A New Way for Finance Leaders To Engage Their Teams

This article is co-written by Talita Ferreira and Anders Liu-Lindberg

According to Gallup, the global workforce is disengaged. The finance function is disengaged – why would Finance be any different from the rest? Why is the finance function disengaged? Because the two-decade-long transformation has made people uncertain, and they have lost faith in their abilities to succeed in the future. Why? Because the transformation has brought about new requirements for what activities people should do daily.

In most cases, people have no clear picture of what they’ll be doing – business partnering?, data science?, technical accounting? You know what they mean from the consultant slides but has anyone ever shown you a framework for what it means in your company and for your specific context?

Even if they have, you’re still uncertain because you question if you have the skills you need to succeed. Was any training provided to you? Likely not. So, it’s no wonder that the finance function is disengaged. This is a leadership problem. The leaders of the function must re-engage with the finance function post-transformation and lead the people and the function to success. 

Engage with purpose – it’s the only thing that works 

Some of the leading management thinkers in the world, like Prof Vlatka Hlupic (The Management Shift®) believe that a focus on people and purpose is what will differentiate high performing organisations in future. David Pink demonstrates that there are three ingredients to motivating people effectively – autonomy, mastery and purpose. If we want to engage, connect, inspire and motivate our people and teams effectively, it would be through crafting an engaging team purpose together. 

Purpose is something far greater than the targets and objectives that we currently use to drive certain behaviours in finance. Purpose is a connector; it bonds a team, gives them a sense of belonging, increases the collective energy and allows the team to become emotionally invested. It is the ‘why’ of our existence as a team and how we add value and make a difference.

Purpose is not what we do or how we do it. Simon Sinek believes that people buy ‘why we do what we do’ – how we add value and how we make a difference every day and not ‘what we do’. Our purpose is crucial for business partnering as it fits in the dimension of driving value and assessing what we deliver in value every day. Purpose is a core ingredient of a high performing team, and it helps to inspire excited followers. 

This is an example of the difference between the why what and how for a larger overall finance team:

  • Why: We empower the business to make better financial decisions aligned with the long-term strategy of the organisation.
  • How: We achieve this by analyzing results, providing insights, partnering with the business and spending time with our internal customers.
  • What: Preparing long-range plans, budgets, forecasts and actual reporting, performing controlling activities and financial projects. 

The neuroscience can explain why purpose and the ‘why’ is such an important motivator. The what and the how resonates with the neocortex – where the rational thoughts are formed and the why resonates with the limbic brain where our emotions originate. Purpose resonates with the emotional part of the brain; which helps to engage and take people along with us.

When we effectively brainstorm purpose with our finance team, they can start to relate to how they fit into the overall larger purpose of the organisation and where they belong in the bigger picture. Purpose is at a more holistic level that goes beyond just doing a job; it is about adding value in a more meaningful way.  

When we start to follow this process of a more purpose orientated view to what we do, it will also open questions to finding our own individual purpose, which is much more than just a job. It is what we are individually passionate about and how we add value in the world.

Our childhood can provide insights into what we are passionate about and when we got ‘lost in time’ as children. The most effective way to find our purpose is to set an intention to find this purpose and then to place our attention on it by investing our time and effort into activities that help to find it daily or weekly. 

It requires a certain level of tenacity from a leader to be willing to go on the journey of purpose with our teams. When brainstorming with our finance teams, we might not have all the answers or be able to answer how the purpose relates to everyone individually or what is in it for them.

Finance leaders are generally uncomfortable with not having all the answers. Brainstorming with our team helps us to find these answers together and leaders who embrace this vulnerability, actually are showing strength rather than weakness. 

Brainstorming questions that lead to defining our team purpose: 

  • What do we do?
  • Why do we do it?
  • How do we add value and/or make a difference?
  • What is my role in delivering the team purpose?
  • What is in it for me as an individual team member? 

Finance enables others to succeed meaning our commitment to our purpose must be even stronger 

When you can’t achieve success in your own right but must do it through/together with others, you cannot just be motivated by a paycheck.

Since Finance is no longer systems or process-driven which can be executed by an SOP, we must redefine the purpose of the function, and the leader must focus on what will engage the team within the greater collective purpose of the organisation as a whole.

Teams are engaged when brainstorming together, working on problems together and figuring out together how they can add value as a group and as individuals. Have you started to brainstorm purpose with your team? Do you know what is in it for you as an individual team member?

This was the sixth article in the series about leadership transformation in the finance function. You can read previous articles and posts on my blog site.

@ Talita Ferreira and Anders Liu-Lindberg

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