Strategic thinking has never been more important for financial executives, and experts say will involve not only technology but ever-fallible human beings.
When you “do a 180,” as the idiom goes, you’ve taken a sudden but necessary change in direction — physically, philosophically or otherwise. That’s because the 180 refers to degrees. But what if 180 was the new number of days it took to develop a real sense of direction for chief financial officers?
This is the approach suggested by consulting firm Deloitte, which recently participated in a special event for finance professionals based in Johannesburg, South Africa. It included discussion about the firm’s CFO Transition Labs program, which is designed for those taking on a new position as head of a company’s finance department. A story on The Independent Online explained how it works:
“As part of the labs, the CFOs are expected to define and communicate their priorities, assess and develop a talent strategy, understand and influence key stakeholders and develop an action plan for their first 180 days . . . In the 180 days, the CFO is expected to assess the team and talent. Failure to allocate responsibilities could result in the CFO being bogged down by operational matters. CFOs need solid finance teams to free them from operator and steward roles.”
Traditionally, of course, new leaders are asked to develop a plan for their first 100 days, but those extra 80 days for CFOs may be necessary because of the soft skills and cultural changes that need to be considered as part of the finance department’s evolution.
At its own recent CFO conference at Harvard University, for example, Accenture Strategy noted that many attendees were struggling with digitizing processes while also managing risk. An Accenture Strategy executive wrote a post suggesting that such shifts require some patience and fault-tolerance:
“Finance has traditionally lived in fear of errors, and rightly so. Balance sheets matter. But, when driving value and finding new ways of doing business, failures matter because they indicate movement and growth,” the post says. “It no longer makes sense to spend six months developing business processes around a product that may have a shelf life of one year before the next iteration is developed. Be fast and flexible and allow for failures. They mean your team is innovating.”
In other words, you don’t have to wait to start a new job to develop a 180-day plan to reimagine the finance department. Just make sure you consider the human beings at the heart of what will change along with the technology, and make enough time to account for the mistakes that will happen along the way. Then you’ll be able to move forward with confidence – without having to suddenly do a 180.
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