Should You Take a Lateral Move?

I’ve been interviewed by a very smart, career-enhancing blog – The Glass Hammer – designed for women executives in financial services, law and business. 

It was founded by Nicki Gilmour, one of the original team assembled at the Financial News in London to run The Financial News Group’s online career sites.  She is a Belfast native who transplanted in the US to run the sites, which were subsequently sold, and is now CEO and Founder of Evolved People Media LLC.

The topic of the blogpost is 5 Reasons NOT to Take a Promotion, a savvy, contrarian point-of-view that is both pragmatic and strategic for the current business environment, in particular, and also fits the context of corporate succession planning.  See bullet #4, Tick the Boxes, for my comments. 

Here is the back-story – some of my original comments to the writer, Elizabeth Harrin (London): 

When recruiters go to market for talent on behalf of client companies, they are seeking a matrix of specific requirements.

When a company’s Board discusses succession planning, particularly in the office of the CFO, they are similarly looking for specific “boxes” to be checked regarding what the company needs for the current market environment as well as future challenges and opportunities.

If you are lacking any of the important criteria, you will not be considered for the position. If no one inside the company meets the specifications for the position, it is likely that the company will go outside for talent.

Let’s say your goal is to become CFO of your current organization, a large public company. If you are in the role of plant controller or division finance, as an example, it would make all the sense in the world to create a rotational career path for yourself within your current company and pursue lateral moves that would provide the necessary breadth to be considered for the CFO role.

Getting SEC reporting experience or an assistant corporate controller role would be a valuable move. Doing time in corporate development — even if it is as an M&A; analyst — would also be a plus. Jumping onto a task force involving post-merger integration would be another example of critical experience to access.

Ditto a committee of any type involving a major ERP implementation. I would even go so far as a stint in investor relations — even if it is in a supporting role. Then, look at revenue experience — typically key criteria for a CFO role — and jump back into opportunities at the largest operating units. Add an international posting in a critical growth market. Voila! You have the breadth and been there/done that experience to be considered as a “fly-up” to the CFO position. If you do not have a CPA, that is also a credential to consider.

A caveat: If the Board is mandating a “been there/done that” requirement of previous experience in the CFO slot, you may still get over-ruled for that ultimate opportunity. This is no reflection on you, it’s just how talent is specified, evaluated and selected.    

Boards and hiring decisionmakers are typically risk averse in troubled, uncertain economies. If you vie for the CFO slot and do not make it, this is when it would make sense to explore CFO possibilities at a smaller revenue level company — perhaps in a similar industry where your best practices experience and competitive perspective could command a high value.

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Copyright © 2012 Nancy Keene