How One CFO Energizes Her Organization

By Elaine Siciliano Morris, Senior Associate

“A leader is someone who can get things done through other people.” (Warren Buffet)

In short, you are a leader only if others will successfully follow you.

This month we highlight our client, Natalie Knight, CFO of adidas North America. Henry Evans observes that Natalie models a leadership style that inspires others to eagerly follow her lead. She has three outstanding strengths that exhibit seasoned business skills along with emotionally-intelligent influencing competencies:

1) Operational Understanding – Natalie is not only interested in the numbers, but makes the effort to understand the operations, challenges and opportunities of other departments. This is an important emotional competency called “empathy” – not common in more left-brained, analytical leaders.

2) People Skills – she empowers each team with open information, making them feel stronger. She networks formally through her direct reports, and peers. She also makes sure she connects through more informal channels by reaching out to colleagues in other departments and divisions, giving her a more global outlook that impacts her decisions.

3) Good Balance between Strategic and Tactical. Strategy involves planning for the future to realize the longer vision while tactics relate to immediate and short-term goals. Natalie is known for having a strategic eye, both for the finance division she oversees and the overall corporate vision yet she never sacrifices needed attention to detail in day-to-day financial management.

Learn how Natalie did it!

Here is our interview:

Elaine: What are your biggest accomplishments since you joined adidas 1½ years ago?

Natalie: I am most proud of restructuring and energizing the finance organization, growing it from a more “old school” form of management. Now we go beyond being “number crunchers” and foster real business partnerships, getting people engaged in strategic discussion. Because of this, we are more able to hold people accountable and have designed new Key Performance Indicators.

Elaine: Tell me more about how you did that.

Natalie: One of our best incentive programs this past year was the “back to school” push contest, which addressed completion time on open orders. We hold people accountable on a weekly basis and keep the results visible on published scoreboards. We use a football field analogy, which everyone in our sports-oriented company loves. We highlight three big metrics to show how each group is driving its contribution. In this example, open orders were driving our backlog. The managers took the ball and carried it down to the account executive level. This rallying cry from management, sent a clear message about our focus. We discovered the power of incentivizing people to achieve targeted goals. Each management group receives a nice dinner for winning the contest; and if they win for the overall period they receive additional team bonuses.

Elaine: That’s great, but it doesn’t sound like something a CFO would initiate! In setting up this interview with your assistant Karine, she shared that you have a great deal of energy and go out of your way to share your enthusiasm. She said you make sure everyone understands your directives and really connect with people by exhibiting a truly supportive attitude. What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

Natalie: Despite a difficult economic environment we have made huge strides in cash generation and inventory control. We created a greater focus on cash and changed the mind-set to inspire increased ownership in monitoring inventory. We brought all stakeholders to the table to increase cost containment and inaugurated many creative strategies for achieving short and long-term goals.

Elaine: What advice would you give to other CFO’s?

Natalie: I believe three things are most important for any CFO:

1) Go in and prove the value you bring with good information and decision-making. You have to look for ways to drive the value by giving others the information to help them operate more effectively. You don’t want others perceiving you only as the dreaded financial head who always says, “No,” to budget requests.

2) Strengthen your own team – this provides value for other managers by ensuring that your team is competent and can serve others well. It must be transparent that it’s not just “me” doing it all. Everyone must understand that the entire team is providing value.

3) Drive creativity – Don’t be afraid to think outside the box – and inspire others to look for ways that are not traditional.

“In any organization, it’s all about people and you won’t be disappointed in over-investing time on that side” Natalie Knight

How’s that for a take-away? Thank you Natalie!

Join us for discussion: “What do you most need from your CFO?”

Dynamic Results is a strategy and organizational development firm serving clients globally. As part of our strategic alliance with TAYLOR WINFIELD, Dynamic Results helps find, develop and retain top executive talent for our clients.

As always, we welcome your comments. Join us on facebook to share your experiences or email us at [email protected].

Want to exhibit the kind of leadership Natalie possesses? Learn how!

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