By Jamie Lyon, head of corporate sector, ACCA
We’ve been talking about finance transformation for some time. The early 1990s witnessed the first moves towards business shared service operations, and yet our programme of work suggests many finance departments are still in the early years of adoption; remarkably some haven’t even started yet.
You could be forgiven for thinking finance transformation should be an art that has been mastered by now. It hasn’t, because enterprise change is difficult and amongst many other things, it’s about people change. All the experience and all the evidence continues to point to massive change challenges in changing the finance enterprise to drive down cost (and yes, its still a cost play, contrary to what some may say), and improve efficiency and value. ACCA is currently leading a global programme of research on how finance functions can become more effective. Its smart finance function campaign seeks to understand what practices the CFO organisation is adopting to drive more value for the organisation. Finance transformation has been, and continues to be, one of the ways in which the value equation can be addressed. But truth be told, many enterprises and CFOs continue to struggle to deliver all the benefits once promised. So what goes wrong? Perhaps my colleague Deborah Kops of Sourcing Change hits the nail on the head: ‘One of the biggest challenges for finance leaders is acknowledging that there’s no set of regulations for change. Mastering what is often considered ‘soft stuff’ is key to transformation success. It’s generally not comfortable for a profession that lives by rules.’
ACCA’s think-tank on business and finance transformation, which includes senior executives from some of the world’s leading enterprises that has decades of change experience such as Deloitte, Shell, Accenture, Unisys, Pearson, and GSK, has just released its latest report on finance change, and identifies 10 key requirements needed for effective finance function change to take place.
- Establishing the vision – the criticality of spending time conveying the transformation vision and goal.
- Buy in – The importance of CEO and senior management support and sponsorship of the programme.
- Communication – The need for constant communication on what is changing and the rationale for change.
- Preparation – Ensuring finance teams are bought in and committed to the change, and having an effective plan to manage the change process.
- Resources – Access to adequate programme resources at each critical stage of the transformation process, from developing strategy to achieving ‘business as usual’ acceptance.
- Patience – Accepting that large finance transformation initiatives can be revolutionary and evolutionary with most change processes taking longer than expected.
- Organisation redesign – Remembering that redesign and use of finance shared services or outsourcing necessitates change in the retained finance function too – the imperative of changing the finance enterprise in its entirety.
- Maintaining middle management – Successful change management is key to retaining the middle layer of finance management that is critical to core processes. Yet all too often, middle managers’ numbers are aggressively reduced to justify a business case for shared services and outsourcing, or they are lost in the shuffle.
- Alignment between capability and ambition – Often finance leaders overstretch themselves to realise a vision that is way beyond their, or their enterprises’, ability to achieve. Being realistic about the organisation’s change potential is essential.
- Working within the culture – Those who implement complex, multi-scope, multi-geography finance transformation programmes, particularly in business-line-led organisations, will experience the greatest change challenges. Gauging the type of change the culture will allow is an imperative.
Find out more about our Smart Finance Function campaign at www.accaglobal.com/smart.
This blogpost was first featured in CFO World in July 2014