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Navigating Your Way Around the C-Suite

CFOs can make decision-making in the C-suite more efficient.

The vice president of sales doesn't necessarily have to work with the head of operations, and the CMO may not have to work with the CIO, but everyone has to work with the CFO. It's an inescapable and necessary fact.

How you approach and build relationships along the C-suite can have a tremendous impact on the performance of your company. For CFOs, this task has become a challenge as their responsibilities have expanded and their role within in the company has become more elevated.

CFOs Fine-Tune Their People Skills
The role of chief financial officers has changed tremendously over the past few years, elevating the stereotypical beancounter to a influential strategic decision-maker. The past view of the CFO role may not be forgotten by some executives outside the finance department. This puts CFOs in a position of having to gain the respect of their peers and perhaps playing more politics. To be sure, many decision-makers try to push their own agenda to give their department the tools it needs to become more productive and efficient.

CFOs and Executive Peers Often at Odds
At many companies, CFOs are known as the ones who always say "no." However, decisions are often more nuanced than a simple answer like that. To meet each other halfway, CFOs need to truly listen to the concerns and ideas of their executive counterparts, by learning more about what they do and getting a better handle on their point of view. While at the same time, CFOs need to do a better job of explaining what they do – so their peers can understand where they are coming from and why they do in fact need to say no at times.

Know the Strengths CFOs Bring to the Table
They've elbowed their way into a prominent seat at the officer table, but have CFOs proven their worth? As the concept of big data continues to rear its head at many companies that continue to be challenged by the wealth of information they possess, finance executives are poised to make sense of it all. And they can offer an insight into the company's future that many just cannot see: CFOs are often the missing link that can provide analytical reasoning for choices that can affect the future of the firm. But whether they get heard and truly influence key decisions at a company depends on how they deal and communicate with the rest of the executive team.

In their new book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, Chip Heath, professor at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, and Dan Heath, a senior fellow at Duke University's Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, discuss the impact that personal opinions and emotions can have on decisions. In an interview with Deloitte Insights, the authors talked about how finance leaders can integrate themselves with the rest of the C-suite and show how they can drive smarter decisions.

Some of that work involves being more critical – and being open to questions and options. Dan Heath acknowledged the concern executives may have that such a change in decision-making strategy could take away a company's ability to act nimbly. But he believes the opposite is true – that considering multiple options can actually help a company make faster decisions and, more importantly, better decisions. The goal, the researchers suggest, it to uncover "richer" information for making a choice, and with their knowledge and expertise, CFOs are in a position to help provide that type of data. They just need to be open to alternative viewpoints and give space for others to be heard. By truly working together and bouncing thoughts off one another, top executives will be able to decide on strategy that will benefit the company as a whole.

"You need an environment where your colleagues and direct reports feel comfortable airing their opposition or surfacing new alternatives," Heath said.

To learn more on this subject,attend CFO Dimensions 2013 in New York City, August 21-22. Register with code CFODKAR for a special $649 discount here.