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How To Deal With A Micromanaging CFO?

Looking for advice on how to advise a CFO in her leadership of her accounting staff.

CFO has great technical skills. No audit findings at our nonprofit in past several years and excellent reviews from federal fiscal monitorings. The problem is she is very rigid and doesn't allow any flexibility (or very little) by her accounting clerks. She micro-manages and nit-picks their work. She works from the minute she gets to work until past time to leave (even through lunch often). She unequivocally expects the same from her staff. She's had one EEOC complaint and subsequent lawsuit (we settled) for such behavior. She's really a fun person - just a not-so-good supervisor. Please advise on how to get her to learn a different supervisory style that allows a more flexible atmosphere to get the work done even with all the attention needed to meet federal grant guidelines.

Answers

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

The best way to deal with the CFO is through the CEO. She is a member of the CEO's management team. The CEO should decide whether the work being done is worth the consequences (even unintended) of her management style. The CEO sets the tone of the management style and culture of the organization.

As they say, (paraphrasing) Culture is shaped by the worst behaviour the CEO will tolerate.

The complaint/lawsuit should have been a wakeup call.

Greg Anderson
Title: CFO
Company: iGPS
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, iGPS) |

Every CFO has a different style, while its important for a CFO to be strategic/high level ones that cant/won't get into the detail are not as strong IMO.

Go over the CFO's head to the CEO at your own peril. If its led to lawsuits already then your CEO should already know what it going on. You should be having direct but non confrontational discussions with your CFO about the issue and try to lay some ground rules. BTW I agree she cannot expect rank and file to work they way she does. I bet I, at the very least, put in the same hours if not more and dont expect it from my junior staff (but the ones moving up faster are putting in more on their own). However its up to her what level of detail she wants to get into things.

If that does not work then going to the CEO/HR is appropriate as bad leadership leads to a toxic environment and nobody wins. but at that point you should have your options ready.

Anonymous
(Controller) |

Good advice has already been given. It seems that the behavior is acceptable since she is still there after a lawsuit. My advice would be to find work elsewhere. I have worked with top talent that has been very abrasive and been dismissed for similar infractions but such organizations are not very forgiving. It sounds like a top-down culture mess that can not be improved unless the person themselves acknowledges the problem and takes steps to correct them herself. Good luck!

ArLyne Diamond
Title: Owner - President
Company: Diamond Associates
LinkedIn Profile
(Owner - President, Diamond Associates) |

CFOs are typically detail people. Consequently, the tendency is to do what you know how to do best. Micro-managing means dealing with tasks you know how to do - and your CFO might not know how to manage people. Coaching/mentoring might be the best solution.

Anonymous
(Board Advisor and Investor) |

the "CFO" appears to be more of an Accounting Manager? If she is nitpiking on clerical items, who is dealing with fundraising, board meetings, legal, HR, Admin, operations and strategic planning activities?

David Buley
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Association of Independent Schools of NS..
(Chief Financial Officer, Association of Independent Schools of NSW) |

The person you are describing sounds a little like me, except for the lawsuit bit. I put in long hours, because the position and the responsibility demand it. I care about my job and I enjoy it - I don't want to put that job at risk due to flaws in my team (or their output) that could be fixed. While I would not describe myself as a micromanager, I nevertheless require a certain level if involvement and discourse in my staff's jobs as I'm ultimately responsible for what they do. I'm sure at times they might characterise my review of their work as micromanaging although they would also know from time to time it's necessary. We don't really live in a set and forget society, and the dynamic between the differing management levels is no different. You need to adapt to the reality. If you really believe you are being 'over managed' and that life would be better elsewhere, vote with your feet. If you think your boss is a reasonable person and would be open to the discussion, then say 'you know what boss, I can do this. If I stuff up or can't do it I'll call you, don't worry. But for now, let me off the leash - you've trained me well enough.'

