For CFOs - ‘Dashboarding’ Skills are the New Black
In the recent past, an organization’s “numbers” referred to sales, margins, ratios, growth rates and returns on investment. But, as technology has advanced, so has the way business leaders approach data. Today, data is being sliced in ways that go far beyond the measurement of past performance. Data analytics now allow companies to uncover problem areas as well as forecast trends and how they’ll impact future business performance. Companies are increasingly accomplishing this through “dashboards,” a tool that presents data in meaningful and insightful ways.
Dashboards have the most impact when they are heavy on graphics. They form the basis for conversations that lead to strategies and actions that can fix an operating issue, exploit a market trend, or identify an entirely new opportunity for the business.
The use of dashboards has made the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) role both more influential and more complex. Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Boards of Directors (BODs) want CFOs who can dissect their company’s data and use it to develop their business strategy and performance. It’s no longer enough to know that sales are up. Corporate leaders want to understand how and why. They need to recognize the impact of market share, average transaction size and margins. After all, increased revenue isn’t so impressive if net income is slipping or market share is decreasing.
More Than Financial Expertise
It’s no surprise, then, that the most sought-after CFOs are the ones who have dashboarding expertise. More CEOs and BODs are expressing the need for financial leaders who can combine business results with meaningful metrics to identify trends and provide a true look at their company's performance—both internally and in the market. As analytics play an increasing role in decision-making, the need for financial leaders who understand how to analyze a company’s business from multiple directions also increases.
“Understanding the levers that drive performance and using dashboards to capture and evaluate how our business is performing has helped propel our results,” says Kevin Walsh, CFO of Cushman & Wakefield’s facility services business, C&W Services. “The insight that dashboards provide allows us to move with greater speed and confidence, so we are able to make decisions and take actions locally, closer to our customers.”
Effective dashboards kick off discussions among executives that focus on problem-solving and course-setting and can provide alignment throughout an organization.
This spotlights another important trait among dashboard-savvy CFOs: strong communication skills. Besides understanding that not everyone speaks the language of finance, they must know how to combine their business knowledge with questioning and listening skills so they can deliver information tailored to the needs of different audiences. Good leaders at all levels of a business chart their way forward based on the analysis and insight provided by the CFO and the conclusions reached by the CEO and CFO. Thorough and efficient CFOs develop and use their dashboarding skills to guide their companies’ CEOs and directors accordingly.
Pure numbers people with a knack for compliance are no longer enough. The ability to put a company’s performance in perspective, to understand how non-financial metrics can be used to generate both operational and financial forecasts, to speak the organization’s language across a range of functions, and to analyze data and recommend courses of action earn a seat at the table. A CFO with this package of skills is a true business partner, the kind of person who can make a real contribution to a company’s success.