Strategy & Operations » C-suite Communication » What to consider when you’re ready to resign from your CFO role

Adam Akbar, MD of Bronzegate, discusses what you should consider when you’re ready for the next career challenge

At least once in a CFO’s life, he or she will have faced that daunting moment of having to meet with their boss to tell them they are moving on. It’s never the most pleasant feeling but often a necessary part of career progression.

So, for those CFOs looking to make a career move, here are some observations that may prove helpful when resigning from their current roles.

Early preparation

Resigning from a leadership role always entails stepping away from a team that you have helped nurture, mentor and train. It also involves moving from an organisation to which you have dedicated a considerable amount of time, effort and emotional commitment. Both factors make the thought of resignation more difficult and often a little traumatic when the time has come to leave an organisation. One first step to make a resignation transition smooth and less painful is to prepare early.

Often leaders — and particularly those in more senior roles — will recognise that they are reaching a ceiling within their company where either a new role or challenge is not visible internally. It is at this point that an external move is the most viable option to progress their career ambitions. Many leaders are actually looking for a fresh intellectual challenge rather than financial gain, status or prestige from their next move, so it is important that they first recognise their own drivers early on and why they may look to leave an organisation.

Once it has been identified that a challenge may be required externally, CFOs can begin to prepare the ground so that there is minimal disruption when they leave. This could involve sharing more tasks across the team, thereby allowing others to help lead the function, or appointing someone as a de facto or actual deputy where they execute key responsibilities of the CFO role long before a departure is announced. This future-proofing helps all parties during an exit situation and allows for a much more amicable split as the organisation feels less compromised with the departure.

Maintain professionalism

Sometimes the right role does come at the wrong time for an organisation in that the CFO who is contemplating a move has business-critical responsibilities that they alone are best placed to handle. Most negative feelings towards a departure result from this sense that key tasks will be left incomplete. In these scenarios, the departing leader should always look to be as professional as possible, working with integrity to help manage tasks before they exit, training up others to fill the void and also seeing through the entirety of their notice period if it really helps their current organisation through a potentially difficult period.

Wherever possible, it is important to be as considerate of an organisation’s needs before leaving and act as professionally as possible. Reputations can be lost quickly and an amicable departure based on mutual respect should be the aim during any resignation process. This mantra should be applied even if you dislike your boss or the organisation, as maintaining your professional integrity is more important than leveraging a resignation process in the wrong way. It’s a small world and doing the right thing always pays dividends in the long run.

Resignation delivery

At the time of resignation itself, it is important to first have your rationale for the change mentally prepared and then articulate this in a succinct and cohesive way. A resignation meeting should not be a discussion around what the current organisation or your role may lack, but rather a statement of what the new position and opportunity presents in terms of career growth for you personally.

It is always advisable to have thought carefully through the move and to approach any resignation process with a resolute mentality that you are going to leave. If you have doubts, best practice is to discuss the move further with trusted external parties before making any decision.

Internal discussions depend on the strength and trust in your relationship and are also plausible, but it is important that, if the internal relationship is not on a sound personal footing, such a discussion does not leave an impression of non-commitment. Most people in industry also recognise that those who accept a counter-offer after initially resigning generally leave within a year as the circumstances that initiated the desire to leave have not usually changed in that period, despite the change of heart.

Effective management

Lastly, a resignation should not only be clearly articulated but needs to be effectively managed too. Individuals who are resigning from a CFO post need to ensure that they are sensitive to the business needs as well as the personal requirements, preferences and reactions of their immediate line manager. It is normal that a boss may at first have a more emotive reaction when the impending departure is first announced. Likely they will have relied on the leader as a direct report to take care of key tasks that are fundamental to their own job success.

The emotional reaction should be expected as normal and may also come with frustration and anger. Let the dust settle. In time, these reactions will take a more balanced tone as pragmatism kicks in. At that point there is usually a shift from an antagonistic approach to more conciliatory language when discussing the move. Be patient for this to happen and remain logical and calm in the face of any emotion. It is only when the mood has changed that specific details around notice period, etc., should be discussed as a better answer will be invariably received.

Resignations are a part of daily business life, so if they are approached as such and both sides work professionally, then more often than not, they are relatively straightforward to manage, and CFOs can look to develop their careers while maintaining a positive relationship with their former organisation.

Adam Akbar is MD of Bronzegate – CFO & Finance Leader Executive Search