Here, we recount some of the key lessons they have heard that could benefit your own journey in finance.
So, what can you learn to help you transform your business’s data, processes and people?
Struggling with what they have called an identity crisis, Chris and Hannah discussed the different roles that finance is now being asked to perform by businesses, from accountants to business partners to analysts and even technology experts.
The change in recent years means that the Industry, more than ever, needs to be adaptable, to be able to provide one or all of those roles at different times. Or to have within the team, individuals with those different strengths.
“What is more, the most effective and impactful finance people are those with adaptability as a characteristic.”
They are willing to put their hand up, and even if they don’t know how to do something exceptionally well, they are willing to step up and run with the new opportunities.
“There's a great debate at the moment about whether we should be generalists or specialists in work, let alone in the profession”, Chris says.
In the past, finance has probably been seen as specialists, but it is being recognised that we need a mix.
For example, audit or tax is a specialism. However, alongside those specialists there is often a finance team who are more generalists in business and finance, funding and information.
“Those guys need to know enough to make informed decisions across a range of areas”, says Chris.
“Some people thrive in an environment where they are the specialists. Other people thrive in an environment where they are the generalists.”
“It's up to the CFO and the team to figure out the right mix of specialists and generalists, within an organisation because it can differ from industry to industry”, Hannah adds.
“We need to own analytics because otherwise we've got varying people reporting varying things. It's up to us to sort of own that one version of the truth.”
In the current climate, with the evolving expectations of the business in finance departments, being able to add that value to the business by owning data, reporting and analytics, leading digital transformation within teams and within the organisation, is a clear remit for CFOs.
“There is a clear remit and mandate for CFOs to lead transformation.”
“They should absolutely recognise that and not be afraid to own it and run with it”, Chris says
All this brings a range of challenges (and opportunities) to finance leaders: recruiting the right skill sets, retaining the talent with new expectations around flexibility, meeting business needs by being agile, providing alternative career paths, and finally, understanding how to use the strengths of Gen Z.
The challenge is that if finance teams need to be doing more business partnering, then we need to recruit people with more communication skills. If they need to be an analyst function, then they need to recruit more computer science skills.
“HR say ‘what do you want?’, and we don’t know.”
Being clear on the talent you want in the team and then finding that blend of skills is really hard, but also represents an opportunity to become more agile and meet business demand.
“Agility is our ability to respond to the business, our ability to respond to the market," Chris explains.
He suggests that having an agile team of multidisciplinary people is a way of developing a team with the right skill set to meet business demand.
“Concepts like continuous improvement, process improvement and bringing in information products through analytics is the future because you can be responsive to the business.”
Attitudes of employees to their work is changing, especially post COVID; they are no less committed but expect a degree of flexibility.
Chris and Hannah cite the work pattern of two senior female Directors of Transformation within finance as an example of successful flexibility in action.
“They are job sharing, they are completely flexible on their hours, but they are also delivering huge transformation projects to finance.”
So, it is possible. Their leadership had to recognise that “we either keep good talent, we keep people happy, or they leave.”
Flexibility is also important for a growing number who value having space for an alternative challenge to the day job on the side, whether it is volunteering or doing something entrepreneurial or educational. Flexibility could mean part time, could be job sharing, it could be doing a full-time job but with flexible hours.
The latest generation of finance recruits, Generation Z, or the zoomers, are bringing new strengths to finance teams as well as challenges.
“Gen Z don’t want to be doing those early finance admin jobs, so automation of those is even more important. They are also less patient to make their way up the traditional hierarchy.”
However, the strengths this new generation brings comes from being brought up with technology, doing computer science at school, learning coding and building robots.
“Reverse mentoring represents a great opportunity. Gen Z grew up with mobiles and iPads in their hands, we can learn a lot from them.”
The idea of reverse mentoring is coming up more frequently and the idea that the new recruits are already skilled in automation or at least comfortable in the tech space, could be a real asset for teams.
You can explore mentoring on the mentorship group on our GENCFO platform.
The final opportunity for Finance Leaders is around career paths; a flatter structure to the traditional path recognises not everyone wants to follow the CFO route.
“There is an assumption that everyone that works in finance one day wants to be a CFO.”
An individual may want to dip into analytics for a few years, then use that knowledge to go and do business partnering, for example.
“Many people actually have the ambition to be their own boss, for example, rather than CFO” says Chris. “So, can you be the boss of our new analytics project?”
Many of the new alternative career paths haven’t yet been created, for example the business analytics role, but this could be an exciting new way to provide motivating career paths for teams.
You’ll see that the debate and future of the profession centres around people and processes. We are talking about transformation, not only in terms of tech projects, but in terms of change within our teams, new skill sets, ways of working and career paths.
Want to learn more?
Use these lessons and more insights from GenCFO to lead with confidence and drive your career forwards.
This conversation was originally broadcast as part of our CFO 4.0 business podcast series, live from the GenCFO Academy in November 2022.