Most startups face a tough combination of being low on cash but in great need of more employees to help the company grow.  A common scenario is a CEO/Founder hiring a CFO to help with the financial end of the business early in the company's lifecycle.  However, in a startup scenario the CFO takes on far more than finances, often becoming the #2 in command and running the day to day operations. 

Operational executives and COOs are sometimes considered a 'luxury' during these cash strapped periods in a company's growth, yet many highly skilled CFOs do not have experience in supporting the operations, processes, employees and clients of a business. Owners and CEOs may be putting the CFO in a tough position by asking them to take on too broad a range of responsibilities - that is not good for the owner, the CFO or the company as a whole. Yet there is a critical need to focus on your operations in order to succeed and grow. Bringing in strong operational support, particularly an executive operational consultant, can get you quick results and help your CFO develop their operational skills.

Here are 3 steps to support your CFO in managing the operations of the business and grow your startup:

1. Assess your CFO's operational experience
If your CFO has a background in startups, chances are he/she had some responsibilities beyond finance - find out what was included in the role, what they are most comfortable with, and what their preferences are in terms of certain departments or responsibilities. If your CFO is coming from an accounting firm or large company, it is good to do a slightly deeper dive. In this case it is likely they have not had a lot of operational leadership experience, so draw out what departments they have worked with closely and where their strengths might be even if they don't have direct management experience. 

2. Review the CFO's job responsibilities
The job description is a good place to start, but that's not the whole picture.  Certainly discuss the departments where they have direct managment responsibility, regular deliverables (such as monthly financials) and current projects - that includes internal system implementations, customer facing projects, marketing campaigns, fundraising efforts...anything where the CFO is involved.  In addition you should review what is needed from the CFO in terms of support for legal, HR and client issues and how those tasks are shared with the CEO.  This will help you both to see if the CFO's workload is too broad (which let's face it, it generally IS in a startup) and where you may need additional support.

3. Surround the CFO with strong operational support
Every executive has certain strengths and tends to gravitate towards the areas where they are most comfortable. The CEO and CFO should work together to identify the operational areas with the most need and fill the gaps. Develop new roles in the company to fill those needs and look for candidates with strong experience in those areas. These positions do not need to be high-level management positions - having strong supervisors and individual contributors can help you to round out the skills needed in your organization. 

For quicker results and true development your CFO, hire a senior operational consultant. This individual can support a specific project or act as a part-time operations executive to augment your CFO's skills. An experienced operations consultant will help you complete tasks and projects, and will also be an 'operational coach' for your CFO and guide them through operational issues - a safety net while your CFO gains direct experience.  This not only gets immediate results and growth for the company, but also benefits the CFO's overall professional development and strengthens your company for the long run.

Debbie Millin is President of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering part-time and interim Chief Operating Officer  services, operational assessments and executive project leadership.



03/13/2013 12:00pm

solid post Debbie. At Successful Transition Planning Institute we counsel business owners considering a major transition, to find someone who can work with them to get their business goals aligned with their personal goals. An interim or part-time COO can fill that role nicely, allowing the owner to focus on major business transition issues without damaging the business.

10/30/2014 12:27am

This is a solid post and it would really be effectively helpful for some part time COO's along with the counseling experience to align their goals with those of the organization's and work to progress without disturbing the whole balance in any sense.

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