Ask 50 different CFOs across a range of industries to define what transformation means to them, and you’ll likely get 50 different answers: a business shakeup, change management, a new way of doing things, a process overhaul. There are no wrong answers, of course, only different approaches.
However, Serge Thieriet, CFO at Howden Broking, takes the view that transformation doesn’t start until the digital overhaul in terms of structures and processes is completed.
“There’s the perception that once something is completed and rolled out, the transformation has happened, but actually, that’s just the beginning. That’s actually when real change starts,” he explains. “The systems are now in place, and now a new, sustainable way of working can happen.”
And that’s if it goes well. It can be – relatively – easy to roll out a new system, but then the hard work starts.
The next stage is about ensuring teams use the systems properly, are adequately trained, and leverage new processes in the best possible way. “So it’s never really ‘job done’ once the rollout is completed, it’s more accurate to say, ‘job half done.'”
There needs to be an ongoing follow-up to ensure the team maintains competencies to fully leverage the new system and not resort to old patterns and behaviours. New system integration can take time from a functional, technical point of view and a behavioural standpoint.
There may be initial resistance from staff, many of whom may fear that their jobs may be at risk with automation and organisational transformation, and those who feel left behind because they weren’t included in the system rollout and the change agenda itself.
Serge believes these issues are more likely to happen if organisations adopt the ‘big bang approach to transformation and overhaul everything at once.
Instead, Serge favours the small-scale nimble approach, where changes are made on an ongoing basis, which dramatically reduces some of the risks associated with transformational projects.
“Some organisations won’t necessarily have the luxury of a staged approach to transformation and may need to drive change quickly, but where possible, the nimble, small-scale approach is always preferable. Small-scale approaches bring about sustainable cultural and behaviour change whereas dramatic overhauls risk leaving people behind,” he explains.
Serge, whose primary career focus has been around the transformation of the finance function in some shape or form, is adamant that the key to transformation success is down to people. Businesses rely on their greatest asset to ensure a smooth and ongoing transition, so bringing as many people on board as possible is essential.
“Make sure everyone feels part of the agenda, and empower them to drive their own parts,” he advises. “Staff need to understand that everyone has a role to play in the project’s success.”
Serge’s main interest lies in business-wide changes where finance has a ‘broad plate’. He says he’s always been drawn to companies who are either undergoing transformation or need to in the near future.
Howden Broking Group is constantly evolving. From the start, Serge led several transformational projects, including helping to roll out new financial reporting systems, helping implement various IT infrastructures, and building new data warehouse systems.
“It was very intense straight away but something I absolutely thrive on,” he recalls. “There were several challenges, of course. Everything needed to be done at once, and you didn’t have the opportunity to backfill roles – it takes time and effort to train people. It was about selecting a few key people to help with the actual implementation, managing different parties and constantly reprioritising tasks as new problems and challenges arose.”
Throughout it all, Serge ensured that engagement levels were solid. Change fatigue can sometimes be an issue if much change is happening simultaneously, and it’s easy to lose sight of outcomes and goals.
“It’s about constantly reaffirming the end goal,” he says. “It’s very easy for people to get lost in the detail, then forget about the progress we’re making and where we’re heading. So ensuring staff remember the project’s aims and objectives and what we want to achieve is absolutely critical; that’s the key to successful transformation.”
Chris is the founder and MD of GenerationCFO.com and creator of the Digital Finance Function Model and a contributor to many articles on our platform. Chris focuses on the shift toward digital transformation in accounting and finance, shows you what good looks like, then helps to get you there!
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