CFOs and the Three Steps to Financial Transformation
CFOs and their teams have a key role to play in the success of financial transformation projects - and are the best-placed to keep them from failing.
Mark White, Financial Performance Management Specialist at MHR Analytics, outlines the steps financial specialists must take to keep projects from falling short.
It may come as a surprise, but research shows technology accounts for less than 1% of financial transformation failures.
Unfortunately, technology is often used as the scapegoat when the promised benefits fail to accrue from a major project. The reality is that most transformations fall short because neither an organisation’s leadership, nor its employees have developed the necessary growth mindset.
It’s here that the role of the CFO is critical in financial transformation. Firstly, to sell the transformation vision to the C-level executives and secondly, to empower and encourage the finance team and make them central to the journey. When the CFO knows the team is ready for change and understands the benefits, he or she has greater confidence in taking on the risk of transformation. Because employees let go of the past, they change with less resistance and become productive in the new situation.
At the outset it is important for the CFO to have a clear vision of what the organisation is trying to achieve and deliver. This is where the use of external expertise can make a significant contribution, helping understand the ‘art of the possible’.
Once this is understood, the organisation should set a realistic scope and matching expectations, taking small, manageable steps rather than trying to “boil the ocean”. Remember, transformation is an ongoing process and it should have no time limits.
At the outset it is important for the CFO to have a clear vision of what the organisation is trying to achieve and deliver.
As well as having the right mindset, devoting enough time to focus on transformation through strategising, training and delivering can also be a major cause of project failure. It is important to prioritise the use of internal expertise to deliver transformation, encouraging input and buy-in. But when the required know-how is absent internally it will be necessary to seek external help.
We can summarise the journey to financial transformation in a three-step process.
Step 1 – set a vision
The CFO and the finance team should set the vision. Finance teams should consider where they want to be on the scale that goes from bean-counters to strategists. It’s worth canvassing the organisation for its perceptions as a starting point.
Then teams need to get into the nitty-gritty of each process, identifying where there are inefficiencies, potential barriers and what their impact will be. Some limitations may be around systems and technologies or available resources and skills. Identifying the future impact on resource and skill-sets may be difficult at this early stage, but it is worth the effort.
From here the team should set out a high-level plan for transformation, mapping key steps and quick wins, quantifying benefits, and calculating an outline cost. External expertise may well be necessary to achieve this. The output from these efforts is a strategic finance transformation plan that the CFO should sell to the CEO and the board.
Step 2 - select a technology platform and partner
Pull together detailed requirements, platform restrictions and a deployment methodology. This will result in a selection process to identify the technology platform and partner that best suits your needs.
Step 3 - start with quick wins and then move on
The transformation team should now look for quick wins because it is critical to build confidence and momentum in the early stages. Starting with process improvements to free key staff to deliver further transformation. Once the foundations are in place, the finance team can start to effect change in the organisation, improving perceptions of its role.
Transformation, like time, never stops, but it does not have to start with a Big Bang event that causes shockwaves in an organisation. The transformation journey needs to begin with setting a vision for the CFO and finance team. Once this is in place, an organisation should select a technology platform and partner for delivery. Finally, it must deliver transformation as an ongoing initiative, using external expertise for guidance when required. This is the three-step approach that makes financial transformation far more likely to deliver success for the finance team and the organisation it serves. It should no longer be necessary to blame the technology.