Dr. Amel Karboul

Should I fire my CFO?

Martin (CEO) called on the phone Friday 5pm:
Martin: “I need to talk to you, I want to make a decision if I want to continue working with my CFO or not! You know him, what do you think?”
Amel: “If you ask me if you should fire him or not, I am not going to give you an answer. However lets talk about what is going on in your mind right now. I can help you make your own decision based on your criteria and observation and reflect with you consequences for the business and for the organization.”

During our conversation, we found out the following main issues:

  • Martin was not happy with the performance of the CFO nor was the top team. The CFO did not follow up on decisions made by the board if he did not agree personally, he would say yes and then act differently upon his convictions.
  • We also found out that the CFO who was part of the organization since 25 years was hoping to become CEO himself, he never accepted Martin – an outside newcomer – as a boss. And the two were too different in their styles. Martin was suffering because of this lack of acceptance.
  • The CFO had a lot of fans and high acceptance within the organization, Martin was afraid if he would fire him, that he will have an “internal rebellion” perhaps even sabotage and the organization was in a difficult turn around situation.

I tried as a coach to challenge Martin. Is the poor performance real or is it just that they did not go along well. If it is the second point, may be mediation between the two or a teambuilding for the whole team would help. I was concerned Martin’s vanity would lead him to a decision, which can be harming the business.

After writing down all criteria and having gone through an evaluation of them, Martin took the decision not to fire his CFO – for the moment being. He discovered himself that his evaluation of the performance was very much biased by the “he’s not accepting me as a boss” feeling. Martin decided that he is going to have an open conversation with each team member including the CFO. He decided to take external help for teambuilding, to better understand the team dynamics and how to improve them. And as a third step: to conduct a 360-feedback assessment for himself as a leader. Two months after having done these three steps he would take time to reflect again about the progress achieved and takes a final decision.

Three months later, he fired the CFO. At that moment it was a decision made on concrete observations around poor performance and hindering behavior. The board and the other members of the team supported the decision. Even within the organization the expected rebellion did not happen. The most important outcome for Martin was however that he had made his decision not on a personal liking or not basis but on a more professional basis.

Martin’s biggest learning was: “ I am happy I did not fire him 3 months ago, otherwise I would have not learned so much about our team dynamics and other dysfunctions.  Also I would not have learned so much about my self, my strengths and my weaknesses as a leader … my vanity and how to overcome it!”

common sense but not common practice