Michelle Rogers
Title: Principle
Company: MR Consulting
(Principle, MR Consulting) |

I think it is great that you have reached out to this community for advice on how to help this CFO improve her effectiveness as a leader. Ideally, the organization would have an HR professional to assist with addressing this issue. If there isn't an HR professional that can support this change, then communicating the message is going to have to be well thought out to ensure that it lands as intended, so be cautious. Deliver the message with the spirit of assuming the best and focus on the business impacts, and keep personalization words to a minimum.

From a practical, what can you do now, perspective, I love the book 'Multipliers' by Liz Wiseman. It's a great reference book to understanding how our behavior impacts others around us and, more importantly, how to modify your behavior to get the best out of everyone. You could propose a book reading club and start with this book for the team to read together and then discuss what they learned, and, what suggestions they are going to try out. This could be a great team building activity. And, if the team agrees to support each other, this will provide permission to give feedback through recognition of a positive behavior and a gentle nudge for those behaviours that the individual has identified as wanting to change.

Good luck!

Anonymous
(CFO) |

They are clerical employees. Most likely paid hourly. Certainly non-exempt.

They don't want to work through their lunch, but you want them to read a business management reference book and discuss its implications?

Thirty five years of management experience makes me cringe at such a suggestion. A good manager must understand the mindset of their staff as well as the employment laws that might apply.

Don't expect too much from clerks as this CFO is doing. It's fraught with peril.

Anonymous
(n/a) |

Two basic recommendations as she sounds like a driven perfectionist and that will never change:

1. Make her go through her staff and assess what she thinks are the career ambitions of her staff. If she does not think that they all want to be CFOs one day, then she should be treating them accordingly and acknowledging what THEY want out of the job and not just what she wants.

2. In the moment of 'review', unless the work is downright bad, she needs to lead into any critique by saying something positive about the work first. That will help her relationship build and help her staff realize that she holds a level of esteem for their contributions. For her, the obvious goal is to help her see the good in people and their contributions, and hopefully she has a little awareness of those sessions going better than the ones in the past!

If she can't do these things, then she probably does have contempt for her own people or a complete disregard for their humanity and might value other employment.....

Len Green
Title: Performance Improvement Consultant and E..
Company: Haygarth Consulting LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Performance Improvement Consultant and ERP Strategist, Haygarth Consulting LLC) |

I would add this rider to the suggestions about the CEO and HR needing to step in:
Consider an outside resource who can coach the CEO and HR about how to engage with the CFO, then use the outside resource to work with the CFO to understand herself and her impact on others. Someone like a career coach.

I do think the CEO needs to lead this. HR/outside resource should help the CEO.

Alan Ehrlich
Title: Turnaround Specialist
Company: Self-employed
LinkedIn Profile
(Turnaround Specialist, Self-employed) |

At Disney and other large companies, 360 job performance reviews are common. When annual review time comes around, the employee's direct manager, 2 - 3 peers (often from other depts or in this case, board members) and 2 - 3 subordinates all submit reviews, HR anonymizes and combines the responses.

When the direct manager meets with the employee, in this instance, your CFO, they discuss all the feedback and develop a performance improvement plan for the following year. Playing psychologist is above my pay grade, but nit-picking personalities are often insecure, perfectionists, and perhaps a little OCD. It is not just an 'accounting' trait to be detailed oriented, in a well managed company, you have detailed oriented employees in all departments, sales, operations, HR, marketing etc.

One other possibility, was the CFO hired directly from a Big 4 accounting firm? My experiences with CFO's coming from Anderson and Ernst have been that while their managers and senior managers are technically very capable, those companies do a lousy job of teaching their employees how to be a manager. Hope this helps

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |

My experience with personnel from large audit firms in general, and I come from the days of the Big 8 and have worked with many, is that they make lousy managers out in the "real world".

Ditto for those from academia.

The kind of personality that is interested in auditing is 180 degrees opposite the kind of personality that makes a good people manager.

