By Jody Grunden
Building the Virtual CFO Firm in the Cloud
As our team was growing and we reached over 30 team members, we recognized the need to establish a formal leadership team. When we were smaller, it worked fine for Adam and me to be the primary decision makers, but as our client base and workload grew, we realized we would become a bottleneck and slow things down.
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At that point, we made a conscious effort to transition our daily tasks and client responsibilities to other team members so we could remove ourselves from the weeds and focus on the higher-level view of the company.
First, we brought in someone to handle the audits. Then, we brought in someone to handle taxes. These areas were time-consuming and not necessarily things we were passionate about and wanting to hold on to.
Next, we started replacing ourselves in the virtual CFO role with people on the team who possessed strong leadership qualities. It can be extremely hard to step away from client work. We both love working with clients – that’s why we started our business in the first place. When you’ve worked with a client for years, there’s a bond there, but when the time is right, it’s crucial for owners to move away from direct client work in order to grow the company.
“Once you recognize that the purpose of your life is not to serve your business, but that the primary purpose of your business is to serve your life, you can then go to work on your business, rather than in it, with a full understanding of why it is absolutely necessary for you to do so.” – Michael E. Gerber, “The E-Myth Revisited”
As we were making these changes, we decided to bring in an outside company, Navigate the Journey (NTJ). In addition to teaching us the DiSC styles, NTJ helped us “navigate the journey” of creating organizational structure and defining the roles that were needed. Navigate the Journey facilitated a leadership retreat for us where they helped us develop our organizational (accountability) chart. This provided clarity for people in their roles so they could self-manage. And it was a really powerful exercise that fostered a lot of new ideas and growth.
As a leadership team, we want to be constantly assessing where we are as a company today, where we want to be a year from now, three years from now, etc. When we are clear on where we want to be down the road, then we can determine what we should be doing now in order to get there. It’s all about taking small, measured steps to get to where we want to be because we’re not going to just wake up one day and be there without being mindful of the process.
As business owners, Adam and I knew there was no way we could get to where wanted to be by continuing to be the direct service providers with a huge (and growing) client load. We wouldn’t have the capacity to work on the business the way that we needed to, so we needed to find the right people and put them in the right seats. In some cases, we needed to create the seats. Then we needed to shift our focus from serving our clients to serving and developing our leaders.
There’s a great quote by Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great”: “The executives who ignited the transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it.”
As a leader, it comes down to stepping back and figuring out where you want to go as a company and what structure the company needs to have in order to get there and then gradually moving in that direction. For us, we
- appointed our leadership team,
- helped them restructure their client load and
- started working with them on leadership training.
Our leaders are empowered to have the final say in their areas.
It takes humility as a business owner to take this step. You have to be able to accept that on your own you cannot take the company to where you want it to be. You will become a hindrance for the company in the long run and will hold it back from reaching its full potential.
Instead, focus on finding the right people and then putting them in the right roles. Ultimately, and sometimes against an owner’s better judgment, this makes the company stronger and more resilient. If anything were to happen to Adam or me, the business will not crumble. It will be able to continue moving forward.
Navigate the Journey also became a trusted advisor for us. I think it’s important for every good leader to have a confidant – someone he/she can trust who will listen and push back when necessary. We discuss with them any ongoing issues with employees or clients, as people are our biggest asset in the company. Adam and I can also talk with them whenever there’s conflict in the partnership. Conflict is inevitable and is not a bad thing if it is managed appropriately.
As we continue to grow, we will be constantly evaluating our organizational structure and leadership roles. Our ultimate goal is to provide the highest value to our clients. Empowering our team to make decisions that are in line with that goal makes us more efficient and allows for growth to be sustainable.
How the coaching works
Navigate the Journey takes a customized approach to leadership coaching. They do assessments such as EQi and MCore and determine a plan based on what the individual company needs in order to grow and get better at what they do. They teach our team how to have candid, healthy conversations, which is part of our core values. They meet
- with Adam and I weekly (together and separately),
- with our leadership team on a one-to-one basis every two to three weeks and
- as a whole company once a month.
They also sit in on our performance reviews, which happen every two weeks for an employee’s first 90 days, every quarter for the first year and then every six months after that. Performance reviews like that can be intense, but they foster a candid feedback environment.