Job interviews with controllers—whether you’re in the hot seat or the one asking the questions—are getting broader these days, as the role of the controller and expectations around it have escalated. Just as today’s CFOs are expected to be more strategic than the bean-counting finance chiefs of yesteryear, so too are controllers getting called upon for their operational skills and are expected to have broader, forward-looking views. Today’s controllers are not all about past figures. They contribute to strategy to guide it into the future.
We see this transformation firsthand whenever we’re embedded in teams at companies around the San Francisco Bay Area, and we’ve frequently taken on controller roles on an interim basis. RoseRyan consultant Cheri Koehler—a superstar controller in her own right—has gathered up some practical tips and advice for controllers at companies of all sizes:
Look beyond the numbers: Controllers who have mastered their role have a firm grasp of their company’s latest facts and figures, and they also need to be able to tell the story to everyone else. They are one of the few who can provide context behind the numbers and use their knowledge to ensure the company stays healthy. That knowledge can power smart decision-making throughout the business.
Be a bridge builder: Controllers have typically been buddies with HR and customer service folks as many of their transactions and activities overlap. Extend similar connections around the company, making links between finance and IT, procurement, distribution, manufacturing and others. In this way, controllers can set up collaborative partnerships and give themselves a voice when choices are about to made. As proactive business partners, they keep finance in the loop and provide valuable support, advice and analysis whenever it’s needed.
Find and keep talent: This requires a continuous effort—even when the finance team seems well stocked. Things can change and specialized skills may be needed for a complex transaction or someone could have to leave without much notice. Superstar controllers regularly tend to the talent pool by always keeping their connections open and paying attention to develop and retain the people they have on hand. They look for opportunities to empower the team and keep them enthused.
Stellar controllers know how to bring the information they gather to life. They’re excellent communicators by making sure they can influence and persuade, they help with strategic decisions and activities throughout the company, and evangelize potential improvements and efficiencies. What makes this possible? They are up to date on the latest technologies and can keep their eyes and ears to the ground to learn best practices in their field. Ensuring they have a talented team in place makes all the difference.
Are you a controller striving for greatness? Or a CFO who needs to strengthen the finance bench? To understand the controller role today and what skills are needed for superstar status, check out 5 ways to become a superstar controller.