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CLOs Are a CFO’s Best Friend

Chief learning officers’ job could be easier with a little help from their friends: chief financial officers.

CFOs often rule departmental budgets and make significant decisions about how a company spends its money. If CLOs want to implement a learning and development program, they often have to show its organizational value to financial leadership. But the CFO role is evolving, and they’re as in need of a learning leader’s expertise as CLOs are in need of their financial support.

Today’s CFOs are fulfilling leadership roles with greater depth and breadth than a traditional focus on finances. CFOs have to not only understand how to analyze and control funds but also communicate well, manage relationships, understand value creation and comprehend employee development — and the list of requirements is growing.

Ash Noah, vice president of CGMA External Relations at the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), said with demand for these new CFO skill sets rising, the number of qualified applicants for the job is declining rapidly.

“The ability to communicate, understanding business communication, communicate the essence of the business transaction. … Those are the skills that are lacking,” he said. “In the old days, the CFO would not be thinking about coaching and mentoring, about motiving and inspiring.”

Both can work together to manage their respective needs for the company’s benefit. Mary Driscoll, senior research fellow in financial management at American Productivity and Quality Center, said CFOs’ largest benefit to learning executives is proving and measuring value. 

“The CFO is now expected to really be the CEO’s confidant,” Driscoll said. “Everyone wants to be assured of the financial applications. … There’s always competing rationales for competing investments. CFOs need to translate their plans and strategies into financial implications.”

Learning leaders can encourage financial officers to participate in and promote learning programs, as Driscoll said a clued-in CFO understands the value of institutional learning and supports funding for such programs. “That is really important to having a competitive edge. A CFO has to look beyond the next foot.”

While learning leaders help current financial executives fill any skills gaps in their own ranks, they also should plan for the future by helping CFOs hire or identify new potential successors and then groom them to reflect a desired culture and set of skills and values.

“Good CFOs understand that one of their top priorities has to be a long term and steadfast commitment to developing a talent pipeline,” Driscoll said. “That starts with the right kind of understanding around culture and recruiting.”