Traditionally, the role of the Finance team has been to support financial stability for the business through financial planning, cash flow management, and other facets of accounting oversight. And while that’s still largely the objective, the changing nature of many businesses is forcing transformation in the Finance department—starting with expectations for the CFO.
Today, Finance teams aren’t just tasked with keeping the books balanced and in the black. They’re being asked to take a more active role in everything from business development to talent acquisition, growth forecasting, and more. To do this requires not only the technical foresight inherent to bookkeeping, accounting, and financial analysis but also a team with the soft skills to implement actionable change to combat core business challenges.
Here’s a look at what it takes to build the Finance team of the future.
What does transforming a Finance team look like?
Building a transformative Finance team starts by understanding what “transformation” means to both your organization and your industry at large. Change for the sake of change isn’t productive; change based on current and leading-edge trends is.
Start by taking a critical inventory of what change looks like, both internally and externally, at every level:
- Changes in responsibilities. What responsibilities is your Finance team taking on, and how does their involvement affect outcomes? Where do you need financial oversight? How does your organization view Finance in juxtaposition to operational decision-making or in the context of different business lines?
- Changes in mindset/outlook. How is your industry changing and how do those changes affect financial decision-making? What organization-wide projects demand financial foresight, and how are you planning for them? Do you have a clear grasp of your organization’s financial future?
- Changes in technical skills. Does your Finance team have the skills needed to contribute across different initiatives? Are there any gaps in skills between legacy processes and new systems? Does your Finance team have a digital-first mindset and the technical ability to succeed in an agile cloud environment?
These questions are just some examples of how organizations need to approach understanding transformation. The key is to observe the gaps created by digital transformation and to build a Finance team capable of closing them.
Preparing your team for changes
After qualifying what transformation means in the context of your Finance team, the next step is to facilitate changes that address it. The first and most important consideration is preparing your team for the prospect of change—and setting expectations for why that change will occur. In simpler terms: change management.
A successful transformation requires enthusiastic and informed participation. To garner this, CFOs and director-level leaders need to take a positive, engaged stance right from the start. There needs to be clear and honest communication, coupled with channels for feedback.
The goal isn’t to trick employees into adopting new responsibilities, roles, skills, or outlooks; rather, it’s for employees to want to embrace change. Linking change to something bigger—such as specific organizational-level goals—demystifies the perils of change and allows it to instead become the path to transformation.
Essential skills to train or hire
For most companies, building a transformative Finance team comes down to upskilling or hiring for data literacy, manipulation, and analytics skills.
It’s no longer enough for Finance professionals to compile a P/L statement or generate an asset depreciation schedule. Today’s Finance teams need to understand how to apply that data and to do so within the context of problem-solving. There are elements of data science, analytics, and forecasting at play. These are skills that aren’t inherent to traditional Finance teams and need cultivation or acquisition to bring them into focus.
These areas of expertise aren’t the only essential skills organizations need to train or hire for, either. According to CFO Advisor Mayur Vyas, there are other underrepresented skills CFOs need to focus on to enable transformation within their Finance teams.
“An underrepresented skill that I’ve encountered is agility. Many are so focused on adhering to existing systems and processes that they are disconnected from where the company is going,” he says. “A great CFO needs to find ways to communicate the value of both compliance and strategy to their teams. They should acknowledge that there is usefulness in traditional financial operations but demonstrate to their team that some flexibility and looking at the big picture is what will lead to long-term success.”
The soft skills of adaptivity, flexibility, and agility will be just as essential to success as your team’s ability to process data.
Soft skills are becoming more important
Finance team responsibilities are shifting, which means their interactions are changing. When the conversation moves from job duties to how employees perform those duties, the focus needs to shift from hard skills to soft skills.
The classic number-crunching, keep-to-yourself archetype of the accounting profession is on its way out. According to Ramona Cedeno, CPA, CFP®, Founder and CEO at FiBrick, demand for soft-skilled professionals is on the rise—and the implications of these soft skills play a vital role in the ability of Finance teams to meet expectations.
“Critical thinking is largely underrepresented in Finance teams today, although it’s a key skill to ensure the success of a function that has gone through significant transformation in the last few years,” says Ramona. “The digitization of Finance tasks has put pressure on employees to learn new software, while often neglecting the skills needed to analyze, interpret, and communicate financial data in a manner that is useful in strategic decision-making.”
A successful transformation requires the ability to communicate clearly and persuasively with the rest of the organization. Finance teams need to effectively employ strategies like data visualization and translate jargon into clear, concise, actionable takeaways that matter not just to management in the trenches, but also to other members of the leadership team.
“Critical thinking is often only found in the more senior staff. CFOs can fill in the gap by training and coaching all levels of the Finance team to develop multi-perspective and big-picture thinking,” says Ramona.
Build to meet transformational demands
Recognizing the need for change, qualifying the capacity for improvement, and setting expectations to bridge the gap are the keys to building a transformative Finance team. It starts at the top, with a CFO that truly understands the advantage of a well-rounded, highly-skilled Finance team.
Learn more about how Prophix accelerates the Office of Finance and find perspective on what it means to be a transformational CFO, capable of building the Finance team of the future.