Start with a clear vision of a finance
team that is involved in the business and
engaged in key management decisions.
and engage key stakeholders right away.
Conduct structured interviews to identify
what is most important to your internal
evaluate the existing organization by
asking team members to describe their
current roles and to explain their work
history in the current organization.
During the initial assessment period, also
look for someone who can be your “right
hand.” This is someone who shares your
vision for the finance team.
Assimilation. Hold a team
meeting facilitated by HR. Reward team
members who clearly fit the new vision.
Strategically recruit new employees who
will mix well with the team and encourage
them to move in the new direction.
Timing is critical; don’t delay tough
decisions. Create the right blend of new
team members with established staff to
maximize results. Respond quickly and
effectively tothe small things first to
achieve “early wins” and build confidence.
Don’t take on too
much at once. Don’t settle for
less than what you want to achieve.
Communicate important issues up the
organization. Have the tough
Patti J. Gillenwater is
the CEO of Raleigh, N.C.-based Elinvar, an
executive search firm that specializes in
recruiting and retaining top talent for
finance organizations.Her e-mail address
firstname.lastname@example.org. Mike Kaelin
is a former candidate and current
client of Elinvar.
The challenge for any leader moving into a
new organization is to hit the ground running,
quickly bringing value to the business he or she
is supporting. In no field is this more true than
corporate finance, where pressure to reduce costs
is high and management tenure increasingly short.
Mike Kaelin, vice president of finance for a
business unit of RTI International, has a track
record of building high-performing finance teams
who are recognized for bringing value to the
businesses they support. He has refined a process
for evaluating, motivating and building teams over
the course of his last three financial leadership
positions and shares the system and lessons
learned along the way.
Start with a
clear vision of a finance team that is involved in
the business and engaged in key management
decisions. This vision is communicated to both the
team and the key stakeholders outside of the
finance team. Your vision will be used to develop,
implement and measure the success of specific
objectives and tactics during the execution of the
rest of this process.
This step is vital.
Everyone wants to know where they are going and
Identify and engage key
stakeholders right away. This step includes both
your boss and peers outside the walls of finance.
These internal clients or customers should be
treated the same way you would treat clients if
you were running a private practice. Your mission
is to serve and complement their needs.
Conduct structured interviews to identify what
is most important to your internal customers. If
your predecessor did not share your value-added
approach, then initially your peers may not
understand the reason for your questions, says
At this point you are building
your relationship in the organization and looking
for opportunities to demonstrate how your team can
bring value to internal customers. In effect, you
are teaching your team how to serve while teaching
the business how to be served by your team.
Meeting with internal customers is not a
one-time event; it is an ongoing process. Kaelin
schedules one-on-one meetings with each customer
every two weeks. While this requires a significant
amount of time, it helps tremendously when it
comes to implementation. Transitions are much
smoother as the customers discover that their
input results in specific actions.
THE CURRENT ORGANIZATION
quick evaluation of the existing organization is
critical to a new leader’s success. In addition to
ending the suspense for team members, it is
essential to know the strengths of existing team
members and to determine that everyone is in the
right role to leverage their strengths and
In individual interviews with
your group, give each team member an opportunity
to start learning about you while you learn about
them. Start by asking team members to describe
their current roles and to explain their work
history in the organization. Also ask about their
past positions and probe to discover what their
biggest challenges are. Make a point to learn what
does and does not motivate them and how you can
help them be more successful.
THE RIGHT HAND
initial assessment period, look for someone who
can be your “right hand.” This is someone who
shares your vision for the finance team. Kaelin
sometimes finds this person on an existing team
and at other times goes outside of the
organization to find this critical person. In this
individual you are looking for someone whose
skills complement yours.
Another factor is
making certain that this person is right for your
current organization. At times it is tempting to
hire someone who has worked for you in a previous
company. Sometimes this can be a great move, but
just because an individual was well-suited for a
prior situation does not mean that they are the
right fit for the next one.
consideration is cultural fit. If changing the
culture of the existing team is a goal, then it is
essential for this “right hand” to be an effective
cheerleader for the changes that are slated to
take place in the organization.
The heavy lifting comes next. Now
that you have input from the internal clients your
department supports and have developed some
initial impressions of the members of the team you
inherited, the next step is to learn more about
your team and help them learn more about you. This
is a critical step as it builds the next level of
trust required to work toward changing the
Kaelin calls on the human
resource department for assistance with the first
step in the assimilation process—a team meeting
facilitated by HR. This meeting is held off-site
in an informal setting. The team is given 13
questions to answer about Kaelin. He does not
attend this part of the meeting. After they have
answered these questions, Kaelin comes into the
meeting and reviews their answers and addresses
the additional questions raised during the
session. This process provides a very “safe”
environment for the team members to learn what
they want to know about their new leader.
More information about the team is also
revealed during this session. You have an
opportunity to observe the team dynamics and note
the level of engagement of the team members.
During this process, the team develops a list of
what needs to be done. Having the “to-do list”
come from the team creates a dynamic that fosters
the support of the team members from the beginning
of the change initiative.
The final and
probably most important benefit of this exercise
is that it opens the door for communication
between you and the individuals on your team. This
environment gives you a chance to let the team see
your human side. By being open and willing to
share about yourself, you encourage a level of
trust that facilitates the relationship building
needed to effect change.
Your goal is to
create an environment where your staff will bring
the issues to you. Early in the process, find ways
to reward team members who clearly fit the new
vision. As you determine who will not contribute
well to the new organization, strategically
recruit new employees who will mix well with the
team, and encourage them to move in the new
direction that you have set.
the first to admit that he has made mistakes along
the way. Here are some tips based on these
The timing of when you make changes
is critical. Be careful not to delay making the
Create the right blend of new team
members with the established staff and refocus to
get maximum results.
Respond quickly and effectively to
the small things first. This creates early wins,
which build confidence within the team and within
the organization you are serving.
Take on the big challenges after
building your credibility within the organization.
Do not take on too much at once.
Be resolute in your goals—do not
settle for less than what you want to achieve.
Communicate important issues up the
Have the tough conversations.
To be successful in today’s climate, financial
leaders are required to have more than technical
accounting skills. The ability to attract and
retain top financial talent and meld and motivate
these talented individuals into a high-performing
team is essential.
This process is a great
example of how a strong technician can expand his
or her abilities and achieve more through
effective deployment of a talented group of
finance professionals. Making this effort a
priority is certain to enhance the success of your
career and the success of the business you are