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As the Digital Revolution Continues, Where Next for Finance?

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Howard Bentwood

As part of our commitment to Listen, Advise, Deliver, Cedar hosts a regular series of breakfast briefings at The Wolseley, just around the corner from our offices. By focusing on a specific theme, each event offers a small group of guests the opportunity to share learning around the current challenges and opportunities they face.

On 15 February, a group composed of senior figures from companies including Microsoft, Dell, Fujitsu, DXC Technology, Arqiva, Agilisys, Uniplaces and eviivo met to consider where the digital transformation might take finance in the future. The Technology CFO event was co-hosted by Georgina Gettings, Senior Associate (Qualified Finance: Interim) and Graham Thornton, Director (Qualified Finance: Permanent).

A major area of discussion took place around the continuing streamlining of finance functions as more and more tasks become automated. With SAP, Oracle, MS Dynamics, QuickBooks and Microsoft Visual Basic all now mainstream, CFOs face increasing pressure to keep one step ahead of the game where technology is concerned.

One effect of increasing automation is decreasing job security, and the group warned that to guard against this employees need to make sure they become indispensable in some way – whether by specialising in a particular area such as risk management or multinational payroll, or simply by upping their game and advancing their Excel capability.

For us, it was particularly useful to hear the group’s thoughts on training, development and staff retention. The challenge of keeping staff motivated at busy times such as year-end – especially when teams are often, at the same time, losing members through cost cutting and off-shoring – was one area raised. Interestingly, personal management styles were felt to be more important here than company policies. The importance of leading by example through making sure team members take regular breaks and – wherever possible – leave on time was also touched upon. (You can read more about this in co-host Graham Thornton’s recent blogpost on the ‘right to disconnect’: Due Diligence – or Corporate Babysitting?)

The trend for companies to move away from traditional appraisals and standardised performance indicators and towards personal leadership incentives was also discussed. Some of the clear advantages of this include:

Pay: Scoring highly on performance-related reviews invariably leads to a demand for a pay rise.
Motivation: Lower scores often backfire by decreasing motivation.
Sort the wheat from the chaff: Rather than forcing development initiatives on your team, let them seek them out. Those who are genuinely interested, will.

Weighed down with formal appraisal documents, ridged KPIs and their sheer size, even corporates are starting to copy the approach of SMEs when it comes to performance reviews. At SMEs, where managers and staff are more likely to work together in open-plan offices, the former are able to discuss any issues in real time, offer on-the-job support and identify low morale more quickly.

 

The final area discussed was the importance of succession planning. As more and more finance teams are off-shored, the pool of talent businesses can nurture from within shrinks and many have little idea where their next finance director will come from. Planning, therefore, is key if your company wants to avoid paying a premium as the shortage pushes up salaries.

 

If you’d like to discuss succession planning at your company, or ways to improve the effectiveness of performance reviews, then contact us on 0203 002 8050.