I think of that every time our current auditor sends a new crop of wet-behind-the-ears kids for our audit engagement and they start asking me text book questions about our internal controls for immaterial items and then fearfully warn me that they are going to have to "write finding up". :-(

Randy Moore
Title: CFO
Company: SJB Bagel Makers
(CFO, SJB Bagel Makers) |

I took the revenge approach when working for a micromanager. I started asking her every little picayune question I could think of. After several weeks of this she asked why I was asking all these questions to which I surely knew the answers. I explained that since she liked to micromanage so much that I thought I should ask her everything and bask in her expertise before attempting even the simplest tasks.

She got the message, sort of, and throttled it back to a bearable amount.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

I tend to have less tact at times - I've told the CEO to just go away...

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |

I once had a micro managing boss in an environment where people competed to see who could put in the most hours on the job and wore their face time in the office like a badge of honor. This resulted in us working three days straight without every going home on one occasion!

That is not a healthy environment for anyone. It tends to attract young, single, somewhat strange individuals who are overly ambitious and have no outside life. It foments office based, interpersonal relationships, marital infidelity, bar hopping and similar behaviors among staff that leads to all sorts of complications in the work place. It costs the organization in the long run.

After the three day straight stint, I dropped out of their stupid contest. I was young But not that stupid.

My micromanager starting calling me at home at night. It was an indirect way of trying to guilt me back into the "work is life" fold and be one of her admiring sateand get me back in the office. Her ego was such that she was only happy when she could surround herself at all hours with her "team". The entire upper management at this very successful start up (before PCs existed in business mind you) was of this mentality.

She would say, "I was looking at this project you were working on and see where you did this and that and I was wondering......".

I started "managing up" as they say. I'd respond, "Judy, you know you seem very interested in this project and have some very strong opinions about it. Your knowledge of the subject is far superior to mind. I think it might be better if you took it on as your own so that you could ensure that it is done exactly as you need it to be. I might not take into consideration every nuance you want to be factored in. If you take this on, I can focus my attention on XYZ".

She took the bait!

It only took a few weeks of her working long nights alone on the projects I handed back to her before she stopped calling me at all hours of the day and night and trying to get me to join her in her obsession with living at the office.

Anders Liu-Lindberg
Title: Regional Finance Business Partner
Company: Maersk Line Northern Europe
LinkedIn Profile
(Regional Finance Business Partner, Maersk Line Northern Europe) |

Look people don't change. Once a micromanager always a micromanager. Larger organizations have engagement surveys and 360 reviews to assess the effectiveness of their managers. This CFO would score low on both assuming people dare to be honest. Managers consistently scoring low will eventually be looking for a new job.

If you don't have these tools then there's nothing else to do but leave and find yourself a better situation. Going above the CFO is a lose-lose situation.

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

"Look people don't change. Once a micromanager always a micromanager." ... Anders, Can you be more absolute and definitive than this statement?

"Managers consistently scoring low will eventually be looking for a new job.: ... Why wait for "consistently"? If they score low the FIRST time, fire them at once! Or for that matter, why have multiple reviews? You only need ONE> They don't change anyways!

Ernie Humphrey CTP
Title: CEO & COO
Company: Treasury Careers
LinkedIn Profile
(CEO & COO, Treasury Careers) |

People do change, and I have seen micro-managers change. I was one, and I am reformed (for the most part). I have had bosses (managers), CFOs and other C-Suite bosses, change after they got to know me. Micro-management is often about trust and that a CFO (and any other manager) does not realize how much valuable time they are wasting "in the weeds".

Topic Expert
Scott MacDonald
Title: President/Owner
Company: AlphaMac Resources, Inc.
(President/Owner, AlphaMac Resources, Inc.) |

She isn't a CFO, she is an accounting supervisor with the CFO title. Her behavior gives other true CFOs a bad name. I have little hope that her behavior can be changed. Sorry to be so pessimistic. Until the CEO steps up and does his/her job especially. She has been "successful" in her mind working like this. Why change?

The CEO has to be aware of her behavior and either doesn't care or doesn't want to make waves. Probably a non-confrontational manager.

These are the type of people who ruin their lives as well as the lives of the accounting staff. What a shame.

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