Among the leadership team inside a typical large enterprise, the CFO is usually expected to have the most analytical mind when it comes to financial calculations. But how effective can the finance function be when the challenges that are hurting productivity and threatening profitability are behavioral in nature, not just dollars and cents?
That is the question posed by two recent, insightful articles at CFO Magazine. Modern companies are made up of knowledge workers who need to communicate and collaborate effectively on a constant basis. If the collaboration breaks down or if various departments don’t trust one another, entire processes and systems can come to a grinding halt.
In cases like this, the CFO needs to rise to the occasion and provide strategic, not just financial, leadership to the organization. We’ve written previously at WorkSpace Today about how CFOs need to move from being number crunchers to difference makers in the modern business climate. Being good at so-called “tactical” finance – correct numbers, budgets getting done on time, etc. – is no longer sufficient. When the work environment is impeding collaboration and productivity, CFO’s need to chart a course that puts personnel and processes back in alignment.
What does this look like in practice? The CFO article gives an example of an unnamed company with a $30 million financial systems deployment at risk due to an atmosphere of distrust and employee disengagement. The deployment was behind schedule and this was causing “information hoarding, jockeying-for-position, passive-aggressive posturing, finger pointing and gossiping.”
Here’s what the CFO and team did to address this behavioral challenge:
- Establish a Trust Baseline
The CFO and his team pinpointed interpersonal dynamics that were eroding trust. These were negative behaviors that were causing employees to disengage and miss project delivery dates.
- Promote self-awareness
When trust is undermined in the workplace, it’s usually not through dramatic gestures or actions. The damage is usually done via subtle, unintentional behaviors. But the effect of these behaviors compounds over time.
In this particular case, the CFO and his team discovered they were unwittingly breaking trust down through their daily behaviors. Rather than positioning themselves as behavioral experts, they exhibited a more collegial approach.
What the disengaged staff needed was for the CFO and his leadership team to lead by example and serve as role models of specific trust building behaviors. This encouraged staff to deepen their own awareness around how trust-building behaviors.
- Show understanding
It might sound like a cliché, but trust work is a journey. When employees make mistakes or fall back into negative patterns of behavior, the CFO must lead the way in having reasonable expectations regarding the pace of change. Over time, leaders and employees will develop a habit of forgiveness. Instead of pointing fingers when things veer off course, they will pitch in to give each other a second chance and create solutions.
- Keep trust front and center with follow through
Paying attention to relationships and trust when millions of dollars are at stake. When business pressures close in, the CFO and team stayed true to determination set the right example and to trust their colleagues.
All of the steps above are facilitated by an effective collaboration technology infrastructure. Of course, it’s easy to measure financial success by tying it to the success of the respective line of business being supported. But as discussed above, analysis of the numbers is insufficient if the financial staffer and the business line personnel are disconnected, and perhaps even working at cross-purposes.
By using enterprise-grade video and content collaboration tools, finance and business lines can stay in alignment regarding strategic priorities. By going beyond email or instant message and leveraging the power of face-to-face human interaction, visual collaboration helps to develop the trust, empathy and camaraderie required for true success regardless of where each contributor chooses to work.
In his article about his first 30 days at Polycom, Head of Global Corporate Communications Cameron Craig shares:
“Many of my colleagues work from home or conduct evening/early morning meetings from home to accommodate time zones. I’ve met several wives, husbands, kids and pets dropping in and out of frames. Rather than being awkward moments, my colleagues have taken the time to introduce their significant others before getting back to the business at hand. I’ve also seen their book collections, CD collections (yes, a few people still have them) and kids’ sporting trophies. In under a month, we’re already sharing jokes and having conversations about the important people and things in their lives. I can’t imagine getting to that level of bonding using audio conferences, even if you were communicating for years.”
Embedding collaboration into every business process also helps to establish what success looks like, and the steps required to get there. This helps prevents employee disengagement and distrust from developing in the first place. Collaboration technology becomes the conduit for how the financial team can project their leadership. Existing financial resources can be targeted more effectively, allowing a greater percentage to be allocated to business line support roles.
A corporation is made up of people working toward a common goal. Financial targets and discipline have always been important in reaching business goals, and they will continue to be so. But in the knowledge economy, behavioral challenges to productivity cannot be ignored by the CFO. Supported by effective collaboration technology, the finance function can take the lead in establishing a culture of trust that fosters peak productivity within the enterprise.