CFOs need to be more like Formula 1 drivers, Workday Elevate reveals


Finance leaders also learnt three simple rules harking back to the agricultural era.

Finance leaders today face a rapidly changing world defined by economic challenges and an evolving workforce. In order to get ahead, CFOs need to start thinking like Formula 1 drivers, revealed country MD Kiv Moodley during Workday South Africa’s Elevate event on 30 May.

Workday Elevate

“I love Formula 1 when it comes to the strategy, execution, focus and discipline required,” Kiv said as he welcomed the finance professionals who were gathered at the luxurious Marriott Hotel in Melrose Arch.

He explained that, like Formula 1 drivers, finance leaders need to be resilient to face the tough storms on the road ahead of them. “CFOs need to be able to drive despite the weather on the track and still reach the end – hopefully first. They need to be able to spot the opportunity, accelerate and overtake, even in the rain, or they’ll stay behind.”

Kiv added:

“If you embrace innovation and change, you will accelerate even faster!”

The three rules of change

When they’re on the track, Formula 1 drivers need to be aware and adaptable. During his keynote address, futurist and best-selling author John Sanei admitted that this isn’t as easy for leaders.

“Our brains are desperate for stability and addicted to certainty. The future is exactly the opposite,” he said.

He explained that this need for stability and an outcome has created a behaviour called fragile optimism. “This is when we are happy if things work out like we want them to, but sulk and blame when they don’t.”

John revealed that most of the world is in this state at the moment. “No one is focusing on the road, they’re only concerned about reaching the finish line.”

But that’s how accidents happen… “We have to change our awareness,” he said.

He quoted Alvin Toffler, saying:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

Most people think if we learn something new, we’ll forget the past. But there’s a clear practice for us to unlearn, defragment and recalibrate to bring on new information and new levels of awareness so that we can start to solve problems we otherwise couldn’t have.

“Right now, our brains don’t have the capacity to hold the new information we need to deal with the ubiquitous AI world ahead of us,” John said. “To change this, we need to go back to the agricultural era, which had very clear, simple rules in order for human beings to be successful.

For about 10,000 years and 500 generations, humans followed three simple rules:

  1. Follow your forefathers – they know what’s going on
  2. Follow the seasons – if you understand them, you’ll know when to sow, reap and harvest
  3. Work the fields for up to 16 hours a day

“The most important thing we had as human beings that we were celebrated for was our physicality,” John explained. “The stronger you were, the more successful you would be. In fact, if you were weak, you wouldn’t be able to eat and you’d starve to death.”

Two hundred years ago, when the industrial revolution started to arrive, the rules started to change, however. They became:

  1. Follow the system, which consists of education, corporation and even religion
  2. Become analytical in your thinking, logical in your process, addicted to an outcome
  3. Work for 10,000 hours on a specific skill

“For the last 200 years, the most important thing we had as human beings was our intelligence. The more educated, analytical and logical you were, the better your salary would be. If you were uneducated, you would be unemployed and unable to provide for yourself,” he added.

But as we start to evolve into this new era, the rules are changing again. Now they’re becoming:

  1. Follow your uniqueness
  2. Learn dynamic and adaptable ways of thinking
  3. Be a creative generalist

“This world we’re moving into requires high levels of adaptability,” John said. “In order for us to be adaptable, we need to be aware of as many data points as possible and be able to bring them together in the best way possible.”

Embrace change

John referred the audience back to what Kiv said during his keynote about embracing innovation and change. “Technology can help us accelerate faster,” he said.

However, in order to leverage technology, leaders need to understand it first. “Technology impacts every generation in the same way. Anything that is around when you are born until you are 15 years old is normal. Anything that’s around between the age of 15 and 35 is shiny, new and revolutionary, and you can create a career out of it. But anything that’s invented after that is against ‘the order of things’ because you don’t want to understand and engage with it,” John explained.

Technology always arrives in the very same cycle, he added.

“Every sector becomes digitised, then dematerialised. After that, it moves into the deceptive phase, where you think it won’t affect you, but it eventually becomes democratised, demonetised and then disrupts the whole sector.”

John further explained that, if leaders can unlearn this mindset and relearn how technology can benefit them, they can anticipate and prepare for any bad weather. “We have to change our awareness, because that will give us the tools we need to actually prepare for the future,” he concluded.

Become more aware

After John, attendees heard from a panel of IT and HR executives who unpacked some of the challenges and opportunities their organisations were seeing in the new world of work.

But the real stars of the show were up next, as guests were ushered into three separate breakout rooms where the visionaries behind Workday explained the different opportunities CFOs, CIOs and CHROs can unlock by embracing their technology.

CFOs heard how using Workday can help them transform their businesses to be ready for the future. “During times of uncertainty, we see a lot of consolidation,” said Kirenga Rwigema, senior value manager at Workday.

He explained that a good way for organisations to mitigate a lot of the macroeconomic challenges we’re facing today is by diversifying their assets and portfolios through mergers and acquisitions.

During these activities, there are five key priority areas for CFOs:

  1. The attainment of synergies
  2. The retention of critical employees
  3. Speed, pre- and post-transaction
  4. To minimise disruption to operations
  5. The culture of the resulting company

He then handed over to finance product specialist Leslie Marie, who explained how CFOs can use Workday to optimise processes, mitigate risk and seize new opportunities.

“If we can solve a day-to-day issue, we can solve for these priorities,” he said.

He revealed that there were four different challenges finance executives face in their day-to-day operations that impact their ability to deliver on these priorities:

  1. Lack of confidence in data to drive impactful decision-making, which can be linked to the attainment of synergies and speed.
  2. There’s rising inflation and supply chain disruption across the world, which can be linked to the disruption of operations.
  3. It takes way too long to plan, forecast and execute new strategies, which can be linked to speed.
  4. Slow and reactive response to changes in the business, which can be linked to disruption and the retention of talent.

“We solve for this using the Workday management cloud,” Leslie explained. “What’s unique about our solution is that everything is linked to one system that enables you to be more efficient, more analytical and more agile.”

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