The Social CFO - Mastering the Art of Storytelling to Deliver Results

The Social CFO – Mastering the Art of Storytelling to Deliver Results

CFO Storytelling

By Ernie Humphrey, CTP

In previous blogs, I have focused on the rise of the Social CFO, how a Social CFO can collaborate effectively with marketing and sales leaders, and how the Social CFO builds and empowers his or her Finance dream team. The importance of communication has been a connecting theme in the Social CFO series. To earn the role of the Chief Trusted Advisor, the Social CFO needs to communicate with impact to build consensus, deliver innovation, and drive transformation. A critical tool that too few CFOs leverage to communicate with impact is storytelling.

Inspired by the incredible content and insights of Nancy Duarte and her colleagues at Duarte, Inc., my next series of Social CFO blogs are designed to empower CFOs to lead across and beyond the enterprise. Mastering the art (and science) of storytelling all begins with selecting the right type of communication plot. In this blog, we are going to explore warning story plots and how to use them.

Warning Story Plots

The warning story plot is where you highlight the consequences of inaction and/or the consequences of taking a course of action that could result in less than ideal outcomes. This storytelling strategy may be more comfortable for most CFOs, as they have the reputation of being the person who needs to say no to marketing and sales leaders, and often play the “bad cop” to a CEO who wants to play “good cop.”  

Five types of warning story plots are:

1. Neglect Reality: talk about the cost of disregarding red flags. When you use this storytelling plot, you set the stage to identify the cost (consequence) of doing business or usual and accepting the status quo. 

An example:

“I watched a webinar on which the speaker talked about five red flags that a company’s accounts payable processing costs are too high. If we do not investigate the efficiency of our accounts payable processes, it could continue to cost our company thousands of dollars to our bottom line due to process inefficiencies.”

2. Ignore the Prize: talk about the benefits of changing with the times. With this storytelling method, you are combatting the “We’ve always done it this way” mentality. Set the stage with the advantages that come with change.

An example:

“Companies are leveraging AP automation to empower better relationships with suppliers, promote working capital efficiency, and remove a productivity drag on all employees involved in a company’s P2P process. We need to leverage technology to reduce company costs and fuel growth by allowing people to spend more time on value-adding activities.”

3. The Comeback: talk about the value of making a mistake and finding the way back to the right path. People relate to this type of storytelling because we all enjoy a good comeback story.

An example:

“Ernie wanted to be a professor, but after many years investing in getting his Ph.D., he was lost as he finally realized that academia was not for him. Ernie realized what his true passions were, learning and helping others achieve career success. Ernie followed these passions and is now a global thought leader in many areas and a highly sought after public speaker.”

4. Lost the Way: talk about getting off the right track and rediscovering the path to success. Abandoning fundamental principles often puts companies at risk. I use this storytelling method when convincing people to “get back to the basics.”

An example:

“A company was built on customer service and strong relationships with each client. The company took on investors who insisted on rapid growth. The company culture and commitment to customer service were lost. Not only did growth slow, but they also lost market share. The company convinced its investors of the importance of sustainable growth and committing what fueled its competitive advantage. The culture of “the customer is king” came back, and the growth the investors initially clamored for came to fruition.”

5. Fall Forward: talk about lessons learned from a failure and how to value failure. I often use this storytelling plot, even with my kids. Life’s greatest lessons are often learned in failure.

An example:

“A company whose target audience was finance leaders got the CEO to invest in growing the marketing team. The CMO hired a few marketing superstars in the B2C (business to consumer) space. These hires were a disaster as they did not understand the challenges and opportunities of the company’s target audience, finance leaders. The CMO learned from these mistakes and hired a few finance leaders who were once CFOs that had transitioned to being CFO consultants on her marketing team. The CMO taught them marketing, and with their knowledge in engaging CFOs from being a CFO, her team fueled company growth. She regained the trust she had lost with her CEO after a few marketing hires gone wrong.”

In my next blog, I will focus on another critical storytelling plot type, the motivational plot. If you want to learn more about becoming a Social CFO, visit our Social CFO blog hub.

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