Building an Engaged Finance Team with Dr. Jeff Smith, PhD

In CFO by Sophie Galtress

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In this new episode of CFO Stories series, we have invited Dr. Jeff Smith. Dr. Smith is a psychologist, cultural strategist, inventor, and speaker who uses design and technology to help people and organizations thrive. He focuses on using software services education and community to help people thrive at work. He is also the creator of Five’s Best-Self Academy and the best self-management certification which is a forever free online platform.

The episode will cover:

  • Story & Journey of Dr. Jeff Smith’s 15Five
  • Key areas critical to building and engage the team
  • How a CFO can approach engagement with every individual in the organization?
  • Positioning your finance team to the rest of the organization
  • How to identify if its working – or not?


Story & Journey of Dr. Jeff Smith’s 15Five


His career started focusing on customer experience, user experience, and making technology that helps people accomplish their goals. In Bandwidth, before 15Five, he helped take another look at the orientation and onboarding experience where he was applying a lot of user experience and product principles that he knew to creating a more consistent experience as people join Bandwidth. Through his work in Bandwidth, he got an exposure to 15Five while they were looking for performance management solutions.

Key areas critical to building and engage the team


Motivation and engagement are so critical. Organizations are focused on performance as well. The relationship between a team member and manager is so critical. Motivation is the consistencies across people where they value autonomy, mastery, purpose, relatedness, belonging, and money. It is important for a manager to understand that individual’s unique motivational signature (i.e what matters to this specific person).


The best thing about self-kick-off is that it allows a manager to learn that thing about that person within the first couple of days of them joining in the organization. It helps the manager understand what motivates and demotivates the employee and helps accelerate and build relationships.


Engagement is a multi-faceted challenge where there’s team members can do and there’s things managers, HRs, and senior leaders can do.


Context – think about different layers (i.e what can I have my managers do to help with engagement, what can I do with my team level to make sure that people are feeling a sense of purpose, motivated, that their work matters and that we are nurturing progress)


Measurement is critical for motivation and engagement to assess where the team is at. And using these measurement to build new programs and approaches.

How a CFO can approach engagement with every individual in the organization?


An engagement is the study of someone staying energized, inspired, and experiencing meaningful work. A classic definition is that definition is about the relationships between the demands that you’re experiencing at work and the resource that you have to meet those demands.


And whenever individuals have too many demands for the amount of resources that they have over time, it’s likely that they can become burned out. Healthy selfishness is promoting the idea that you deserve self-care, a break, a vacation, some rest and recovery no matter what stage you organization is at.


Making time to ensure that you are celebrating not only the wins but also the progress along the way. It’s really important to honor and understand the impact you are making on other people.


It’s really critical for inspiration and motivation for people to be doing meaningful work and understanding the impact it has on other people and on the work. As a CFO, it is also important to remind yourself about inspiration and motivation as you attempt to stay engaged and motivated.

Positioning your finance team to the rest of the organization


So many finance team sit sat and don’t engage, doing more strategic work, but not positioning themselves towards to the rest of the organization.

The rest of the business made these decisions, now let’s go tell these people who actually just make sure all the boxes and actually it should be reversed because the finance function and the people function are both talking about these really critical assets that your organization has, money, people and how to bring them to life.


Individuals need to be making themselves available and helping people understand what’s possible.


Making it really clear how you want people to partner with you is essential. Start with one strategic service  that you provide and then start building relationships that the executive level around how finance can be more strategic.


Many leaders, are outside, of finance don’t necessarily have all of the business acumen necessary to make the right decisions and to even understand the financials implication of a lot of decisions that they make.   

How to identify if its working – or not? 

Most businesses, at the moment, don’t have the tools to analyze whether they are failing or not


Google, 3M and other companies have 10-15% time that allow for these additional explorations. Individuals who are leaders in finance can contribute to those conversations in a number ways such as; help with the business case, zooming out and looking at where the investments we’re making across the entire business to understand whether we have the right mix.

Key quotes


“If I don’t have autonomy in my role, it’s really challenging to stay motivate because I feel constricted. I don’t feel I can be creative.”


“Try stuff and experiment and fail fast. The focus is on failure, not on learning.”


A book entitled Radical Candor by Kim Scott – “Challenging directly and caring personally”


“To keep your people motivated and energized, one of the main things that you need to do as a leader is to make sure that they are doing meaningful work that matters, they’re making progress on that work regularly and they are noticed for it.”

Links mentioned on this podcast:

Dr. Jeff Smith’s LinkedIn

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