How Effective CFOs Spend Their Time

The best CFOs focus on the activities that provide the most value to the finance function and organization.

CFOs are expected to wear many hats: Strategic partner, relationship builder, change agent and technology champion. But ultimately, a CFO’s top priority is to ensure sustained financial performance for the organization.

CFOs can replicate many of the practices they use for department initiatives to achieve better outcomes for their own leadership duties. This approach helps to eliminate time spent on activities that have little impact on financial outcomes. For example, many CFOs overinvest time on finance function activities, such as planning or targeting setting.

According to Gartner research, CFOs recognize the need to spend less time in the function, with many aiming to reduce time by 5%. CFOs pay no penalty for shifting focus away from the function toward financial strategy and investor activities.

Gartner research finds CFO lose a day a week to the wrong activities -- ones that don't significantly impact financial outcomes.

Gartner finds that personally effective CFOs follow four common practices; each allows them to focus more time and energy on the activities most impactful to their job performance.

  1. Announce personal priorities publicly. While many CFOs excel at setting and communicating team priorities, many fail to do so for themselves. By clearly communicating personal priorities to their teams and the C-suite, CFOs direct team focus on the right initiatives and make it easier for team members to determine which requests should be declined.
  2. Practice “zero-based” scheduling. By scheduling personal priority activities first, CFOs can ensure they allocate the appropriate amount of time for other activities. This behavior protects their mental energy for top priorities.
  3. Concentrate attention more often. CFOs should ensure that activities that are highly prioritized, complex or uncertain are given dedicated calendar time for longer durations.
  4. Compare planned and actual time allocation. Just as CFOs can learn lessons from a post-mortem audit of a major investment or acquisition, reviewing how their time was actually spent against what was planned can reveal root causes of time slippage. This insight enables leaders to then address and better manage in the future through delegation.

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This article is based on insights that are part of an in-depth collection of research, tools, templates and advice available to Gartner clients.
Gartner for Finance Leaders can read the report CFO Time Allocation: What Drives Effectiveness.

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