Finance Industry

How to Become Agile, According to Finance Leaders Who Have Done It

According to an AICPA and Oracle study, 95% of agile finance leaders have reported revenue growth. That’s a success rate you can’t ignore.

But while eyeing agile principles is one thing, truly embracing them is quite another. Luckily, a host of top-level finance leaders have shared their advice on how to shift to an agile approach.

Understand the why

Before jumping into how you’ll apply agile principles to finance, make sure you and your team have a clear understanding of why you’re taking a new approach. Create a team-wide agile mindset early on to help implementation go smoother.

Francesco Di Marcello, leader of the McKinsey Digital Practice in Russia, suggests first considering two prerequisites to making an agile switch:

“The first is: Don’t start if you don’t understand why you want to do it. Agile is an instrument to implement your strategy. The second thing is: Don’t copy. Take time to understand what agile really means for you and how deep and how wide you want to go with the transformation.”

Take some time to consider what you hope to get out of a new model for your financial operations. Communicate the desired results with your team, calling out the benefits that you expect to see.

Be proactive

Being agile requires critical evaluation of your current processes and a willingness to change your approach. According to Twilio CFO Khozema Shipchandler, being open-minded is crucial.

“When I ran Corporate Audit, the average age of an auditor was around 27; these are very, very capable individuals. We press them on being open to new ways of doing things, and challenging new paradigms. That’s an important trait to have, as they will turn out to be our future CEOs and CFOs.”

In many cases, evolving your workflow means switching from a reactive to proactive model. Try to anticipate business challenges before they arise and put yourself in a position to quickly adapt.

Solving problems before they occur will transform your team from reactive number crunchers to forward-thinking strategic partners. 

Empower all employees

Successful implementation of agile principles requires “empowering your team and helping them to reach their goals,” according to Deepak Mahadevan, McKinsey partner in Brussels.

“This agile way of working may mean frequent touchpoints with the teams, to understand what impact they are generating. But you don’t micromanage or impose on them what they need to do. It is very easy to get stuck into a boxes-and-lines organization design exercise.”

Having adopted an agile model, Sean Berrington, CFO of group technology at Standard Bank Group, shares his team’s operating structure:

“One of the key successes of our agile adoption has been the shift away from a ‘command and control’ style of management, to one where teams are empowered to operate independently, but have support structures should they need this.”

Give all employees the tools they need to do their jobs well. By enabling proactive controls over spending, you can eliminate bureaucracy and friction, while still allowing your workforce to leverage their autonomy and decide what business systems are best for them.

Operating from the bottom of your organization up, instead of top-down, will improve productivity and employee satisfaction. To that end, make sure your finance processes support the needs of employees at every level, not just senior executives.

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Free your team from manual work

According to one study, “Only 30% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their finance function provides the support that businesses need to become agile.” Give your team members the support they need by eliminating manual tasks (and providing more time to focus on strategic projects).

Invest in technology that automates time-consuming manual processes like chasing down receipts and reconciling transactions. According to Arby’s CFO David Pipes“Any time you can free up people from manual repetitive tasks to do something that’s more brain work as opposed to just pulling together information, that’s a big win.”

For Pipes, automated technology provides undeniable benefits. Pipes and his team implemented cloud-based enterprise performance management technology to automate the budgeting process. The technology eliminated manual spreadsheets, which, in turn, lowered the time it took to complete the annual planning and budgeting cycle by 30%.

Similarly, Kevin Neary, Controller at video software company Wistia, uses a spend management system to automate reconciliation. This saves him an average of 4-6 hours a month on closing the books.

Maintain real-time visibility

According to Vikas Gopal, Ralph Geertsema, and John Roelofs of Finance & Shared Services Transformation within Tata Consultancy Services, operational KPIs are essential for understanding agile performance.

“Through advanced data analytics, agile organizations can understand which KPI are leading indicators and which are lagging indicators of performance. Placing a greater emphasis on leading indicators for business decisions enables agile finance organizations to deliver greater results.”

When your financial data is updated in real-time, you’re better equipped to make decisions and implement new strategies whenever necessary. This visibility enables more productive conversations about where to cut spending, reallocate capital, and maximize ROI, so you don’t have to rely on stale data and wait until month-end for accurate numbers.

With accurate data, finance teams can better conduct strategic analysis. As Sean Berrington says, “During the course of a normal month we visualize the work in numerous different manners. Through the month end process we visualize key balances and numbers, and track movement, and during the course of the month we track progress on key activities and tasks.”

Emphasize connectivity

Licia Salice-Jarisch, SVP of Finance and Administration at Binary Fountain, highlights the importance of integrating finance systems.

“In the future, I believe finance will become increasingly automated. The organizations that wait to automate their financial processes will find it hard to grow and scale their business. Finding ways to seamlessly integrate new technology that blends well with your existing business and financial systems is key.”

Unifying your disparate systems into a single automated workflow will facilitate the seamless transmission of data across your organization. Furthermore, by embedding agile processes into existing workflows, you can encourage adoption and guarantee compliance without additional effort.

When it comes to being agile, simplicity is the name of the game. Integrating your systems to eliminate unnecessary complexities will allow your finance team—as well as employees outside of finance—to focus on strategic, high-value tasks that propel your business forward.