Bank CFOs share people-focused innovation strategies

Innovation doesn't happen unless you have the people on board to drive it - start there.

If you’re serious about leading innovation in your organisation, start with the people. Start with helping them to think about what problem you’re trying to solve, articulate it clearly, and then walk towards that goal together with authenticity and vulnerability. That was the clarion call from a panel discussion at the 2018 Finance Indaba.

The discussion, moderated by CFO South Africa MD Graham Fehrsen, featured Sean Berrington, CFO of IT at Standard Bank, and Storme McDonald, CFO of RMB.

Sean said for him, transformation was his first priority. 

“We focused on the behaviours we needed to demonstrate, creating a platform where if you fall, it’s okay. In the process, the team saw that change is good, so we could modernise our processes. But it was really about simplification – taking the work out that doesn’t add value. And now we’re on the cusp of the team making self-change and driving innovation themselves.”

Storme agreed: 

“You need people to believe in the change. Most finance teams will complain about inefficient processes. They want change, but getting them to move to the change is the difficulty. It can’t be driven by a top layer only. It has to be driven by the person themselves. You need to get the people over the line to realise that they need the change, the journey. That it can add value to them.”

Sean added, “People consistently reference trust in leadership. You have to build that trust. I have a genuine interest in where my team is because it influences how they react on a daily basis. You have to build rapport and have the ability to have open conversations.”

This raised the issue of leadership styles and vulnerability. “You have to take time out and spend time understanding people,” said Storme. “The world we live in is all-consuming. Command and control doesn’t work anymore. Talking to people is where you come up with solutions and can understand things.”

“We adopted a servant leadership approach,” said Sean. “We treat each other as equals. I’m not necessarily superior – I’m just more experienced. So we understand the problem, and work together to solve it – we’re all leaders.”

Vulnerability from leaders was key, both leaders agreed. Storme pointed out that it wasn’t necessary for leaders to be all-knowing anymore.
Sean agreed: 

“Acknowledging you’ve made a mistake, or don’t know how to solve something is key. You don’t always have to have the answer. In that way, you get more authenticity, and it helps you to connect with your team – and helps them to be vulnerable in turn.”

Finally, Sean pointed out that systems don’t solve problems. He said there were myriad solutions available, but often people weren’t even using the systems they had to their full potential.

Storme added that it was vital to approach innovation like a scientist – and define the problem you were trying to solve in a simple, clear way that everyone could understand.

She said: 

“Don’t fall into the trap of getting a new system, just because it’s exciting and new.”