Problem Solving and Part-Time CFOs

Part-time CFOs Are Never Hired for Their Greatest Ability

You know the routine well.

  1. CEO has problem.
  2. CEO reaches out to CFO.
  3. CEO asks CFO to solve problem.
  4. CEO hires CFO.

But that’s not where we really excel, is it? There’s a fifth item on the list–CFO finds problems along the way.

Before we move on, this discussion is not for experienced consultants. Go back to what you were doing if that’s true. This is for rookies. I needed this fatherly advice 10 to 15 years ago.

Problem Finders Are MVPs

We probably spend more than half our time solving problems. But is that where we really add value? Perhaps, but consider our three primary jobs below:

Problem Resolution Wheel

There is no way in the world I’m going to estimate where most of your time is spent. Let’s just agree that most of it is in problem-solving mode. Agree?

Let’s also agree that we’re both good at problem prevention too. We have training in this area dating back to our days in public accounting (or elsewhere). The more time we spend with a client, the more opportunities we’ll have in preventing future problems.

So that leaves problem finding. As paradoxical as it sounds, problem finding CFOs may find themselves banging their heads on the wall periodically. Do I need to explain why?

It’s so true. You start finding problems from day 1, more than you can shake a stick at. But some business owners are not ready for all of these changes. Overwhelm sets in, even dread.

I can hear it now, “Oh boy, here comes Mark. Run!” That’s what can happen when you start trying to fix things before you are asked to do so.

It took me 5-plus years to figure that out. Does that mean we can’t share problems we’ve uncovered with the CEO? I just think there are good, better, and best approaches at hand.

A Few Quick Coaching Tips

You can probably tell that this discussion is both choppy and punchy. I’m burping out the thoughts from my head stemming from a call with a consultant friend a few minutes ago. Our call reminded me of the days when I was really green when working with business owners during the early weeks of a new engagement.

I don’t feel compelled to coach you because you’re beyond my level. Instead, I’ll share what I would have coached my younger self back in 2001:

  1. Remember Mark, you’re there to help the client to fix the problems you two have agreed upon. You love to fix things. You love to change things too. Calm down. Take care of first things first. Earn the trust and respect of the CEO over the first few weeks. Get those quick wins under your belt. You’ll know when it’s time to share those problems you have unearthed. Use finesse my friend.
  2. You’re a research junkie (God help you). So read some literature on the Beckhard-Harris Change Model. No, don’t overdo it like you always do. Just get the big picture. The reason owners may not want to change things you’ve uncovered is because they may not be dissatisfied enough. That’s huge. Or they may be afraid of taking first steps when you have already mapped out a great plan. Don’t accept the Beckhard-Harris model at face value. Observe it. Test it. Document it. Therein lies the reason people won’t change when you find problems, even big ones. Resistance is hard for some people. Don’t forget that.
  3. Young man, you have a baby face and not enough grey hair. Even when you have figured out Number 1 and Number 2, you still need more seasoning. Don’t worry, your time will come. You’ll know it when it does. Clients will start saying, “Good catch, let’s start moving.”

Now it’s your turn. When it comes to finding problems, what would you have told your younger self?

I perceive there is value to this exercise because it helps in our coaching abilities. We’re all consultants. We’re generally contractors too in the early stages when working with a new client. But our greatest gift to business owners should be coaching. Explaining is better than describing. Tacit knowledge outweighs explicit knowledge. Wisdom trumps facts in the appropriate context. This is coaching 101.

Links to the Beckhard-Harris Change Model

Perhaps you don’t know the name, but you know the concepts. The links below will help with grasping the big picture:

If you require a much deeper dive on resistance to change, start looking for this topic possibly in the organizational health business genre. Edith Penrose (surprisingly) does not address this head-on in her seminal work, The Theory of The Growth of The Firm.

If you have any HR Director friends, ask them for their favorite book on this topic. For now, the links above are a good starting point or refresher.

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