So you just walked through the doors as the new CFO. You’ve already met the key players, you understand your role, and you have a pretty good understanding of the company. Only when you become part of the company can you get a real picture of what goes on in the finance organization.

While you have many responsibilities in front of you — which can include IT, facilities and possibly HR — your primary focus should be on the finance team and getting to know its inner workings. This is the team that is vital to the greater organization, and you need to understand its ins and outs.

Here’s how to get a grip on your new finance organization without wasting another minute. Ask this question: How long does the finance organization take to close the books? The answer reveals a lot.

Seems like a simple question, right? But there will be no simple answer, despite what the first person you come across tries to tell you. Most likely, after some digging, you will discover some issues related to the close process. A slow-to-close team will reflect poorly on your leadership if you don’t find a way to speed things up, but it’s also a key way for you to see where the skills deficiencies lie within your new team. They could be with just one person or a few, or there could be something that needs to be fixed — or significantly updated — within the systems and processes the organization has been using. The real answer to the question — based not only on what people tell you but what you can see for yourself — will go a long way toward letting you know exactly how strong a team you have, their ability to get things done and their level of commitment toward getting things done right.

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Let’s say you have a five-day close, but your team is working 18-hour work days to get it done. That’s a  clear warning sign something is amiss. Or you have a 20-day close, and you wonder what the heck everyone is doing all day. Under either scenario, you may discover inefficiencies related to process flow, duplication of effort or lack of skills. Just one person who doesn’t have the requisite training to execute a task can make the entire team suffer from this inefficiency, either because of effects of dependency or errors that need to be fixed.

Your discovery of deficiencies should also have you looking down the path of technology. Are the current systems effective for the task, do they help the team or hinder the team in getting the job done? Your team may be suffering with a system that is older than they are. Or your team may have the latest and greatest but still don’t know how to use it effectively one year after the go-live date.

Use your early days in the new job to interview the team members individually, to get to know them and the details behind how the books get closed. As you listen to others walking you through the process, you will likely hear inconsistencies and questions about who is responsible for what. Ask about when things have gone right and when they haven’t, and how issues get resolved. Who is monitoring these issues for resolution? Are the issues being resolved based on how critical they are to the organization? Someone needs to be accountable, and if it’s not you, then who should it be?

Beyond helming the finances, your role as CFO includes the staff’s morale and motivation. It’s not always top of mind, but when it’s done well, you will see the effects. If you can get the month-end close process down to a well-oiled, repeatable process, then you have created an environment where the day to day becomes smooth sailing and the adventure of growing the business can then be enjoyed by all finance employees as they become true business partners within the company.

Salena Oppus has been a member of the RoseRyan dream team for over 15 years. Her specialties are system planning and implementation, cost accounting and forecasting. 

I have seen a wide range of public-company CFOs in my work at RoseRyan and I’ve been one myself, having spent 13 years at Nasdaq-listed companies between 1997 and 2009. So when a RoseRyan client considering an IPO recently asked me what qualities are vital for a public-company CFO, I came up with the following list:

Experience. Nothing beats it. Having a CFO who has gone through the demands of public-company life is so important. This type of CFO knows what he’s getting into and will have the confidence to get started from day one. I don’t mind admitting now that when I first became a CFO of a public company, it was a huge step up. I had been the corporate controller of the company, so I knew the underlying accounting well, but nothing I had done previously could help me with the new experiences of strategic direction, public-company investors, and public-company boards and committees. It was the same company but a new world. It took me a year to get comfortable handling the new responsibilities. The bottom line was that I let the company drive me in that first year as opposed to me helping drive it. In my view, I did not add anything close to the value that a more experienced CFO would have done. I am all for training, but for this key role, you always want someone with experience.

The ability to multi-task. Most of my CFO roles have involved managing finance, IT, HR, operations, investor relations, and legal. You need someone who can juggle many balls in the air at the same time. If your CFO can’t easily switch gears between the different business areas and give a fair amount of attention to her many roles, she will sink and be ineffective – and your business will feel the consequence.

The resourcefulness to work constructively with the CEO. Most chief executives are very driven individuals, with a flair for marketing or product development but not finance. It’s up to CFOs to work closely with the CEO and get their viewpoints heard and inserted into the decision-making process. If they can’t do this, they will fail, critical decisions will not take place, and problems will arise. When I was CFO, I liked to think of the CEO as a peer, not as my boss. I preferred to think of the audit committee chair as my boss.

The resilience for handling investor relations. One key role of the CFO is the ability to market the company. They have to be salesmen, notably when they are on a roadshow or an investor call, but they can’t oversell at the same time. Finding the right balance is a fine art. Investors rely on a CFO’s every word and how it’s said, and they expect a lot. So the CFO has to fully understand the company’s products, market opportunity, and direction, and be able to handle a tough audience. More than any other executive, CFOs get grief when the stock price falls, or executives sell stock, or the company doesn’t meet investors’ expectations or preferences. When this happens, CFOs have to be professional and move on. They should not take it personally – it just comes with the territory. If your CFO cannot market or handle the tough calls, you have the wrong CFO.

The desire to manage the finance function. I have seen CEOs bring in CFOs who want to concentrate only on investor relations–related matters and ignore the finances of the company, the finance team, and the internal controls. That is the worst type of CFO. Finance chiefs are ultimately responsible for the financial integrity of the entire organization, and they should never forget it. Thus, they need to continually understand the numbers and actively manage their finance team. So often you see companies that have to restate their financials or that get dinged for internal control weaknesses because the CFO did not consider either to be important until it was too late. Don’t let that be your company.

Stephen Ambler is a director at RoseRyan, where he manages the development of the firm’s “dream team” of consultants. His interim CFO stints at RoseRyan have included a social media company and the management of the financial integration process at a company acquired by Oracle. He previously held the CFO position for 13 years at Nasdaq-listed companies.