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Is being more agile right for the finance sector?

Eimear Considine Eimear Considine

Being agile is vital in this changing world, but does this apply to the stalwart finance sector? Eimear Considine explains why agility is vital for finance teams.

Recently, we've been gathering finance leaders for virtual roundtable discussions. Our guests' main topic of conversation has been business agility, and what the concept really means in practise.

Learning how other firms are embracing the idea of agility in their operations lets us all share best practice and find innovative ideas for managing today's events and planning for tomorrow. 

Agile methodology has been proven to:

  • improve efficiency, profitability and competitive advantage
  • accelerate decision-making and maximise opportunities
  • empower teams and increase staff engagement.

With all this to gain, why are businesses still holding out on this revolutionary way of working?

Is being more ‘agile' really a finance thing?

While this all sounds good in theory, translating into reality and action in delivery can be trickier. This is particularly the case for finance teams, who are expected to be a safe and stable 'pair of hands' to manage a firm's money, holding others to account and advocating caution and control. 

You could argue that the last year has been the catalyst for rewriting and redefining the playbook on what adds value to any business and how to go about it. This is certainly true for the role of finance.

Any change requires funding, so the finance team is a key part of any business transformation process. Finance has always co-led on all things related to financials and overall performance. But that task is now broadening and finance must lead from the front in this new, agile world.

While the pace of change will vary as we move forwards, it's clear that the pace of progress has been permanently quickened. Helping harness the positive force of change in creating opportunities to thrive and innovate is now a priority for all sectors, including finance.

How can finance support greater agility?

The discussions among the finance leaders at our events highlighted five key areas that finance teams can focus on to improve their agility:

1 Rethink the purpose of the finance team

The role of the finance team has been about far more than just counting money for a long time. Finance are now involved in shaping and informing business strategy and firms' visions for the future. 

Finance teams set out the "art of the possible" in advising on what the most economical strategy will be, and provide critical challenge to proposals supported by data and facts. The finance role is to bring pragmatism to ambitious plans.

As they say, great ideas need landing gear as well as wings, and the finance function is responsible for getting the ideas into the air and to their destination safely. Finance should facilitate, not block or hold back.

2 Be light on your feet

Agility is all about adapting to inevitable change. Whatever the market throws at your firm, you need to be ready to flex your plans to what the moment requires. But this doesn't mean just gritting your teeth to keep calm and carry on.

Being agile means embedding a dynamic, future-focused culture into your team, enabling you to leverage change as a catalyst to innovate and adapt. Make sure you have the resources and infrastructure to change your plan the moment it no longer makes sense. 

This is as difficult as it sounds. It involves building all your working processes to be nimble and flexible, subject to change when needed. Being agile requires a complete transformation of your processes.

3 Think outside the box with technology

To react quickly to change, you have to be able to understand it. Trends and patterns are vital, and having an overview of the whole situation is key. To do this, you need instant access to accurate, timely information. That can only come with technology.

Cloud technology, such as data lakes and robotic process automation, empowered by artificial intelligence, is no longer a new-fangled gizmo to read articles about. These are now the tools of the trade and any firm that doesn't have them will be left behind.

This is easy to say, but adding these new technologies to your team's toolkit is expensive, both financially and in terms of resource. At least, however, you should be looking to integrate your existing systems and processes to work together to give you the information you need. 

4 Foundations of agility

Whether you're investing in new technology or not, there are some basic foundations of agility that can be built into your culture. This can range from a flatter management structure to simply enhancing collaboration and communication.

Amazon has used its Andon Cord philosophy for many years, whereby any employee can withdraw a product from sale at any time if they feel there is a problem. Empower your team to make independent, rapid decisions when they feel they need to.

Create and empower a culture where your team questions their own assumptions, as well as challenging upwards. It's important to create a culture focused on doing what's right as opposed to what's easy.

Wherever you and your business are on the pathway to becoming more agile, dynamic, and responsive, taking the time to ready your team to deal with a volatile and changing market will pay off.

5 Plan, but accept the plan might be wrong

You need a plan to keep you on target, but being agile means accepting that the plan will change as you progress. Keep your eyes to the horizon and prepare to change course based on what you see.

The finance function can be creative and innovative, as well as curious. Be prepared to get it wrong and change tack several times before you find the right course. Try to 'fail fast' and take learnings from failure.

Take these learnings and use them to create engaging and clever stories to interest, persuade and influence your stakeholders. Spread the new way of working throughout your business and show the benefits to your partners.

By becoming flexible in a changing world, your business can become resilient against whatever the future has in store.

For support with your business transformation, get in touch with Eimear Considine.

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