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Change and Transformation in the Finance Team

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Change is everywhere, and it has been for a number of years. It is here whether we like it or not and it’s probably safe to say that the pace of change isn’t slowing in any industry.

Change is creating huge opportunities for finance professionals. Those that can thrive in changing environments and can recognise the opportunities will have a major competitive advantage.

The CFO is one of the only roles that gets to overlook all parts of the business, which is unique. But it’s not enough just to support change. Transformative change needs leaders to drive it.

On the 2nd May, West Recruitment held its third “Lead the Change, Be the Change” event. We were fortunate to hear from a panel of highly knowledgeable and reputable leaders in Colin Christie, MD of Subaru Australia; Jon Cook, CFO of James Hardie Asia Pacific; and Robert De Bella, CFO of Qantas Loyalty who shared their thoughts on the most important aspects of change and transformation in the finance team.

How do you align your team when it comes to navigating change?

“At the end of the day, you learn by making mistakes” – Colin Christie, MD of Subaru Australia

Change is an area where progress comes with practice. You may come up with many great ideas but when you implement them you may realise that something is a brilliant idea but the traction (buy-in from stakeholders) simply isn’t there.

Colin has extensive hands-on experience navigating change. This is the approach he used recently: 

  1. Understand the team’s drivers - Colin brought in psychologists to work with the leadership team to help uncover the key triggers and motivators driving both individuals and the team. This is effective because the more you can understand these motives and triggers, the more chance you have of achieving success. This is because your messaging, the way you structure things, and the support framework you implement is all about how individuals react to certain situations and environments.
  2. Set the vision and mission - You need to be incredibly clear and direct on the message. Some of the best visions and missions are as short as five words. If you’re getting into paragraphs then you’re going too far.
  3. Set the building blocks up – The purpose and vision should always create an emotional connection. Because that is what makes people want to work for their teams and the brand. And you need to be able to translate that vision into people’s day to day job. To address this he created six “must win battles”. These are targeted and written in clear language - just half a sentence each. This spells out exactly what each person is trying to achieve and breaks down the series of actions needed to achieve them. Nothing happens in the organisation if it is not aligned with one of these actions.
  4. Individual performance agreements - Finally, everyone has a performance agreement or performance management plan. These include five objectives that are related to the key activities outlined in Step 3 above.

“If you try to go at breakneck speed on day one, you’ll just break everybody.” - Jon Cook, CFO, James Hardie Asia Pacific

Jon stresses the importance of taking your time and undertaking an assessment of the key contributors. These are the people who can add the most value and really help build the momentum for change.

It is often important to reorganise teams and change reporting lines where necessary so that communication and management processes are manageable. The role of the CFO isn’t to try and do 70 different people’s roles - it is to try and optimise each of those people’s roles by 5%. This is what results in creating really significant improvements.

Establish a clear vision so that people really understand why they’re turning up to work every day. If people don’t have a clear idea of why they’re needed in the organisation then it just leads to people not enjoying coming to work and high turnover.

Set one-page plans that incorporate the company vision, individual strategies and actions, and smaller goals and KPIs. This helps get buy-in around the vision and gives greater clarity to the objectives that feed in beneath it.

“The goal is to get people closer to the customer and closer to the business”. - Robert De Bella, CFO, Qantas Loyalty

At Qantas, Robert took a traditional hierarchical team (marketing, finance, sales, commercial) and turned agile. The process involved taking many people, transforming a traditional hierarchy structure to multiple scrums, each with a sole focus.

Each scrum has a designated leader, marketing person, finance person, and commercial person. This means that these teams no longer live in their functional team and instead live in a scrum.

This transformation can be hard as initially, it means that you need to give up some elements of control. And there are other difficulties that naturally arise too. Such as having business analysts who used to report into finance hierarchies suddenly finding themselves working across horizontal lines. This can be very unfamiliar to people used to traditional reporting ladders.

