Unprecedented times call for unprecedented solutions

By Jennifer R. Reilly, VP, CFO, TIAA

Jennifer R. Reilly, VP, CFO, TIAA

The velocity of change for those of us working in finance that is happening right now–and predicted to continue happening in the coming years–is exciting, challenging and a potential major disruptor to business as we know it today. Finance leaders have to embrace this change now, and pioneer new and unchartered solutions to enable real-time financial frameworks to make good business decisions.

A current challenge finance leaders are facing coming out of the unprecedented 9-year economic recovery is balancing required technology investments with strategic business investments. Dollars are precious and limited, and there are important choices and trade-offs to make in the current environment. Speed to market and developing agile solutions are critical.

"A very important step is to celebrate successes along the way, and recognize the key colleagues and staff who are working so hard to advance milestones to move toward the future vision"

The consumer environment is rapidly creating new and more heightened demands on service levels and competitive price points–which is industry agnostic. This is happening in industries from Retail to Financial Services. As I reflect on the current state of the state, I think about my own on-demand experiences and requirements:

Grocery shopping via an application on my smart phone and having my weekly groceries delivered to my doorstep within 2 hours of ordering them
Ordering eye glasses from a sleek and cool new disruptor company for a fraction of the price I’ve paid historically and having them delivered to my door within 2 days
Ordering virtually any product I need from various internet sites and having my order delivered within a few days–and often times the same day
Shopping at local boutiques and having them align with current online pricing for global brands that were historically only available to me through the local boutiques or by traveling to Europe
• Ordering a morning drink of choice, paying for it and having it available for pick up when I walk in the store

These examples are indicative of what is happening, and will continue to happen, across every industry. This trend requires finance leaders to gain access to predictive data, and develop insights and perspectives to help guide our organizations to make the best-possible decision with company resources.

Making the transition to become more predictive and create real-time financial frameworks is not easy in today’s environment. We have to focus on delivering quicker solutions and targeted, regular enhancements to move toward more of a nirvana state. Developing quick-win solutions will enable a more flexible environment so course corrections can be made along the way, and optimal solutions can be advanced in an iterative and collaborative fashion. Leveraging advanced technology solutions– like robotics–to perform transactional work will free up resources to devote to more complex tasks, while also providing a platform to gain real-time, predictive insights and line-of-sight to outliers and key trends.

The time to evolve historic processes and habits is now. The consumer environment described above is a strong case for change. If organizations continue to operate with archaic processes, the trajectory ahead is grim–including potential disruption, wasting money on the wrong strategies, not truly understanding customer trends and missing other predictive indicators.

The journey of moving to a more innovative and strategic finance organization involves driving transformational change and developing effective relationships with key business partners to create new and innovative solutions for the organization.

There are 7 steps I take when leading organizational change:

1. Identify and describe the case for change
2. Obtain support from leadership
3. Create champions for change
4. Build trust and be transparent
5. Develop a visionary roadmap
6. Clarify how efforts integrate
7. Celebrate successes along the way

The first step I take when leading change is to create a road-show slide that can be shared with all levels throughout the organization, which sets up and builds a business case for why the change is needed. I then leverage this collateral to obtain leadership support–I ensure leadership understands the strategy I’m pitching and key changes at the tactical level that will help drive and move forward broader strategies and objectives. The third step is very critical: there is no way you can drive change alone, so you have to create a team of key people who are committed to your vision and can help along the way. I’ve found it effective to build this team with various levels throughout the organization, and empower them while ensuring they understand the specific messaging and elevator pitch that you desire to have shared more broadly to help influence and drive this particular change.

The fourth step is around building trust and being transparent–during this phase it’s important to be clear about what you know and the many things you don’t know yet as you’re setting out on your change journey. I’ve also found it helpful to create a safe environment to fail and test, learn and adapt. When you set that precedent up front, it creates more trust. The fifth and sixth steps are to develop a more inclusive visionary roadmap with your transformation team and then make it very clear how your effort integrates with other efforts happening across the organization. Finally, a very important step is to celebrate successes along the way, and recognize the key colleagues and staff who are working so hard to advance milestones to move toward the future vision.

Start small, iterate and you will be better equipped to achieve desired solutions and outcomes. Driving transformational change is not easy, and bringing key business partners along so they can help with the effort will be a critical and important step.

There are 5 steps I take when developing effective relationships with key business partners:

1. Assess personality profile of key business partner
2. Develop a relationship and get to a personal level
3. Create cross-functional team-building opportunities
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate
5. Partner to provide strategic insights and creative solutions

The first step is to assess a key business partner’s personality profile to better understand how he or she is wired and likes to be approached, and what will work best for him or her in terms of our engagement so I can be as effective as possible. From there, it’s easier to build and maintain an effective working relationship. Where there are cross-functional teams involved, it’s very important to get them working together through a similar level of collaboration and understanding of how each other are wired. Similar to the real estate saying of “location, location, location,” business partnering is the most effective when there is a great level of “communication, communication, communication”–using multiple forums and forms. Once steps 1 through 4 are in place, it’s much easier to partner to drive strategies, and advance creative and innovative solutions.

Developing effective relationships with key influencers– both supporters and detractors–is instrumental to driving transformational change. Effectively bringing it all together can be the key to finance leaders achieving success in the rapidly evolving dynamics of today’s markets.