How to modernize the finance department: Put people first


Ray Curbelo

Global Head, Finance Solutions

Top financial leaders offer insights on how to guide your teams through digital transformation.

Digital transformation has opened the door to powerful new ways finance can assess and understand the business, surface insights and opportunities, enable more informed decisions, and contribute measurable business value. 

This entails systematic changes to the organization’s operating model. Transformational finance leaders are eager to start streamlining business processes and adding new capabilities to analyze and act on massive quantities of digital information. 

Meanwhile, the people who carry out these processes are expected to learn new applications and technologies and adapt to changes in their departmental structure, workflow, and expectations. That’s why putting people first is key to building the strategies and tactics for digital transformation. 

Change can be challenging, so be reassuring.

Change is uncomfortable. Human beings hold to the familiar with remarkable tenacity. No matter how necessary and promising modernization may be, getting people to embrace a major transition to new ways of doing things is challenging. 

“I spend time making sure our teams understand the speed and scope of change in today’s world and the necessity of developing new skills,” says Victor Barnes, senior vice president of Connected Planning at Anaplan. “The goal is not to automate processes to eliminate people. It is to leverage their talent better and inspire engagement so they can focus on the business and customers instead of manicuring data.” 

“Culture and talent matter because people are the greatest source of positive change in any organization,” said Barnes. “Your number one driver for growth is culture and talent.” 

Assessing the finance team’s culture

The first step to modernizing your finance organization is to understand the finance team’s culture. What values and priorities do they embody and transmit to the rest of the organization? 

As the global line of business leader for finance at Anaplan, I’ve always felt taking the time to explore the culture of the finance organization in depth is worthwhile and necessary. It’s a fantastic investment for a new leader to learn about the organization and what culture is expressing itself.

Getting a sense of team culture in a work-from-home world

In today’s work-from-home culture, it’s no longer as easy to get a read on corporate culture as walking the halls and hanging out face-to-face with your team. Faster and more focused methods include surveys, job shadowing (virtually if necessary), and focus groups. 

The information you gather will help you understand what the business needs versus what finance is delivering. Are there disparities between what matters most to the business and what finance prioritizes? 

“Maybe you do great audit and governance, but the business isn’t that excited about that,” said Barnes. “On the other hand, you might have modest analytic capabilities, but that’s really important to the business. You’re over-invested in governance and underinvested in insight generation. What’s your strategy to impact this gap?” 

Strategies and tactics to evolve culture

Organizational culture can be one of the biggest barriers to change and notoriously difficult to budge. How you communicate and what you choose to put in the spotlight can move the cultural needle. 

Overcoming the resistance to change takes persistence, but once results start coming in, resistance shifts to the enthusiasm that can spread to other business areas. To move your organizational culture, here are a couple of helpful principles: 

  • Empower problem-solving

Encourage and reward a mindset of empowerment. What problems are holding back the finance organization? What problems have been there so long no one notices them anymore? Identify them and take action to resolve them, even if they seem impossible to change. 

People might say, I can’t do anything to improve this arcane planning process because the keepers of the process don’t allow change. Overcome that by nurturing a mindset that rewards taking ownership and driving change.  

  • Commit to curiosity

Embrace curiosity, model an affinity for change and agile learning and overcome the fear of trying a new way of doing things. 

Growth-minded finance leaders have the curiosity to step into the unknown. They don’t want to keep doing the same thing repeatedly; they want to try something new to make an impact. Additionally, these leaders communicate openly with their teams and their business partners about the opportunity in front of them when they partner for change.  

To learn more, don’t miss our eBook, The finance leader’s playbook to digital transformation. 

It provides guidance from four senior finance and information technology executives with a total of nearly 100 years of experience guiding Fortune 500 organizations through these changes. It’s your roadmap to identifying modernization goals, evaluating what you need to get there, and then making it happen. 

Get our eBook, "The finance leader’s playbook to digital transformation", today.