Business transformation can be challenging at the best of times and embarking on a change management strategy during a pandemic, doubly so.

For some companies, the scale of change and disruption over the past 18 months has prompted them to reevaluate how they do business. For others, change was already on the horizon and the recent upheaval has only increased the pace and need for change.

But how do you usher in transformation during a time of profound change? How do you help a team stay motivated during the long, often relentless process of transforming – and keep doing their day jobs all the while? Has the pandemic dulled the appetite for transformation?

BIE hosted a discussion with a panel of PLC Group Finance Controllers – with expertise ranging from life sciences and logistics, to automobiles and shipping – to explore these issues through their lens, and see what advice they had to offer.

Has the pandemic changed views on implementing new technological solutions?

According to some on the panel, the pandemic has strengthened the case for their use. But technology is moving very fast and the landscape is moving faster, so it’s definitely a matter of committing and taking the leap.

One panelist drew attention to their increased use of the analytics and data science platform, Alteryx. Using automated analytics and data science, it’s a tool that any technically competent finance person can learn to figure out, particularly as you don’t need coding to be able to use it.

Tools like these are getting easier to use, so it’s strengthening the benefits case. Plus, the appetite - particularly for the younger generation - is high. They're keen to learn and demonstrate how they can suggest strategic opportunities to be debated around the board table

Additionally, Cloud-based technologies allow for jobs to be anywhere. One panelist recently relocated their US-based team roles to the UK. With hindsight, doing it in the middle of a pandemic made everything harder on the transition side of things. It took longer than anticipated, probably because there wasn’t that face-to-face handoff that you’d want. But it proves what can be done.

What’s it like trying to embark on business transformation in this climate?

Even setting aside the actual tasks involved – from establishing new chart of accounts to data cleansing and getting ready for migration – the process can feel like it is racing along at 100 miles per hour, and desperately trying to keep your feet on the ground is a challenge. It’s further complicated by the fact that many teams are still working, to some extent, remotely, and you need to find ways to keep everyone involved motivated and engaged. Essentially, business transformation right now involves a lot of heavy lifting over a long period of time. It’s relentless.

So how should you proceed?

Key advice from the panelists

  1. Don’t underestimate people

People want to work on interesting projects – and if the work interests them, they will work hard. Don’t underestimate your team’s resilience and energy, but bear in mind that people lose motivation when they feel their hard work has no purpose, or it’s not serving any long-term benefit.

So you need to communicate the transformation plan clearly. Your team needs to understand how the project fits in with your larger purpose, and why it’s important. With business transformation, the tasks you’re undertaking are often leading-edge, so making that clear can be really helpful. ‘Feeling on the cutting edge is not something that we in finance get to experience often’.

Recently, it seems like people aren’t scared of tackling big projects. They’ve discovered capabilities that perhaps, previously, they didn’t recognise. There’s a real swell of bravery right now. The appetite for challenge is there. 

  1. Be realistic and communicate with your team

As a leader, you have a responsibility to prioritise and even cut away parts of the plan if they do not serve your team. Get buy-in from them, assess the plan, and be realistic about what you can achieve. It’s easier said than done, but it may save you pain in the future.

Don’t be afraid to say no. People will always push you at the beginning of any project. They will have ideas — ways to increase the benefits and decrease the timeline — but the plan always looks simpler to those who don’t have to deliver it. Sometimes you have to push back. There’s no point agreeing to something that’s not achievable.

Ultimately, the team enacting transformation should feel like heroes. And the only way that will happen is by being realistic about what you’re setting out to achieve.

  1. Manage expectations and establish achievable timeframes

Once you’ve established what the planned transformation looks like, you need to be pragmatic about how long it will take. Business transformation almost always takes longer and costs more than you initially think. If you push people to meet targets that constantly get shifted because they are not realistic – that’s when motivation will drop off. Set targets that can be met, and be sure to manage expectations accordingly, both for the team doing the heavy lifting, and for management waiting for results.

  1. Celebrate milestones and successes along the way

Transformation can feel like a long journey, so it’s important to break it up and celebrate what you achieve along the way. Short, manageable steps will help you reach your destination, and keep your team in one piece along the way. Communicating and celebrating little successes helps to create the feeling that you are moving in the right direction, and you are making real, recognisable progress.

BIE hosts quarterly meetings for PLC Group Financial Controllers to share experiences and discuss challenges they all face, if you would like to understand more or participate in the discussion, please contact Simon Moore.

Written by

Simon Moore

As a member of BIE’s executive leadership team, Simon’s focus is on supporting a wide variety of clients across all c-suite functions who are typically looking to enhance their businesses’ ability to perform. These companies range from FTSE and large privately owned/equity backed businesses through to, SMEs and start-ups with a growth agenda who need to mature their enabling functions.

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