A new CFO joined one of my clients. He and the former CFO (who was now running one of the main divisions) were continually having strong disagreements on the strategic direction of the organization. They both thought the other was doing great damage to the company.
I was working with the senior team to develop a new strategic plan. One of the things I often do is something called a “Turning Points Analysis.” In brief, the team identifies certain major events in the organization’s history that they considered a turning point (performance either radically improved or declined.)
As this senior team worked together to analyze their Turning Points the former CFO did a lot of the talking because he had been there longer than anyone else. He had detailed recall of those times and circumstances.
As the organization’s history came to life in that conference room an interesting transformation took place. At one point the new CFO stood back and looked at several walls filled with flip charts describing the organizations past circumstances and decisions. He looked at the former CFO and said something that I will never forget:
“You know that I have strongly disagreed with nearly all of your decisions. But, now that I clearly see the circumstances that you were faced with I have to tell you that I would have done the exact same things you did.”
From that moment they began to work more effectively together. While they never became great friends, their improved working relationship allowed them to make a difficult joint decision to shut down an under-performing division that was sucking profits from the rest of the organization.
If the new CFO had not kept an open mind and been willing to change his opinion of the former CFO and his decisions they would have kept fighting and never been able to work together for the benefit of the whole.