Pulp Innovation Chapter LXXVI: a CFO Full of Surprises

Marlow approaches the CFO with a request for innovation funds expecting him to hem and haw, and say they need more evidence and a better projection of the results of the work. Instead, he is pleasantly surprised...

True to his word, George made time for us within just a few days of the completion of the budget requests. I think he was receptive to the meeting for several reasons. First, since it would deal with money, that placed the meeting in his comfort zone. Second, with Gregg on board George now had a champion who had real needs and problems to solve, so he could sense commitment and momentum. And third, I think George was actually excited about the possibilities of innovation. He was at risk of catching some of our engagement and enthusiasm, which was quite possibly one of the best outcomes to date. He didn’t even really blanch at the numbers we requested.

“Are you sure this will be enough?”

“We’ve been through our plan with great care” said Gregg “and looked over previous workplans and budgets from other Marlow projects. We think that we can get this done for about a million dollars.”

“OK. What’s your projected return?”

It was our turn to blanch. If this were a cartoon sequence and not an actual discussion among professional adults, the bubble over my head would be full of #!* characters. We didn’t even know what problem we were going to solve, much less what ideas we’d generate. We had no possible way to conceive what the return would be on a product or service we hadn’t dreamed up yet and George was asking us for a return!

George was eyeing us curiously, and a small grin spread across his face.

“Got you” he said. “I know that ‘ROI’ to an innovator is like garlic to a vampire. I can find these funds, and we working under the knowledge that we need to invest in order to discover new needs. You guys can proceed with the work.”

I couldn’t believe it. I’d been snookered by the lowest of all comedic forms, a CFO. But we’d come out with the funds we needed to accelerate the project with Gregg’s team, with little heartburn along the way, so I was willing to be the recipient of George’s deadpan humor.

“Recognize that this ROI absolution doesn’t absolve you from creating a projected ROI for any product or service you propose down the road. We may be straying a bit from our financial best practices in this instance, but we will need to see real business justification for any product or service you intend to build or deploy based on the innovation work you do.”

“Fully understood” said Gregg. “I never knew you had it in you to pull one like that.”

“We CFOs are full of surprises. I’m a lot funnier than most people think.”

Great, a CFO who is full of surprises and thinks he is a comedian. We had him on our side for now, and we’d need to keep him there. I don’t want to be on the bad side of a CFO who likes to spring surprises.

Gregg led us out and down the hall. In the elevator he turned to Susan and me, I think with a new level of appreciation.

“What just happened never happens.”

“What, that George agreed to fund the work?”

“Yes. I was expecting him to hem and haw, and tell us we needed more evidence and a better projection of the results of the work. Nothing ever gets approved on the first ask by finance in this organization. Do you have unseemly photos of Brockwell? How did this become such a priority that he’d change his procedures?”

“George has the fervor of the newly converted, and Angus is driving hard to get more innovation to take back to the Street in a few quarters. While we have that momentum, we’re going to see some interesting, strange decisions in our favor, so we’ve got to get up to speed and move quickly. One or two poor quarters or some new product announcement by Tynder and this could all change. As much as I hate to use a hackneyed phrase, we’ve got to strike while the iron is hot.”

Susan, who had merely observed the meeting and the discussion between Gregg and me, spoke up at this point.

“Gregg, Angus and George may have the desire to move quickly and we’ve got to capitalize on it. But that isn’t necessarily going to translate to the people we work with every day. They haven’t received the messages and our momentum and success or failure mean nothing to them. We need more communication about the urgency and importance of this project from George or Angus, and we need to smash any roadblocks that get placed in our way. You’ll need to be a good negotiator, but also a good bulldozer to push through the barriers.”

Part negotiator, part bulldozer with the sense to know when to deploy which personality. That is really the definition of a good innovation leader.

By Jeffrey Phillips

About the author:


Jeffrey Phillips is VP Marketing and a lead consultant for OVO Innovation. Jeffrey has led innovation projects for Fortune 5000 firms, academic institutions and not-for=profits based on OVO Innovation’s Innovate on Purpose™ methodology. The Innovate on Purpose methodology encourages organizations to consider innovation as a sustainable, repeatable business process, rather than a discrete project. Jeffrey is the author of “Make Us More Innovative,” and blogs about innovation at Innovate On Purpose. He is a sought after speaker and has presented to corporations, innovation oriented conferences, and at a number of universities.

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