As Seen in CFO Studio Magazine Q2 2017 Issue



There are many ways to define and measure what constitutes a team that is lauded as “high performing,” but when you get right down to it, “it’s all about the people and the culture.” That’s according to Scott Settersten, CFO of Ulta Beauty, the largest beauty specialty retailer in the U.S., based in Bolingbrook, IL. “It’s not just about hitting your financial targets. If you have a team that is unhappy, or doesn’t interact well with business partners, simply making your numbers is not enough. It spans way beyond that.”

Mr. Settersten spoke on “Building and Sustaining a High-performance Finance Team” at an invitation-only dinner discussion attended by CFOs from Chicago-area world-class companies. The event was held recently at Morton’s The Steakhouse in Chicago, and is part of CFO Studio’s Executive Dinner Series.

“People need a good environment to work in,” said Mr. Settersten. “They need to feel empowered so that they develop good working relationships across the enterprise and can work effectively to help move the business forward.

“You are the leader,” he said to his fellow CFOs in the room. “You own the culture. If you want a high-performance team, it’s up to you to set the pace.”

What Each One Values

The first pace-setting step in building a top-notch financial team is never forgetting that your employees have a life outside of the office. “Work/life balance is one of the hottest employment issues today,” Mr. Settersten acknowledged. “It’s very important to be open and adaptive to new and different circumstances, and provide your group with a decent chance to achieve the balance they crave and deserve.”

He suggested “role-modeling” examples of work/life balance to demonstrate how “it can be achieved without sacrificing on-the-job duties and responsibilities.” This could come in the form of flexible hours or telecommuting options, he noted.

In addition, be aware of the generational gaps in the workforce, and be sure to adapt your style when appropriate. “Different folks or groups value different things.”

Invest in the tools that can help your team members blossom into high performers. “You owe it to them to provide best-in-class software tools” to help them become more efficient and effective. “Maybe it’s the latest tax software that makes the process easier, giving folks more time to think about the outcome rather than compiling all the data,” he offered. “This will go a long way toward making people feel like you’re investing in them, that you’re concerned about their happiness and job satisfaction, and that you’re providing an environment where they can make progress and excel in their roles.”

Continue to show you care about the human side of your team by encouraging opportunities for career development. “Invest in training for your people to improve their skill set, whether it’s a specific subject matter expertise, or just general communication or leadership skills,” Mr. Settersten advised.

In some cases, however, you may need to reassess your talent. “If you have four high performers and one weak one, the high performers are going to look to you to address the situation.” Mr. Settersten acknowledged these are tough calls and difficult discussions, but sometimes they’re necessary to allow the team to move ahead.

The creation of a “road map” can help. “Talk with your team, acknowledge what the gaps are, and develop a plan on how you’re going to ultimately reach your goal.” But don’t stop there. “Engage with them, be accessible, and become an active feedback loop for them.”

The notion of a “road map” resonated with CFO Studio Business Development Partner Marilyn Bird, District President at Robert Half, which provides specialized staffing services for temporary and permanent accounting, finance, and bookkeeping professionals. “Having a definition of what a high-performance team means to you can help determine your action items, as well as how you measure where you’re trying to take the team.”

Keep It Going

Once you’ve witnessed your team transformed into a well-oiled machine of high performers, “It’s up to you, as the leader, to stay committed to sustaining the positive momentum.” Mr. Settersten said it’s a constant cycle of measuring and revisiting; and no news is not necessarily good news. “Go out there and proactively seek feedback to determine if you’re still making progress and achieving success.”

And don’t be afraid to ask for help. “Financial leaders resist seeking assistance because we’re the ones that are supposed to have all the answers,” Mr. Settersten explained with a laugh. “We may just try working harder, but working harder at the same thing isn’t going to solve the issue. You have to think about doing it a different way.” He suggested looking into benchmarking avenues and peer-to-peer networking groups to generate ideas, see what others are doing, and to borrow any best-in-class practices that make sense for you. After all, “More brainpower naturally leads to better outcomes.”

In addition, continue to invest in your team’s success. “The finance function always tries to do more with less, striving to be the role model for fiscal prudence in the organization,” Mr. Settersten pointed out. “We’ll feed the rest of the business, but in our area of oversight, we’ll just make it work somehow, because there’s not enough to go around, and it’s better to invest in sectors that are going to drive the top line and result in the biggest payoff.” That mind-set will suck the life out of your high-performance team, he said. “Resist the inherent urge to pass over your department when it comes to investing in new tools, training, and career-development activities.”

Worth the Effort

Mr. Settersten admitted there’s a lot to consider when building and sustaining a high-performance team. “With so many areas of finance in the CFO’s purview, and with tax laws and the like in flux, it’s quite a challenge. You’re always trying to get better while attacking a moving target.” That said, “It keeps it very interesting!”

But at the end of the day, Mr. Settersten said that we are all looking for the same kinds of things: “We want good people who are motivated and care about the quality of their work. We want to be able to foster a positive working environment for our teams so that, together, we can focus on delivering great business outcomes.”

Copyright 2017