C-Suite

Why having a clear finance vision is important

So you’ve launched various finance improvement projects under a transformation program, but your teams are not firing on all cylinders. Your finance staff understands the idea is to become ‘best practice’ and the typical suspect projects are in play: new accounting transaction or consolidation systems, shift to shared services, close acceleration, and better reporting.

However, surveying the field, you find the finance team’s motivation falls short of what it should be given the great new world you collectively have in mind. Compared to the plan, projects are costing more, proceeding slowly, and barely realizing anything that resembles their initial goals. On top of this, treatment of each initiative as a discrete project means that the combined synergy benefits are lost.

What’s going wrong?

It’s a scenario not all that uncommon. My team’s experience over multiple global finance transformation programs reveals that a truly effective transformation is a collection of initiatives that consider the interdependencies and yield a result that is greater than the individual components. Many organizations create a vision statement or document to communicate to the finance community the objectives of the transformation initiative.

A good vision doesn’t just document the end result. It speaks to the staff employed to implement them. The vision is written in such a way that the benefits are intuitive, the journey from today to tomorrow is clear, and the need for the change calls to each person’s intrinsic motivations.

So the natural next question is: what does a good vision look like?

In an attempt to speak to a finance audience, teams have historically used a business case and project plans. In some cases, a list of principles or ‘motherhood and apple pie’ statements have been put forward as the vision. However, any way you cut it, feedback on these tools has been poor. Most people say that these don’t provide a clear picture and may actually lead to more confusion.

Through our work with clients, we are leveraging a different kind of tool (with roots in product marketing) to express the vision. Our IBM team has turned to wall murals and journey maps with day-in-the-life depictions (“customer personas”) to help staff understand the impact on them (and the enterprise) and the key interdependencies as they move through the transformation. The success of these tools is evidenced by the frequent re-use of these materials in communications over the course of the project and rapid adoption of the tools across other transformation areas.

As you start to develop these tools, keep in mind these recommendations to avoid common pitfalls:

  1. Choose the right visionaries. Spending insufficient time or not including visionary team members in their creation is a typical problem. Our experience suggests a highly select group of passionate and thoughtful finance staff as well as finance customers and suppliers is priority number one as participants in the development of these tools. Just because the participant has a lofty title, does not mean that they are visionary or can offer an insightful point of view.
  1. Be ready to iterate. As far as the right amount of time to spend on your vision, the typical drivers are each person’s schedule and the time it takes to gain acceptance of the new transformational ideas. Once the core team is on-board with the concepts, the team’s focus needs to shift to preparing for communication. This will take many iterations. Here the focus needs to be on simplifying the concepts for easy and quick digestion.
  1. Present your finance vision as clearly as possible. Part of creating understanding is describing the expected impact within the context of a particular role and answering the basic questions of what/why/how. It’s helpful if you partner both the process expert and the customer when iterating these messages. Once drafted, test the message with other SMEs or customers until the message is understood with only a single read through.

The end result: the vision isn’t just expressed; it becomes shared and experienced across the finance team.

Source: IBM finance wall mural (for a non-finance audience). Given the brevity, the choice of words is critical to have a lasting and meaningful impact on retention.

Source: IBM finance wall mural (for a non-finance audience). Given the brevity, the choice of words is critical to have a lasting and meaningful impact on retention.

Source: IBM finance wall mural (for finance audience)

Source: IBM finance wall mural (for finance audience)

Source: Example of a day-in-the-life journey demonstrating how the impact of interacting with finance for services can trend positively and negatively

Source: Example of a day-in-the-life journey demonstrating how the impact of interacting with finance for services can trend positively and negatively

Source: Client example of a transformation program value map showing relationship between initiatives (boxes), dependencies (hexagons), and outcomes (circles)

Source: Client example of a transformation program value map showing relationship between initiatives (boxes), dependencies (hexagons), and outcomes (circles)

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