The 2022 High-Performance Team Award winner unpacks how she has created a winning team.
“This is the award I would have liked to win the most because it goes to the team. An award can be about one person, but this one is about the team – and I have an amazing team.” These are the words of Megan Pydigadu, CFO at EOH, who took home the High-Performance Team Award at the 2021 CFO Awards.
The winner of the award demonstrates capabilities to build a high-performing financial team that is both efficient and customer focused. It recognises a CFO with a clear vision, who invests in talent development to align future needs with the available skills set, is an inspiring coach for co-workers and gives attention to personal and professional development of their employees.
During the awards ceremony, which took place on 17 November at the Inanda Club in Johannesburg, Megan gave full credit to her finance team, showing that she embodies both the spirit and intent of the award.
“This achievement wouldn’t have been possible without my team, quite literally. They are truly the stars of this award,” she said.
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Megan, who has been at EOH for three years, joined the organisation during a challenging time when it faced questions about ethical practices at senior management level and faced corruption charges.
“I had to build the team from scratch and had to ask people to come into an environment that was full of question marks and uncertainty. It is not about I, it's about the team and the effort they put into turning things around,” she says.
For Megan, the key to a high performance team is how they collaborate together and cross silos to solve issues. The team are all self starters so often see problems that need to be solved and put teams together to resolve the issue.
She provides two examples of this, one being at the end of last year during a finance strategy day where all the different parts of finance had to put together a cohesive strategy for finance.
“They all worked together to put together a cohesive plan to execute on that to deliver to the priorities we have in finance,” she says.
Another good example of how high-performance is part of the fabric of the team was around year-end financials.
Megan says, “We have over 150 legal entities and historically have had intercompany loans flowing between all entities [it’s a bit of a spiderweb]. We have been on a mission to clean up and simplify. The team came together from business, treasury, tax, group reporting to work out how best to clean up loans so we get to a place where there are only loans from treasury to businesses [historically it has not been a structured way of lending in the group].”
“The team managed themselves to solve the issue at hand by declaring dividends, ceding and assigning loans to clean up the structure so for year end the audit process was smooth around the loan process,” she adds.
Earn your place
Megan is clear that a high-performance team means people have meaning and that there is no place for politics. In such an environment, it must be made clear that everyone has earned their place at the table and don’t need to prove what they can offer.
This was starkly different to the environment Megan had inherited when she joined EOH. “I could see a very ‘command and control’ type of environment. People were good at taking instructions and didn’t want to make decisions. They were not accountable or empowered to make decisions. So, it was really about changing the culture. The focus was not on politics and processes, but about changing hearts and how people feel,” she says.
She adds, “What they bring to the table is accepted, so people are not jockeying or politicking. They pull together, are authentic about who they are, feel empowered and it’s also about trust. Taking the politics out has been important to me.”
Such an approach has not been plain sailing, with Megan acknowledging that it was a learning experience for her.
“A big lesson for me was that you really need people who have your back and who you can trust. Sometimes the people who are in a team pay lip service and you cannot effect change like that. There were some people in the team who I thought were supportive of the change but it was only when they left and you bring in people aligned with your vision that you realise the difference. It’s a balance in how you change a team. It’s a bit like Jenga blocks, to make sure everything is balancing,” she says.
Megan notes that it is important for leaders to employ people “who are stronger than you in your role”.
“It is important to challenge yourself like that and then you also have a strong team you can rely on. Then it’s about how they empower themselves and their teams,” she says.
Within this context, Megan further advises knowing and understanding when you can push people and when to step in and help.
“It is one of the most critical and hardest things to get right, particularly when working in change and under a huge amount of pressure. It’s critical to have empathy. My favourite quote is: ‘if there’s anything in the world you can be: be kind’. We need to remind ourselves of that, that we are all human and it’s about the human connection,” she says.
Meet the team
Jo-Anne Pöhl, former group CFO of iOCO, which is part of the EOH group of companies, explains her experience of the high-performance team culture at the organisation.
“Our team members have chosen to be at EOH and this choice helps unlock discretionary effort. We have found purpose in what we do. Recognising what we each bring to the table and when and how we operate at our best has been key to helping fill the gaps and building trust. Being deliberate about celebrating each other, sharing success stories and lessons learned too has helped us learn and grow together. In essence we ‘fail forward’,” she says.
Jo notes that finding purpose in the work – individually and organisationally – is exceptionally powerful and a non-negotiable for a high-performing team.
“The more we have been able to align work and purpose, the more fulfilled and effective we have become,” she says.
Other aspects include building real and trusted relationships with the team and being aware of strengths and development areas as a collective so that “together we are better”.
Jo recently moved to Kearney, where she serves as a senior advisor.
Aasha Patel, Group treasurer at EOH, explains some of the tangible and intangible ways of developing and maintaining a high performing team. These include finding the right balance of effective, transparent and honest communication; having clear and effective communication, which builds trust; setting clear goals and priorities; motivating people and resolving conflict.
A number of these factors are among Aasha’s leadership qualities, too.
“While empathy has always been an important leadership quality, during the last 20 months with remote working, emotional stress and the impact of lockdowns on people’s lives, it has most certainly elevated this trait for me,” she says.
According to Aasha, a leader is as strong as their team. “I therefore try to delegate and empower my team to take responsibility, whilst ensuring that they have sufficient guidance along the way. Driving a culture of improvement, innovation and challenge drives a high-performing team if they constantly feel like they are adding value to the organisation and can see the results of their hard work and effort,” she adds.
Ashona Kooblall, finance director at EOH, notes that the ability to succeed as a leader is underpinned by desire and commitment.
She says that a finance leader is expected to be the one who supports, creates focused clarity and champions the team and CEO to achieve the strategy.
“We have been a powerhouse team and the diversity within the team is impressive. The high-performance culture and how we serve our stakeholders is encouraged by a unique group of leaders who encourage innovation, good values and thereby achieving our business and people goals,” she adds.
Trust, a solid work ethic, participation, a limited need for oversight, empowering team members and encouraging open communication and innovation are some of the factors that Ashona lists as the criteria to develop a high-performing team.
Rebecca Pole, finance director at Nextec Corp, which is part of the EOH group, explains the high-performance team culture during a time of Covid.
“The support of the team is what has gotten us through – their compassion, grit and willingness to step in and step up has been phenomenal. As a team, we have faced each challenge as an opportunity to solve differently whether it be in the design of our new target operating model, the establishment of finance shared services across the organisation to better support our internal stakeholders or in how we serve our clients in an ever-changing environment. We solve not as individuals but together,” she says.
Rebecca further highlights the need to check-in with the team regularly.
“We run at a pace that is faster than the broader organisation can handle. We have generally become more adaptable to change in the last two years thanks to the disruption caused by Covid-19, change fatigue is a real challenge facing all teams and finance is no exception,” she says.
She adds, “Building trust and buy in has been critical to bringing the organisation with us as we lead from the front. Whenever we have a proposed solve, we employ a check and challenge process which encourages all involved in the change to have a voice so that concerns are heard and addressed. Where necessary, we amend the course of action so that ultimately we solve as a collective.”
This article was originally published in the first 2022 edition of the CFO Magazine.