CFO South Africa Summit reveals the secret behind a high-performing team revolution

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From the teams that make up the function, to the work environment, to the leaders, CFOs discuss how to be future-fit.

The way of work is fundamentally changing, and so is the definition of success for the teams that CFOs lead, Vodacom CHRO Matimba Mbungela revealed during his keynote at the CFO South Africa Summit on 9 March.

The summit, under the theme High-Performance Team Revolution, took place at the Killarney Country Club, overlooking the expansive fields of the golf courses. This is where top CFOs, eager to learn more about how they can build the best finance teams for the future, heard that “it’s important, as leaders, to reflect on how we create and co-create a future environment that takes care of core good values that we need”.

 

Matimba said that CFOs need to adapt to the new financial capabilities that are needed in their teams. “They have to learn to explore these disruptive technologies in order to reframe the traditional finance jobs, while simultaneously making sure that great controls remain in place.”

He highlighted the four elements every CFO needs in order to build a high-performance finance team:

  1. Extreme automation;
  2. Insights and analytics;
  3. Organisational simplification; and
  4. Skills and talent.

Matimba noted, “It’s quite clear that technology is creating disruption in our world and as leaders we have to think of how we make sure that we refresh our organisations in such a way that the capabilities we have are fit for the future and fit for growth.”

Read more: 2023 CFO summit hears how best to create fit-for-future, winning teams

Team spirit
The keynote was followed by a panel discussion with TWK Agri CFO Eddie Fivaz, Stanlib CFO Avashnee Ramdial and Nando’s South Africa CFO Simon Adams. They further unpacked how to build a future fit finance team.

Eddie, who has seen great retention in his team despite the great resignation, said the key to a successful team is its leader.

“But it’s not about the title. It’s about the three I’s that we as leaders are responsible for: impact, influence and inspiration.”

He explained that the culture of a company is the starting point of building a team ready for the next decade. “Trust should be the cornerstone of the company, employees should feel supported by their leaders, and their values must be aligned with the company’s values.”

If this is in place, he added, all that is left is to employ people with a high-performance mindset.

Avashnee, on the other hand, is looking to build teams that are resilient to change and uncertainty. “Change is the only constant in the world right now, and the way of thinking has changed with it,” she said. “You have to be a lot more proactive and have information ready at your fingertips.”

She explained that by having the right tech and focusing on the right skillset, finance teams can help organisations navigate the tough environment. “We have to move away from past reporting and really look at analysis for the future. Organisations are looking for business partners that can tell them what is going to happen, not historians.”

For Simon, the key to building a good finance team is two-fold. “On one hand, the core fundamentals of finance still remain, and although we want to edge towards the sexy stuff, like technology, high-performance mindset and forward-looking ambition, you still have to hire for the technical capability,” he said, adding that he places a lot of reliance in professional bodies like SAICA and ACCA to hire for those.

Simon highlighted that he looks for resilience and curiosity in his teams. “Regardless of the level we’re employing for, I’ll spend time with them at the office, asking them about their approach to life and change. I’m not interested in whether they can do the P&Ls, because SAICA already covered that part, I want to know who they are as a person.”

He explained that bringing those two aspects together and intersecting them with the company’s culture results in a great team.

Read more: Psychometrics or not? Summit reveals how CFOs identify future talent

Workshopping “normal”
Once you have a high-performing team, you need a workplace to match. Hatch Africa CFO Craig Sumption and Unilever VP of finance for Africa, Mikateko Tshetshe, unpacked how to go about shaping a workplace for the future.

Craig, whose entire department is back at the office full time, said despite the resistance and reluctance from the employees, "I am glad to say that none of our staff in the financial team have resigned as a result of going back to the office full time”.

Asked which work model is better, hybrid or full-time, Mikateko said there is no silver bullet. “What is important is that there is clear and definitive messaging around the model you choose.”

Read more: Shaping the workplace for the future

The CFOs then broke away into separate groups, where they discussed their own recipes for a future-ready workplace.

One CFO explained that for their department, it made more sense to be back at the office full time. “Of course there was reluctance and unhappiness, but we found out that it made better sense for our finance department to be in the office. Our 2021 audit was done remotely and it was a bit of a flop, but in 2022 we returned to the office and tried it again and it was a huge success.”

Another attendee, who's company chose a more hybrid model, said a post-Covid lesson for them was that employees wanted flexibility. "Of course this model can only work with a great sense of responsibility, time management and high deposits of trust."

Leadership in an empty room
The hybrid working environment was explored further in another breakaway session, where attendees took a deep dive into sustaining culture, productivity and efficiency while embracing the change. Again, the topic of clear communication came up, as one guest said: “Don’t assume everyone understands what you are trying to achieve and what you want from them, communicate your expectations and goals.”

Others agreed, saying the best way to get the most from teams is to take them along the journey - from the start. “We have to decide what change will look like together, as a collective,” one CFO said.

Another echoed that, saying:

“You have to solicit inputs from the teams working on the ground, who know how things work and can relate the impact of the change back to you.”

At another table, the discussion leaned more towards how to develop teams and their skills. One CFO explained how they have enabled their teams to keep track and manage their own development with an assessment relevant to their own career goals.

Another guest said giving teams that ownership would motivate them to do their best, as well as providing them with support and encouragement along the way. “You grow with your team. If you grow your team, you will grow too.”

Both rooms came to the same conclusion: Transparency and communication are the key enablers of a high-performance environment.

Lifelong leaders
The final discussion of the evening looked at creating a high-performing leader to drive the new teams and workplaces of the future. In a panel discussion, SAP Africa CFO Sandi de Souza and EY partner Sean Berrington shared how they have continued to grow and evolve as leaders to keep up with the new world.

Sean, who has been working in finance-related roles his entire career (most recently CFO of Standard Bank’s group engineering division), is now pursuing a career in technology - 20 years into his career. “I was looking at my next career step and I realised that my heart wasn’t in the CFO role anymore. Over the years at Standard Bank I had developed a passion for tech, and I decided that I would follow my heart.”

Sandi explained how she didn’t have the funds to pursue her MBA, and wanted to gain some practical experience first. In 2017, she revisited the idea. “I had a serious conversation with my manager at the time about future development and how I wanted to grow into an executive leadership role.”

She added that, with the support of her manager, she was able to pursue an MBA and in 2022 she was appointed as the CFO.

At the end of the evening, all the CFOs in the room had a clear-cut guide to prepare their teams, their workplace and themselves for the future, and to create a high-performing finance function.

This evening was made possible by Principal Partners OneStream and Workday, as well as Associate Partners CaseWare Africa, Coupa and SoluGrowth.

        

     

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