Do you use Spotify? Have you noticed that it comes up with playlists recommended for you based on your 'high rotations'? You may have read about their series of billboard campaigns?
What is meaning?
According to the dictionary, meaning means: "the thing one intends to convey especially by language".
Ultimately, it's about taking something and making sense of it in a particular context. Often to communicate a conclusion or to meet a specific goal or outcome. It's about sense making.
Financial services: making more than money
I remember when I first started in financial services - I was in a life insurance company and until that point knew very little about the very specialised world of life insurance. As an accountant, there was a whole portion of the balance sheet and income statement I needed to understand and the massive numbers were at first quite overwhelming. The fact that a number of them offset each other or moved in one period from one balance to another started to boggle my mind.
So I asked the Appointed Actuary for coffee to try and lift the lid on this 'black box' I'd so infamously heard about in the industry. He very graciously shared with me his background as an actuary and in doing so, made me see and understand the very core purpose of life insurance. It wasn't about the black box of actuarial assumptions, reserves, morbidity rates and lapses, it was about people. Security. The things that matter.
The financial services industry has realised they need to start communicating through the things that really matter to their customers. That's what's meaningful. You only need to turn on the TV and watch the latest ads, the latest billboards around town, and even the ring around the football stadium to see that the industry wants you to know that they care about you and what you care about.
They want their relationship with customers to be meaningful.
Meaning is contextual
Last week I had the pleasure of spending the day facilitating a workshop for an ASX CFO and his leadership team. It was a 2 step process, with the intention of the workshop being to help the team understand themselves and each other better so they could operate together more cohesively and enjoyably. For context, this team is high functioning, led by an exceptional CFO, and operates in a business that has experienced a significant amount of change at the leadership level, and transformation at the organisational level. It was the first opportunity for the team to stop and take a breath in almost 8 months.
As tends to be the case with finance leadership teams who are largely high performing and have leaders with a reasonable sense of self-awareness, we ended up having a conversation around meaning and purpose. It quickly became clear that the definition of meaning and purpose was different for every one of us. For some, it meant core purpose in life, for others it meant the priorities in their current workplace/career situation. Regardless of how each person defined their meaning, our conversation quickly progressed to the challenges faced in maintaining alignment with what we deem is important to us. We spent a lot of time discussing the choices we'd like to make, the boundaries we need to set and how we show up at work.
3 key elements to help CFOs make meaning
First and foremost the purpose of our session was about support. In a high paced, high pressure environment, how does the team work together to support each other more? What was the obstacle getting in the way of said support on a day to day basis, given that every member in the FLT genuinely expressed their desire to support each other? The expectation of urgency and lack of time. This is, in fact, a 'space' issue. Our job was to make meaning of behaviours in the context of the team's work environment.
Making meaning for CFOs and their teams is also about storytelling. This is the skill of financial translation. Financial translation is about telling the story behind the numbers, assumptions and levers in a way that's easy for people to understand and useful for making business decisions. But as a describe in my second book, CFO of the Future, financial translation is much more than that. It's about trust, empathy and education.
Impactful storytelling is a skill that also requires space. Space to think strategically, to see the trends, to detect what the numbers don't show and to figure out the 'so what'?
Making meaning is at the core of what CFOs and their teams do to create value for their businesses and how they operate in a more cohesive and effective manner.
Making meaning is essential for CFOs.
Meaning is the ultimate connector
We often say that when we have a great idea or insight, it's a lightbulb moment. That's because the moment that our brain has connected separate concepts and made meaning of them together, the moment that happens, is like that experiment we did in primary school when we formed an electric current through the touching of 2 wires and the light turns on. And when the light goes on, and you have that lightbulb moment, suddenly everything becomes clear and the right action can be taken.
The conversation last week saw many lightbulbs go off which enabled the team to have deep empathy and understanding for each other, to understand the 'why' behind behaviours and in doing so, identify what they can do on a day-to-day basis to support each other more effectively.
At an 'on-the-job' level, our biggest challenge is taking the time and space to make meaning of context, numbers and strategy so we can be more effective in our storytelling. But if we want to drive sustainable change and value, we must.
Otherwise we'll keep listening to "All Night Dance Party" and continue to wonder why it's so hard to get up in the morning.