Leadership was definitely one of the biggest issues for 2020. This trend will continue as the world continues to fight the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Globally, attention has been trained on a country’s leadership at all levels of society, from government to industry. Businesses are the lifeforce for every country’s economy, so financial leaders are in the spotlight to help provide the necessary stewardship to help businesses survive during, and thrive after the pandemic.
Financial leaders are placed in a unique position because they have an understanding of the financial situation, goals, and issues surrounding the business. Therefore, they can apply this understanding to ensure long-term business sustainability. However, the pace of change has increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that the best-practices from before COVID-19 may not necessarily work within our current context. From new and ongoing regulatory changes to changes in human behaviour, the need for top-notch information synthesis and flexible action are greater now more than ever.
In this article, we break-down the 5 abilities that every financial leader will need to have in order to help their businesses survive and thrive in 2021. These characteristics are not set in stone; they can be developed and used on a day-to-day basis to increase the possibility of success for your organisation.
Collaboration has always been a central part of a financial leader’s workflow. You would have to coordinate with other parts of the organisation to get the necessary information in order to manage the financial health of the business. This collaboration was seamless and easy in a pre-COVID world. However, that is not the case anymore. As a financial leader, you will have to augment your collaboration efforts because you may be dealing with a situation where you have multiple business units, operating with different tools, with employees who are working from home. This can be a difficult situation to deal with, and if you do not foster a culture of collaboration; then it can quickly derail your organisation.
Establishing a collaborative culture is not a quick-fix. It takes time and effort. However, it is easier to implement if you have a collaborative attitude. In your day-to-day work and operations, actively reach out to other business units, check up on them, and create shared goals and plans. By being more open to collaboration, you help build trust within your organisation. In addition, by helping other departmental heads accomplish their goals , you set yourself up as a trusted advisor and confidant to them; which can help you better collaborate with them. Developing a collaborative attitude and work culture will give you the ability to surface areas of opportunity for the business due to having more rapport with the rest of the organisation.
Using pen and paper as a way of storing important financial documents was inefficient pre-COVID. It has become even more inefficient during COVID-19. In a physically-distanced world, the outdated practices and methods that you might have been using simply will not work anymore. Taking the time to pursue a conscious digitisation programme for the finance infrastructure of the organisation is necessary for the success of your organisation.
Increasing digital competence may seem like an overwhelming task. There are so many tools, technologies, and learning which may seem impossible. This is not the case and so there is no need to feel overwhelmed. As a financial leader, you do not need to drown yourself in the functional technicalities of the tool or technology. However, you’ll need to know the basics of the technology with an emphasis on the benefits that it can bring to your company. If you have an IT team, collaborate with them to find tools and technology that will be helpful to the finance function. Having a cursory understanding of the potential that technology can have in helping your business weather COVID-19 is important.
In our current connected world, we all experience information overload. There is a flux of information that is always being sent to us from all sorts of sources; some credible and others not. This information overload has gotten worse during COVID-19. As a financial leader, more information means better strategic planning which then leads to better execution. A financial leader has to be able to curate a feed of credible sources that they can use to inform business strategy. A great financial leader has the ability to take all the information from these sources, synthesize them and come up with actionable and effective recommendations to help the respective business weather the storm of COVID-19.
Many organisations have changed their stance and policies regarding COVID-19 multiple times due to how novel the virus is. This makes information synthesis a challenging task. However it is an extremely important one because that ability could determine how nimble your organisation is to change.
Dedicated Planning and Execution Prowess
Information synthesis alone is not enough. Financial leaders must have the ability to translate outside information into plans that their business can follow and execute. Most financial leaders have the ability to execute a plan when the stakes are low; and their respective businesses are not in a period of turbulence. However, the financial leaders who really shine are those that can lead in times of deep crisis such as COVID-19. These leaders can create plans that can take in the constraints presented from the operating and regulatory environment they are in to help their respective companies or businesses chart their way to success.
Great planning involves strategic thinking. With the constant rate of change in business – there is a need for strategic insight into business operations. Financial leadership goes beyond simply carrying out the financial management function nowadays. All across the globe, financial leaders are no longer dealing with only financial forecasting and planning, investment of funds, valuation decisions. Now they need to lend their support and expertise throughout the organisation – for example in making staffing decisions, and contributing to corporate culture. To this end, it is important that financial leaders can think or orient their minds to the bigger picture. They need to be able to connect the company’s financials to its mission, and vision and then take action.
Great execution presents itself when a team is fully aligned on what the strategy is. Full alignment can be broken down in the following ways:
As a financial leader, it’s important that you have a hand in developing an execution plan that aligns every team member.
Empathy is critical for business success. Empathy for your customers, suppliers, colleagues and others will ensure that you handle these turbulent times by leading with humanity first. This makes a big impression. These unprecedented times may lead to dire business challenges such as people being released from their jobs, rising tensions, and general dysfunction. Leading with empathy ensures that you do not lose sight of what makes a business successful – its people.
To develop empathy, take some time out of your day to speak with and understand your colleagues at your workplace. These colleagues should be in and out of your immediate department. Once you understand how they see the world, you will be better positioned to lead with humanity at critical moments.
Developing these 5 key abilities can help any financial leader increase their odds of steering their respective businesses to success during these troubled times. We hope that you take the time to go through them, internalize, and practice them. If applied correctly, then they can make a huge difference.