Why finance transformations rarely 'complete' After years of being seen as 'back-office', research and market insights clearly mandate that 'Finance needs to be the leader of delivering the strategic objectives of the organisation.' When statements like those are made, I reckon that about a third of staff within Finance do an internal fist pump, thinking 'yes, this is why I joined Finance', but the other two thirds look blankly. You see, when you have such a deeply entrenched mindset about something, it takes more than headlines and statements to have the impact they're going for.
You can't always predict someone's response
It's the basis of behaviour change. We can 'know' something at a very rational and logical level, but until we have made sense of it, we can't truly understand and make 'it' happen. Earlier this year I had the privilege of delivering my baby niece. What an amazing experience to be a part of. Once she entered the world, it was time for Dave, my brother-in-law, to share the news with his mother in Ireland. They had decided to call her 'Éire', the goddess after whom Ireland is named. Beautiful name, beautiful history and beautiful meaning. But listening to the conversation between Dave and his mother was hilarious. It went something along the lines of: 'Hi mum, we've had the baby and all is well. We have named her Éire.' 'What?' 'Éire' 'What?' 'Éire. You know, like Ireland' 'What?' (This may have happened about 3 more times....I'll spare you.) 'Éire. You know what, I'll call you back later.' Clunk. Call over. It was an absolute crack up to listen to, because knowing that they had set my newest niece up for a lifetime of that exact conversation (one I am all-too familiar with), I thought that this one - with Dave's Irish mother - would be the easy one!! The fact is, according to Dave, that his mum was expecting a different name, so there was nothing in that moment that could have made her comprehend the one they'd chosen.
How does this relate to Finance transformation?
I am a supporter of Finance transformation. In fact, the concept excites me. I truly believe there is so much opportunity for Finance professionals to flourish within their organisations: to step up and take the leading role in delivering organisational success. So I agree the intent is good. It's the execution that isn't quite complete. Structures and systems are changed, new roles created, and internal comms delivered. Change managers are often brought in to help. But we can't always predict how the transformation will be received and adopted by everyone in the team. Now, senior leadership usually adapts to this pretty well because they're closer to the decision maker and have the skills to more readily adjust to their enhanced roles. In fact, a lot of this agility is now innate in these leadership roles. But while the leaders themselves may be able to step up and pivot in these new roles, they are generally so immersed in the new role that they don't step back and take the time to work their team through the change. Quite often, they don't have that particular skillset nor the detailed knowledge about what the transformation means to their teams' roles. They may pass on the internal comms, have a few team meetings where they discuss 'feelings', but the hard work is in the new skills and behaviours that their team needs to deliver in the post-transformation world.
This is why transformations often don't make the (real) finish line
The maths that sits behind this assertion is not new. If you invest time and effort into 6 leaders across a team of 150 staff, and they are 25% more impactful in their jobs, then the increase in impact will be high. However, imagine the effect if you took incremental steps to increase the individual impact - even by 5-10% - across all 150 staff? The cumulative impact would be exponential.
Why is this important?
Your staff are your brand - they are walking talking advocates of everything you do. What I've seen happen repeatedly is that staff can inadvertently - and easily - undermine transformation efforts simply because they haven't had the right intervention or guidance. They may be junior, but their activities and behaviours can be impactful both within Finance and across the organisation. What to do? If you want to drive transformation activity, and increase efficiency and effectiveness within your team, make sure you equip your leadership team with the skills and tools they need to lead their teams in the new world. This goes far deeper than job specs - it's about clarity of communications, removing distractions and providing the conditions that enable a step-change in performance. If you get that bit right, the last 20% will be effortless. The impact will be endless.