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How to Set the Stage for Finance-Led Change

July 14, 2020 Evan Webster  
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Why the right people, process and tools are essential to organizational transformation.


Change is part of any business. When navigated well, it can lead to growth and gain. If not, it risks having a less positive effect. But good times or bad, the one truth is this: change isn’t going anywhere. 

That’s why having an accepted change management process in place is key to agile business planning—putting organizations at the ready for whatever those changes might be, from shifts in the market and emerging competitors to new innovations or rapid growth. Building a positive environment for change, though, relies on leaders who can take the pulse of an organization and use a dynamic business model to drive growth. 

For many companies, this means finance departments are taking on those leadership roles. By providing the insights and data necessary for operational decision making, they can help set goals and ensure the company is staying on track towards them, facilitating quick and intelligent choices along the way. But not all finance teams are up for the task—without a foundation in place to see past the numbers, they have no way of unveiling the insights underneath or leading the way to a successful evolution with agility and confidence.

So where does the path to change begin for finance teams? To enable informed and intelligent decision making, they begin by putting the right people, processes and tools in place.

The Road to Maturity

People, process and tools create the foundation for insight and agility—helping to build a better way for today and pave a path towards tomorrow. And it’s up to the finance team to keep pace, shifting their functional responsibilities from transactional to more strategic. While they’re helping to guide the rest of the company through change, pushing the organization forward, they also can’t forget their own evolution.

Company culture, executive buy-in and—most importantly—the maturity of the people, processes and tools in place will all play a part in the finance team’s capacity to do just that.

As finance teams mature, they’ll begin to seek out and identify more sophisticated processes and tools to help them better analyze and find insight within the data—putting them in a place to steer organizational change when the need emerges. And if finance has its own house in order when the executive team comes knocking, they’ll be equipped to help other teams begin to identify the people, processes and tools they need to fill the gap and move forward.  

For most organizations, the path to finance capability maturity looks something like this:

finance capability maturity table

For most companies, that road to maturity begins with the people on your team.

The Heart of Everything: People

People are central to everything your company does—from the bottom to the top, you wouldn’t get very far without them. They facilitate relationships and build the processes that connect the organization. They choose the technology that helps you work together efficiently and collaboratively. And they provide the intelligence and intuition that will let you look through the data to identify the trends and insights within. 

While most finance teams start out more transaction oriented, it’s the people and the knowledge that they bring that, with the right company culture, will see them evolve to a more strategic role. And eventually, when people and business goals align, those teams can become strategic leaders—driving the entire change management process. 

As you build change into your company, the right people will:

  • Contribute deep analytical and strategic thinking to build informed insights based on their business knowledge and the data available.
  • Set the vision and map out the process that will drive change through the days ahead.
  • Talk to customers and internal stakeholders to identify upcoming trends and the questions that need to be answered—as well as the best data to facilitate both. 
  • Champion change as it’s happening and revise the plan when necessary.
  • Lead a company-wide team to support the efforts underway.

But even the smartest people won’t get far if you have inefficient, unrationalized processes and the wrong technology or tools in place.

Setting the Rhythm: Process

If people are at the heart of organizational change, process is the rhythm of the organization that drives it. 

Informed by your people and company culture, process will dictate how you collaborate. And when a disruption is underway, the right processes will let you pivot quickly to react. For instance, whether you budget and forecast annually, quarterly or monthly will make a difference when it’s time to identify cuts and reduce spend, since it influences the accuracy of your data and how informed your people are. And to improve speed, adopting integrated planning or rolling forecasting models might make sense—but will only bear fruit after undertaking a careful examination of process and putting any necessary changes in action to make them work. 

And just like people rely on processes to work efficiently and effectively, those processes can fall apart when people aren’t on board to support and champion them—especially at the highest executive levels. Teams and the organizations around them need to seek out the value each process offers and the outlook it brings. As that internal investment evolves, they can move from more financially focused processes with periodic cycles, towards processes that truly enable proactive decision making at every turn.

In times of change, best-in-class processes can:

  • Fuel decision making and identify the changes that need to be made. 
  • Provide near-term, rolling and long-term outlooks for different viewpoints into future business health.
  • Drive business accountability and transparency.
  • Determine that the right targets and measurements are in place.
  • Identify the best actions and investments at every step.

Together, process and people provide the base for all change. Even without the most sophisticated software, they’ll help finance departments create an agile environment to improve the decision making ahead. But the right tools will facilitate that journey and put new efficiencies and capabilities in place.

The Final Piece: Tools

The last piece of the puzzle is the technology you choose to use to empower your people and enable your processes.

Technology keeps processes collaborative and timely and ensures people stay informed, involved and empowered to act. Having technology tools in place can facilitate organizational growth and the change management process, but it’s just as critical that the tools you use fit your company culture. Technology bells and whistles go nowhere if people don’t know how to use them or if they don’t complement or can’t evolve with the processes you have in place. 

Your tools, then, evolve as you do—from those that facilitate individual productivity to those configured for processes that are more repeatable and data intense. And the deeper you are in your maturity as a finance function, the more sophisticated tools you’ll need to help you meet your goals.

As your organization matures, the right tools will help teams:

  • Connect disparate types of data across financial and non-financial sources.
  • Visualize data in ways that facilitate communication and collaboration. 
  • Offer a real-time view of the changes underway and the most critical KPIs.
  • Align the company’s mission timeline and cash availability.
  • Identify, integrate and automate drivers into business plans.
  • Align KPIs to strategy and identify the possibilities available to drive better decision making.

Through all of that, your team will be able to pivot your business model, as needed, to facilitate smarter decision making and navigate change. 

But while change might be inevitable, it’s also incremental. Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, your finance team won’t reach full maturity overnight. Your people, processes and tools will continue to mature in order to support the organization—until the finance team is leading the way to positive growth and gain. 

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