Finance Director’s, what role are you taking? Parent, Adult or Child?

For those of you have been exposed to Transactional Analysis, you will recognise the terms parent, adult and child. For those who haven’t come across these terms together, they refer to the way you act when reacting to other people’s behaviour. Developed by the psychologist Dr. Eric Berne, he observed his clients followed unconsciously what appeared to be scripts on a stage. Only when his clients were aware of the scripts that they acted out, were they able to change.

It strikes me that commonly Finance Director’s working in corporations or large organisations take on a particular role when supporting decision making and control approvals. Since Sarbanes Oxley, the emphasis on appropriate controls and sign off’s, have been even more stringent and often the Finance Director is fundamental in the sign off process. All of the accountants I have worked with take this responsibility very seriously. So seriously, it’s very easy to fall into the critical parent role and ask with a full air of authority and judgement:

  • What’s the financial analysis and risk evaluation? (Have you done all your homework?)
  • Does that investment really need to be made? (Are you just being greedy or lazy?)
  • Why do you want it now? (Can’t you wait and be patient?)
  • Who else supports this? (Will the other parents approve?)

These questions in themselves are perfectly appropriate and correct. It’s only if they are asked using the inflection of the subtext (the questions in the brackets) that the role of critical parent has been taken. If this parental role is adopted then there are likely to be two main outcomes:

  • The requestor will act like a compliant child and work extra hard to seek your approval
  • The requestor will act like a naughty child and work to avoid your controls and need for approval


It’s the latter where problems can arise. I have had substantial experience working with sales teams and frequently I would find that Sales Managers and Directors had tried (and sometimes succeeded) to circumvent the sales investment approvals process. The best way to tackle this was to try to engage as adult to adult, explaining the rationale of the controls and approval process and bring engagement at that level.

It’s too easy to get a reputation of saying ‘no’ or taking a judging role as a Finance Director. Changing the view on the role you take, makes a big difference to compliance and colleague engagement.

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