Corporate Insider | Fall 2022
How to Foster a Change-Ready Finance Team
Motivating your staff to embrace change and develop a growth mindset are key to successfully navigating a changing business environment during uncertain times.
Shifra Kolsky, CPA
SVP, Chief Accounting Officer, Discover Financial Services
As we face new economic uncertainties, companies must now think of ways to effectively
navigate a number of potential outcomes. While there are plenty of near-term actions that
business leaders often take, such as scenario planning, renegotiating contracts, securing
long-term financing, or implementing cost-cutting measures, I suggest the most important
route to effectively navigating a changing, unpredictable business environment is having a
team that’s open, flexible, and ready to tackle whatever lies ahead.
We’ve all had practice adapting in recent years as the pandemic upended our work
environments, made our external environments more unpredictable from day to day, and
accelerated our technology advances. Though the confluence of these dynamics required
us to transform the ways we operate, the difference in whether a team survived or thrived
during the pandemic came down to mindset—and I think that’ll be the case now as more
economic uncertainty ensues.
Transformation has long focused on the “golden triangle” of people, process, and
technology. However, joint research published in 2020 from the Association of International
Certified Professional Accountants and KPMG International highlighted that people and
their related skills are often the most underestimated aspects of change. The research
found that motivation to embrace change and having a growth mindset made up 39% of
identified critical success factors for change; while teamwork, collaboration, and workforce
soft skills (e.g., influence, curiosity, and problem-solving) made up another 24%. Strong
leadership rounded out the top critical success factors, representing 17%.
To help get a better understanding of how to keep people motivated as they navigate
change—whether driven by external factors or a planned transformation journey—I spoke
with my colleague, Abe Ryder, CFA, senior director of transformation strategy and
automation at Discover, who works with leaders and teams to help identify targeted
improvement opportunities, build problem-solving capabilities, and consider appropriate
automation tools. Ryder is a firm believer that getting people engaged with the right mindset
is the key success factor for any change initiative, noting, “Tools and data are nice, but
mindset is critical to help us reshape how we think about things and embrace the discomfort
of change. When a team has the capabilities to tackle a problem effectively, it can become
nimbler in responding to challenges.”
One of Ryder’s overarching goals is to enable the organization to deliver value faster, while
continuously improving efficiency and effectiveness of processes. As he champions change,
he focuses not only on the outcomes of a change initiative but also on the capabilities he’s building across the team—these capabilities emphasize the team’s willingness to embrace change and to take things further on its own.
So, how does one foster a change-ready team? Ryder suggests the following:
1. Identify your change agents: With mindset being a key factor in driving successful outcomes, it helps to find the right people—those with an open mind and a willingness to try something new—to champion change. Engage the people who are willing to take a leap of faith and try, fail, and get up again. With their first success, these folks can become your grassroots spokespeople, spreading the good word about their experience with transformation and getting others excited to join them on the journey.
2. Identify opportunities: Sometimes you’re reacting to external drivers, or at times you’ll have major projects like a significant system implementation that naturally requires change. Other times, you may be looking for a process improvement. Whatever it may be, look for the pain points in your organization. What’s your team been calling out? Are there delays or challenges in a process? Are there things getting in the way of your team achieving its goals? Use this information as a starting point to identify opportunities for change.
3. Know your why: Any change must happen for a reason. Clearly define what you’re trying to achieve and why you think it’ll be worthwhile. Frame things in a way that helps your team see what’s in it for them. With externally driven change, it may be as simple as needing to adapt to the environment that’s changing around you. With a compelling case made, often people will enthusiastically engage to move forward. Having a shared sense of purpose builds stakeholder investment in the change journey.
4. Prioritize the change initiative: It’s important for leaders to be visibly supportive of transformation and to prioritize work in a way that reflects that support. Find ways to free up time and make resources available for your team to focus on the change. Seeing that investment will encourage your staff and help them feel valued for their efforts.
5. Communicate effectively: Be cognizant that without effective communication, people can feel like change is happening to them rather than with them. Frequent, transparent, and easy-to-follow communication can help bring people along on the journey and help you move some folks from being change averse to early adopters. Keep in mind that change affects people in ways that you may not even contemplate. A strong communication plan should outline the potential impact and timing of the change and help your team members plan ahead for what’s coming.
6. Create momentum: Celebrate the wins to get people excited to build on that success. Share personal stories that motivate and invigorate others to join the club. If you make your people feel good about what they’ve gone through, they’ll want to do more.
Our world is constantly shifting. We’ve seen it over the past few years, and we know more change and uncertainty is on the horizon. Finance leaders who continually focus on improvement and developing a growth mindset will foster teams that successfully adapt to our ever-changing business environment, are prepared and resilient as new challenges arise, and build and implement new innovations that achieve next-level performance. Ultimately, teams that embrace change, despite fear or discomfort, have a better chance of not only surviving but thriving during times of change and uncertainty.
- Planning for Post-Pandemic Business Continuity: Don’t assume that we’ve learned all we need to know about navigating disruptions after the many rapid pivots COVID-19 necessitated—a business continuity plan is as important as ever.
- How to Strategize During Disruption: After a tough year, organizations and their boards may be tempted to completely overhaul their strategic plans and planning processes. Here are three tips on what to do—and what not to do—to create and execute strategy in turbulent times.
- Planning for the Future in Unprecedented Times: If the tumult of 2020 has you wondering how to even begin planning for 2021, fear not: Scenario planning can help finance professionals budget, strategize, and position their organizations for success.