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Five steps the finance function can take to be more agile

Eimear Considine Eimear Considine

Being agile is vital in this changing world. Eimear Considine explains how this applies to the finance function and five steps you can take today to adopt an agile mentality.

Working in an agile way can lead to improved productivity, efficiency, and creating competitive advantage, all of which increase profitability. It can also generate increased value through speed and effectiveness of decision making, allowing better take up on opportunities and maximising these as they arise. Finally, working in an agile way adds to overall staff engagement levels, with greater empowerment for teams and focus on achievement of business outcomes and results rather than measuring on outputs.

It's clear from the last 18 months that the pace of progress has been permanently quickened. Agile working allows us to harness the positive force of change. Creating opportunities to thrive and innovate is now a priority for all sectors, including finance.

How can the finance function support greater agility across the business?

Any change requires funding, so the finance team is a key part of any business transformation process. The discussions among the finance leaders at our recent events highlighted five key areas that finance teams can focus on to improve their agility:

1 Rethink the historical view of what the finance mission is

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. They provide critical challenge, with a data-based and factual mindset, advising on what the most economical strategy will be.

The finance role is to bring pragmatism to ambitious plans across the business, and the team should facilitate, not block or hold back. Are your finance team taking such an active role in shaping the business strategy? If not, this change is the first step you need to take.

2 Be front of foot and 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. Agile and nimble finance teams recognise that change is going to happen regardless of whether they want it to or not.

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. Shifting to an agile methodology might require a complete transformation of your processes, but it will allow you to pivot early and respond with greater ease. How quickly can your team switch things up, at a moments notice? Whatever the answer, it can probably be quicker.

3 Think outside the box when it comes to technology

To react quickly to change, you must 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 and machine learning are most certainly potential game changers.

In terms of the benefits, there is significant potential costs and resource-based efficiencies, as well as generating better insights and analysis, transforming speed, accuracy, and quality of outputs.

This is easy to say but adding these new technologies to your team's toolkit is expensive, both financially and in terms of resource. Investment can be significant as can be the timeframe to getting up and running.

To start small, you can look to integrate your existing systems and processes to work together to give you the information you need. Allowing the integration of two or three existing solutions in creating the applications and functionality that you require is a really good way of accelerating parts of any digital transformation.

4 Work with agile foundations, but be sensible in any approach

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 in your team.

Amazon has used its Andon Cord philosophy for many years, where 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. You could start with a round table approach to feeding back on work in an inclusive way, or even a 10 minute stand up each morning, so all team members touch base at some point and can quickly communicate any issues that arise.

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 on 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. Create and empower a culture where your team challenge upwards as well as themselves and around them based on doing what is right as opposed to what is easy.

The finance remit is broadening, with the business looking to finance for guidance and steerage on how the business adapts and evolves. If you need support in your finance function, Eimear Considine can help with your business transformation.

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