This process was ultimately successful due to a commitment to open communication around the why, where, and how. Qantas also benefited from having established a culture that supported that.

Another key factor in guaranteeing this success comes from having clarity around KPIs, which is essential to meeting commercial goals during the change process.

How can you make sure people join you on the change journey?

“You need to have a good grasp of the definition of talent as well as high potential.” - Colin Christie, MD of Subaru Australia

Even in the case of you having an incredibly talented person, that doesn’t always translate to them having a strong potential in the future of the transformed business. In these cases, you need to have a very clear understanding of exactly what it is that you’re trying to achieve and be prepared to make difficult staffing decisions that reflect those greater goals. 

And in a similar light, the best talent in your organisation doesn’t always come from where you expect it. Future talent is often sourced from the management team but may also be found in execution roles or have important roles to play as brand drivers.

These talented people need to be identified through their capacity for influence, not just where they fit into the hierarchy. And it is always beneficial to bring them in as part of the journey as early as possible and communicate to them why they are needed to help make the change.

The role of the first follower also cannot be overlooked. It’s far more powerful when someone else has the idea and you as a leader/manager are the first follower. This enables the speed of momentum to be drastically increased.

“As the CFO, you’re really only as good as your team.” - Jon Cook, CFO, James Hardie Asia Pacific

 If you don’t have a high performing team around you that have high performing people below them, you won’t be able to achieve goals. To address this you have several options - you can hire in talent (West Recruitment can help with that ;)), develop the talent internally, or use a combination of both. There is no one right formula that can be applied across the board.

One beneficial approach is to try and identify quickly who is on the bus and who’s not. There is also the self-selection involved when you start to raise the bar or bring someone new in with new ideas – quickly you’ll be able to see whether they inspire people to come on the journey or not.

 From a leadership perspective, if you don’t understand and connect with your people, they will only do the absolute minimum that they think is required. Ideally, you’re always looking for people who can go the extra mile when it counts.

There are inevitable situations when high performers choose to leave the organisation. And unfortunately when those people leave then often others feel like they should do the same. This can be difficult and it’s important not to take it personally. You need to learn from the situation and try to understand why people choose to move on. 

That’s why it’s vital that you’re approachable. Because if you don’t have an open door, approachable policy then you’re operating on the wrong level. 

“Talented people don’t always have the right soft skills to deal with change”. - Robert De Bella, CFO, Qantas Loyalty

To account for the key benefits that soft skills bring to effective change transformation, Qantas have developed a system based on 3 C’s: courage, curiosity, and collaboration. Qantas lives by this to help drive people to develop the soft skills so important to dealing with change.

Courage – those that show the courage to be willing to lean in. It also means the courage to be able to ask the hard questions or put themselves in the sometimes awkward positions needed to deal with change.

Curiosity - those that actively look to both explore and seek to understand. They are not shy and have a genuine willingness to look to collaborate.

Collaboration - is what it’s all about. Scrums are geared up now to understand that the more you collaborate, the better you perform.

As a leader who has instigated the change process, what is the one tip you can give to help people navigate the grey area that comes with the early part of the change process?

Colin Christie - Accept there will be some grey areas. Make it clear from the start that there will be challenges and then put in place the structures to support people. It’s important to communicate that it’s ok to be scared and to make mistakes. 

Jon Cook - The key is open communication channels. If you give a short presentation on the new vision, you can’t expect people to get it completely the first time. You need to create an open environment so that people can come back and ask questions and understand the why and the reasons that they’re turning up to work each day.

Robert De Bella - Those that grab the greyness and those that thrive are the ones that build resilience. If you build resilience the world is your oyster. It is the cornerstone of every great leader. Resilience drives leaders, careers, and people to do bigger and better things. And that comes from being in grey zones. Don’t hide from it, encourage people to live through it and give them the confidence and the support that they need through that process.

If you're interested in hearing more about West Recruitment's future events, get in contact here.

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