This article is co-authored by Chris Argent, GenerationCFO.com and Richard Hughes, CFO, Proactis who recently shared his career highlights in The Shift and will continue this series on high performing finance team talent.
The people factor often gets overlooked when it comes to conversations about transformation. For one thing, technology, and the potential it offers the organisation, is the more exciting story. It’s also the easy part; bringing your people on board and giving them the skills they need to thrive is a trickier and more nuanced task, but without it, your transformation project is destined to fail.
It’s tempting to look to the new when going through a transformation and seek out fresh talent with the right skills to get the most out of your shiny new set of systems and processes. If you take that route, you could be wasting considerable time and money when the answer is already under your nose.
New talent is part of the equation, sure – but it’s your existing staff who will really make things happen. Each one of them represents untapped potential to deliver real value across the organisation. If you can realise that potential, you’ll not only have a team that’s fully equipped to get the most out of your new software solution but a group of transformation champions who will actively push to deliver the most value possible for your business.
Not everyone will be keen to change right off the bat, however, and some will actively resist your efforts. So how do you take your team and turn them into a lean, mean, digital finance machine?
Like any project, upskilling your staff requires clear, measurable goals. Know what you’re aiming to achieve when setting out. Ask yourself: what do I want the finance function to be like at the end of this process? What do we want to be doing? What do we want people saying about us? This will help inform your goal setting.
Goals should factor in outcomes for the employees as individuals, the team as a whole, and the improvements to services you hope to achieve. That will help to keep you on the right track. When setting goals, keep SMART in mind (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound). This will help to give your goals focus.
Your team needs to be involved in the transformation process, or they won’t buy into it. Communication is critical. Talk to your team regularly – both as a group and as individuals – and solicit their feedback. Create a community or forum for them to engage with. Get an idea of what they want to do, as well as what you think they’d be good at.
Keep your door open during the process – make sure that they feel comfortable coming to you for support, as they may well need it. As a transformation leader, aim to make sure your staff don’t become stressed and overwhelmed as they try to learn new skills while coming to terms with a new way of working.
Avoid a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach
Support and communication are necessary because each team member will have different strengths, weaknesses and learning styles. Consider this when analysing your training needs – especially when it comes to new areas of learning – and designing any training programme as part of your upskilling efforts.
You can certainly put everyone on the same training course, but expect some staff to excel at some elements and struggle with others. Some will have issues with the course setup, as it is not presented in a way that’s optimal to their learning style. Don’t abandon those people; make sure that you get your staff the help they need.
In Finance, we are generally analytical people, but that doesn’t mean we’re all the same. If you can, spend some time digging into the different personality types of your team members. Determine where they might add the most value to your new-look team, and discuss your thoughts with them. Create training programmes based on each role that you need to fill within your digital finance function. Where team members have particularly taken to the training, recruit them to help those with different learning styles.
Make time in working hours for training
If you force your staff to train in their free time, you’re destined for demoralisation. If you want your team to upskill, give them the time to upskill as part of the working week. There are two ways to approach this: you can set aside a specific time each week for training, or you can give each team member a ‘training budget’ of so many hours that they can allocate at their discretion. The latter option requires careful management, particularly if you have set requirements each week; on the one hand, you’ve got to make sure that all team members use their full allocation. For another, you need to make sure the work gets done.
As a CFO working in a function with set processes, systems and deadlines to follow, the former might be a better option, but you know your team. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s the right choice for both the individuals within the function and the group as a whole.
Keep monitoring progress
You’ve set goals and got your team on your training programmes. Now you’ve got to make sure you meet those goals. Create personal development plans with your staff to make sure they meet their individual goals. Review your team’s progress at regular intervals to ensure you meet your second and third sets of targets as well. If anyone is falling behind, meet with them and ask them how they’re finding the training so far, and really listen to their answers. Ask them what help and support you could offer to help them get through the elements they’re struggling with.
Have a plan post-training
Once your team completes your upskilling programme, get the value out of their new skills as soon as possible. There’s no point investing that time and effort (and money!) if they go back to business as usual. Set a launch plan for your digital finance function that coincides with the projected end of that training session. You could consider phasing in elements of the new function as certain training milestones are met, for example, so that everything is up and running – and has been soft tested – by the time the last team member finishes the programme. Either way, set a plan in line with that final category of goals.
By following these steps, you have a much greater chance of actually delivering on the potential of the digital finance function. Your staff will also thank you for it – you have helped to future proof their careers.