The Secret of a Successful Transformation: An imperfect approach

“Be genuine, be true to yourself, and live and breathe the values you want to instil in the team.”

There’s much to learn from not succeeding! That was the key takeaway from our catch up with three CFOs - Cécile Parker of Vital Energi, Jeanette Wong of London Marathon Events, and Mark Laine-Toner at Evri.

We sat down for a frank discussion about turning finance transformation into continuous improvement, and why progress over perfection is the best strategy for success.

Embracing barriers to finance transformation 

If there’s one area of digital transformation you can count on to be beautifully imperfect, it’s the human beings at the heart of it all.

Reluctance, fear, fatigue -  managing your team’s emotions might be the toughest and most unpredictable part of finance transformation. But it can also be the secret to success if you get it right.

“At Evri, we’ve been doing digital transformation over a very long period of time. It can be a real challenge to keep people motivated the whole way through,” says Mark. “That’s because you’re wrestling with the flawed systems you’ve currently got, whilst simultaneously asking your team to invest a lot of time into changing things up.”

Cécile agrees a little empathy can go a long way. Appreciate what you’re asking of your employees and reassure them the hard work will all be worth it:

“Help them see the light at the end of the tunnel! What I keep saying to my team is the more time we invest now to change what we do and make it more efficient, then the more rewards we’ll reap later on.”

For Mark, that also means finding any excuse to revel in small victories along the way:

“You absolutely have to celebrate non-stop everything you’re doing. We’re not good at that as accountants, we only really like to talk about things when they’re fully done - but finance transformation is never done!"

"The solution is to break things down into bite-sized deliverables that you can celebrate as they come.”

But what about keeping your eye on the wary as well the weary? Jeanette argues that’s just as crucial to watch out for:

“Fear of the unknown is a pretty natural psychological barrier, but it can dramatically hinder the adoption of transformative measures. The best way to manage that is to build a culture where change is driven from your team’s feedback, not just driven by what leadership has decided.”

Being transparent about any plans to transform finance can build trust, ease anxiety, and eradicate the risk of the company rumour-mill churning out misinformation about what might be coming next.

And remember: if you’ve been nerding out on a transformation project for months, just be sure to leave the jargon behind when delivering the news of any upcoming change, says Jeanette:

“If you've been working on it for a while, but you’re announcing a monumental change to people who haven’t been on that journey, you’re in danger of scaring them off with a bunch of snazzy buzzwords that might not make sense!”

“Be clear about what you’re talking about. Follow up and use repetition in your messaging to ensure people are truly understanding and buying into the change.”

Reframing your failures

In a hurry for your next finance transformation failure?

Well, maybe you should be.

“I encourage a ‘fail fast’ culture at Vital Energie!” says Cécile.

“What that means is getting people to embrace experimentation and the inevitable failures that come from trying new things. We want to get people comfortable with taking risks and trying new approaches. If there’s a blame culture instead, you won’t get the best out of your people.”

In other words, the sooner you have your failures, the sooner you have the learnings from your mistakes.  

From finding out the hard way not to under-invest in training, to picking the wrong methodology for implementing new tools, no one is immune to falling flat on their face at some point during finance transformation, says Jeanette:

“You can follow all the best practice advice and there will always be something that catches you out! But failure doesn’t have to mean the end. It might feel disruptive and difficult to change course, but, it’s worth it to end up with a result far superior to the outcome you would have had if you weren’t open to re-evaluating.”

Not being too proud to admit when things go wrong can even be a good way to achieve buy-in from your team, says Mark:

“You have to show humility, being a brave leader is admitting when things haven't worked."

"Being able to go to your team for their input to get things back on track. The worst thing you can do is begrudgingly persevere with a plan, just because the plan is the plan.”

Ownership over digital change

Let’s be honest: there’s nothing worse than management shaking things up with a shiny new idea, then leaving the team to do the donkey work of making it happen.

“Sometimes leadership can announce they’re going to implement a new system, but the reality is they’re not going to be the ones doing the day-to-day work to deliver it,” says Jeanette.

A good leader sticks around for the highs and lows of finance transformation, according to Cécile:

“I’ve never put my team in a room and told them to crack on with a transformation project without me. You’ve got to roll your sleeves up, actively participate, and lead by example. That doesn’t mean micro-managing, but it does mean demonstrating your own commitment and belief in what you’re doing.”

And if you don’t believe in what you’re asking your team to do, be warned, says Mark:

“As a leader, if there's any chink in the armour that you don't believe in the change, your colleagues are going to smell it a mile away! But if you do believe it, they will absolutely go on that journey with you.”

At the end of the day, you don’t have to be perfect, and neither does the trajectory of transformation. You just have to be authentic in your approach to get other people excited about a digital future for finance:

“Be genuine, be true to yourself, and live and breathe the values you want to instil in the team,” says Cécile. “When you believe in finance transformation, then you're more enthusiastic about it. Your conviction will inspire others and make it a success.”

Discover more about the GENCFO Academy here.


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Olivia Wing, Customer Success Manager, GENCFO

Olivia is an author at GENCFO as well as being the Community Success Manager. Read her articles on everything from events, agility, hot topics in finance and interviews with key finance and accounting industry figures.

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