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10th Aug 2022

How to win over your CFO

Some quick tips to improve working with your CFO which I have learnt since starting Dovetail. 2-minute read

The enemy of your enemy is your friend.

Some in-house lawyers see their CFO as the enemy. That’s only natural given that finance departments everywhere are asking their companies’ legal teams to rein in costs and do more with less.

But it’s much easier to get things done if you work with your CFO rather than against them. And that means working out what makes them tick and what they value.

As a former lawyer, I too have struggled to understand the CFO’s point of view. But when I began Dovetail, I started coming up against these issues on a daily basis with my Dovetail co-founder, and CFO, Andrew Bursill.

Here’s what I learned:

Metrics are everything

Most CFOs are qualified accountants and they remain bean counters at heart. Numbers talk to them and they love to measure stuff. Use this to your advantage.

Work with your CFO to develop metrics that will measure your performance and your impact on the business’s performance in concrete ways, even on ‘soft’ matters.

For instance, work out a method for scoring such things as:

  • your responsiveness
  • the commerciality of your advice
  • your contribution to the strategic direction of the business.

And remember, some things that can appear to be negatives can sometimes be turned into a positive when they’re measured and compared to your peers.

The great difficulty for good legal departments is measuring the absence of an event. How do demonstrate value around issues that never arose? The key here is finding the right metric – OH&S has done this using the concept of “injury free days”.

Whatever you choose to measure, make sure that it ultimately results in an overall rating which you can point to when you have to prove your performance, and use as leverage when you need (eg salary review, team budget).

Do your research

Think lawyers are sticklers for detail in language? CFOs are even worse when it comes to numbers. Whenever you put a number in anything, you can be sure that’s what they’ll be drawn to and check first. And if you get it wrong, you’ll lose so much credibility that the rest of the document won’t matter. (Imagine how you’d react to a semi-literate document.)

In other words, never, ever, put a number or formula in a document unless you are sure it is accurate.

I made that mistake early on in Dovetail. I spent considerable time drafting a document with some magnificent prose for Andrew to review and I put some “hypothetical” numbers in to make the document complete.

All I got for my trouble from Andrew was, “These numbers don’t make sense. Let’s revisit the whole transaction. I need to see it in Excel”. He had focused first on the numbers and hadn’t even read the document!

Think efficiency

Work on your individual and your team’s efficiency, remembering perception is reality.

Efficiency is also not only an internal concept, but external. Make your client’s life easier (making them more efficient) and your services will be considered an asset, rather than a cost centre.

And remember….

The enemy of your enemy is your friend and, in the current economic climate, the CFO has an enemy too. Its name is cost control.

Cost control makes the CFO prove the value of every cost in the business. So, if you can work with your CFO to prove how valuable your role is, you and your CFO (an in my case, my co-founder) will become buddies in no time!!

If you have any tips or experiences with your CFO you would like to share, speak with the team at Dovetail: we would love to know!