You’ve worked your way up over the years, you’ve risen from an accountant to a Finance Controller. Now you’re ready to take the next step up to Finance Director, but this step isn’t often as clear as it should be. So how exactly do you make that leap? It’s a common question I get asked by my clients.
The truth is, Finance Director tends to be one of the hardest promotions to make. It is essentially your first big step into leadership, and in most big corporates, it is one of the two most challenging promotions there are (the other being Partner in practice or Managing Director in industry).
With most promotions up until director, or at least senior manager, you can ask your boss what you need to do to get promoted. And they will most likely tell you. But when you’re looking to become a Finance Director, it usually doesn’t work like that.
So how does it work?
Where to Start
The question to ask your leaders should no longer be “What do I need to do to get to Director?”, but instead “What do you expect to see in your Directors?”, or “What does a great Director look like”. Once you’ve defined that, you can start assessing yourself, and have something to work towards.
When it comes to assessing yourself, there are three big areas: competence, impact, and brand.
Now, I’m not going to go into detail on the first point. If you’re here reading this article, seeking a promotion to Finance Director, I’m going to assume that you are competent enough at your job to get promoted to that level! Instead, let’s start with impact.
In most jobs, by working more hours in a week, you can get more done and potentially start taking on bigger jobs. However, when you get to the level of Director, it will no longer be possible to single-handedly do your job. In a Director position, working harder, faster, or more efficiently – just ‘doing more’ – is no longer enough to ensure that you are promotion ready. Instead, most Director positions require you to have significant impact beyond the number of hours you work in the week.
A Finance Director’s impact is not only measured by the amount of work they undertake, but instead, on the success, organisation, and impact of those underneath them, and the business partners around them. One skill that helps you to deliver this impact is efficient delegation. If you ensure that the right people are in the right roles, doing the things that they’re best at doing, your team will work much more effectively. A well-delegated and empowered team will consistently deliver much more impact in the same 40 hours than a micro-managed team would be capable of.
One other challenge you’ll face as a Director is expanding your sphere of influence outside those that you manage. With that in mind, you need to demonstrate that you are able to leverage and influence people that don’t report to you, in order to get things done. Engage with leaders in other divisions, stick to your promises, and make yourself known (for the right reasons, of course).
There will be various people across the organisation that need to firstly know who you are, and secondly, like you. When looking for a promotion – especially at this level – who you know, and conversely, who knows you, is extremely important. You will need the support of certain people within the organisation in order to get promoted. One way to get people in your organisation to know you, is to build up your own personal brand.
Your brand is something that distinguishes you from others in your field. Think about people the people high up in your organisation. They probably have one ‘thing’ that makes them special, something that people come to them for advice on, or something that they are known for. That is their ‘brand’. When I was at Microsoft, I don’t think I knew of a single Director that didn’t have a ‘thing’.
So, in order to build your brand, you first need to ask yourself “What am I famous for?”, “What problems do I solve?”. This can’t be something like “I work really hard”, or “I’m a great team player”. Your ‘thing’ must have real-world, tangible value to the organisation. Something that makes you stand out from others at the same level.
If ‘personal brand’ feels like a term you don’t feel comfortable with, think about it this way: what do people say about you when you’re not in the room. This is what you’re famous for, and the conversation you are trying to influence
If you can’t figure out what you are famous for, ask someone! Ask them what the first thing that comes to their mind is when they think of you. Failing that, start by asking yourself what you’re passionate about. Alternatively, consider what you want to be known for, train yourself up on that skill, process, or program, and become the go-to person for that thing in your company.
How Can Coaching Help?
I work with people in this exact situation to think about their organisation, and how they are meeting each of those key areas on the path to promotion. Once we’ve figured this out, we build a plan of action, with the steps they need to take to achieve it.
On average, it takes 18-30 months from starting this journey to success. However, people who work with me take 6 to 12 months less than that.
Ready to take the step up to Finance Director? Get in touch with me today and let’s start this journey together.