Creating value with smart technology under the spotlight at Finance Indaba 2022.
Sean Berrington, CFO: technology, operations, real estate and data, Standard Bank, told the Finance Indaba that the finance function should lead the conversation around demonstrating value in the organisation.
He said leaders need to be clear about what they want and define it within a value framework. “Financial impact is important, but you have to measure the entire value chain and by doing so you gain faster value and less surprises,” he said.” This includes improved operating effectiveness, increased client experience, reduced risk, happier employees and better financial outcomes.
He explained that leadership means bold prioritisation and being willing to stop initiatives that don’t deliver value, emphasising that, “As the finance fraternity, we have to be the ones to pull the plug and hold people accountable on progress and value.”
Sean Doherty, CFO of Transaction Capital, said while technology is relevant, it’s not the most important component of value creation. He said the ability to create value lies in the ability to create gains for stakeholders, but to also adapt and evolve ahead of competitors. He said it also includes the ability to live in discomfort, adopt a culture of doing better all the time, and being paranoid about what clients need and want.
Simon Magner, MD of Iridium and member of the Xero Partner Advisory Panel, agreed and said, “Where I have seen success is where we redefined the value from the onset and worked back from that value. Ownership also plays a big role in project success, so as a team you don’t just hand over a project to IT, but maintain ownership for finance projects.”
Setting the pace as a leader
The panel agreed that in order for teams to move in unison, leaders have to model the right behaviours. This includes creating a safe space while rattling cages, having bold conversations and being consistent, as well as reskilling people from traditional accounting to being more digitally inclined.
Leslie Marie, Regional financial lead, Workday, said it is critical for leaders to take away the fear of failure. He said, “Everyone in the organisation should be able to suggest and implement new ideas, even people who are new to the organisation or are juniors. As a leader, your role is to set the culture, but let others problem solve and encourage a culture of openness where new ideas can bubble up, and that will lead to change.”
Welela Dawit, Microsoft SA CFO, said leaders need to have a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. “This looks like an organisation where everyone seeks continuous progress and learning, where people are not afraid to fail and learn fast. It’s where leaders encourage risk taking, and even if there is failure, you showcase that.”
She said transformation isn’t merely a culture shift and requires preparing people for the changing workplace. “Training and skilling are key for embedding digital tools, so you need to provide the resources for people to learn the new world, to help them understand the destination and gain new skills that will allow them to be relevant in future.”
Sean Berrington said in order to win, leaders should be willing to eliminate hierarchy. His philosophy is, “Empower people and it will motivate them: as a leader you have to let go and use accountability to let people move fast. Your team should know they have your support to change processes to improve.”
Julius Mojapelo, CEO of IIA SA, said finance leaders often have enthusiasm to build solutions, but there’s great value in introspecting before leaping. “Internal audit is crucial to succeeding in the long term. In many instances most organisations don’t have internal auditors, but it’s advisable to have them on board to help you pick up mistakes, to avoid costly mistakes and frustrated customers.”
He said when an organisation embarks on the journey of smart tech, they should ensure that they are following the right standards. He emphasised that the right mindset is key to adding value, as is ownership of roles. “Everyone on the finance team mustn’t just see themselves as a support, but main players. They should see themselves as enablers, not obstacles, and problem seeking should be driven from all levels of the organisation.
All the panellists agreed that having a solid view of the journey and understanding what value you plan to deliver requires a strong combination of people, skill and purpose.
Sean Berrington said,
“Teams must understand the relevance of their work to the client and, as such, we need to retrench a demeanour of understanding why we are here. That’s a mindset and philosophy change. We have to help teams connect to the purpose of the company and their role in that.”