your team does daily. Delegate tasks, set clear goals, and give them the freedom to find their own solutions. You'll be surprised by the creativity and ownership they bring to the table.

4. Acknowledge and reward

Recognition goes a long way. Make a conscious effort to recognize your team’s hard work and achievements. This doesn’t always mean bonuses or promotions. Sometimes, a genuine "thank you" or public acknowledgement can really boost morale. 

5. Feedback is a two-way street 

Don't just dish it out, receive it too! Regularly ask for feedback on your leadership style and how you can better support them. This shows you value their input and fosters open communication.

6. Build team cohesion

Organize team-building activities that aren’t just about work. This could be casual lunches, team outings, or volunteer days. It’s about strengthening relationships and fostering a sense of camaraderie within the team. 

7. Offer flexibility

Show that you value your team’s work-life balance. If possible, offer flexible working arrangements. It demonstrates trust and respect for their time and personal life, which in turn fosters loyalty and dedication. 

8. Invest in their growth

Encouraging your team to pursue training and development opportunities is a key part of your role as a people manager. Urge them to attend conferences, take online courses, or learn new skills relevant to their roles. It’s a win-win: they grow professionally, and you get a more skilled team.

9. Lead by example 

Demonstrate the work ethic, integrity, and professionalism you expect from your team. Your behavior sets the tone for the entire department. Show them what it means to be committed and passionate about your work. 

10. Stay positive, even when it’s tough

Finance can be a high-pressure role. Your team will look to you for cues on how to react in stressful situations. Maintaining a positive, can-do attitude can greatly influence the team’s morale and productivity. 

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How to manage difficult people

Not everyone on your team will be easy to manage. Those team members who always seem to find something to complain about, push back on every decision, or spread negativity can pose a difficult challenge for any leader.

As the CFO, how you handle these situations can make or break team morale. So, you need some trusted strategies to help manage them effectively.

The first step is to approach them with empathy. There may be underlying reasons for their attitude - heavy workload, personal issues, feeling undervalued, etc. Have an open conversation to understand what's really going on. Sometimes simply listening and showing you care can go a long way.

With that being said, you also need to set clear expectations and boundaries. Difficult as they may be, they still need to get their work done to your standards.  

Don't shy away from tough conversations if their negativity disrupts the team. It'll help if you make an effort to focus on solutions, not blame. Try not to dwell on the past and work together to identify solutions that improve their performance and team dynamics.

If the situation escalates, document all interactions and performance concerns. This helps protect the team and provides a clear record if further action is necessary. Don’t be afraid to seek guidance from HR or a leadership coach if you need to. They can offer valuable insights and strategies for handling complex situations.

Remember, the goal isn't to punish, but to improve performance and foster a positive work environment. By taking a solution-oriented approach, you can navigate even the most challenging personalities and maintain a strong, cohesive team.

FAQs: CFOs as people managers

Why is people management important for a CFO?

People management is crucial for CFOs because it enhances team collaboration, boosts morale, and increases productivity.

How can I improve communication with my finance team?

Improve communication by holding regular meetings, providing clear and concise updates, and being open to feedback. Encourage an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing ideas and concerns. Listening is as important as informing.

How can I support my team’s professional development?

Support professional development by identifying training programs, workshops, and conferences that align with their career goals. Encourage mentorship within the team and allocate time and resources for learning.

How can I build a strong finance team culture?

Build a strong team culture by fostering open communication, encouraging collaboration, celebrating successes, and addressing challenges collectively. Establishing core values that resonate with your team can also strengthen your culture.

What’s the best way to manage remote or hybrid finance teams?

Manage remote or hybrid teams by using digital tools to maintain communication, setting clear expectations for work hours and output, and fostering a sense of community through regular virtual check-ins and team-building activities.

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