What Agile Means for Finance: Key Takeaways from the AFP FP&A Series

  • By Bryan Lapidus, FPAC
  • Published: 3/27/2023
Digital Waves

As businesses become more complex and dynamic, agility has become a buzzword that is frequently used to describe the ability of an organization to respond and adapt to changes in the environment. Agility is not only about being quick, but also about being responsive, flexible and resilient.

AFP’s third FP&A Series, Getting Agile Right for Finance, exclusively sponsored by think-cell, explores this topic from four distinct points of view. The summary: Being agile requires intentional review of what you do (or choose not to do) to ensure you are adding value and moving toward your goals. This means regularly reviewing organizational practices, roadmaps to navigate uncertainty, and methods of work that lead to removing barriers for an empowered workforce. Here is a quick view of the four sessions.

Takeaway #1: Agility and Nimbleness Can Be Built into Your Organization

Keith Ellis, Chief Engagement & Growth Officer, IIBA, opened the event by presenting his organization’s research in the session, Nimble Finance. Ellis provided a macro-view of agility, examining original research on what makes organizations responsive to change, defining key terms, and overlaying that framework on the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) space. Nimble Finance presented the following key components that are required to develop agility in all organizations:

  • Organizational practices: Implementing processes that support agility, such as iterative planning, adaptive budgeting and continuous improvement.
  • Roadmap to navigate uncertainty: Developing a strategy that is adaptable to changing market conditions and allows for flexibility in decision-making.
  • Methodologies that help remove barriers and extraneous work.
  • Empowered workforce: Encouraging collaboration and cross-functional teams to break down silos and foster innovation. This is both an output of the first three points and a key element of nimble organizations.

Importantly, agility can be developed in all organizations, including finance which must balance its mandates to maintain financial control and ensure financial agility.

Takeaway #2: Finance Can Inhibit or Accelerate Agility

In the second session, How Finance Can Support Business Agility, Svenja Amrhein, Global Head of Finance, Pharma Research & Early Development, Roche, looked outward and provided a case study of how finance can inhibit or accelerate agility in other parts of the organization based on its practices. She detailed how all parts of Roche focused on developing speed, stability and flexibility as key enablers for and from finance:

  1. Speed: To achieve speed, organizations make decisions at the lowest qualified level. Roche defined levels of authority and coached managers to empower people throughout the organization.
  2. Stability: Roche sets long-term (10-year) goals rather than annual targets; this decreases the year-to-year churn due to changing executives, changing opinions or a person’s incentive targets. While this may seem like the opposite of agility, the goals create an outcome-based framework within which the tactics may change.
  3. Flexibility: Roche has short-term (90-day) tactics and experiments that are run, evaluated and adjusted as necessary.

Takeaway #3: Build Resiliency Inside Your Team

During the third session, Building and Leading Resilient Teams, Wassia Kamon, VP of Finance & Accounting, ACM Chemistries, discussed her approach to creating a deep bench of talent. Kamon presented three steps for leaders:

  1. Foster a mindset of succession planning, where staff are developed for their next roles, and systems or processes are not reliant on a single person. Kamon presented a Now/Next/Later framework to help craft a learning plan for each team member.
  2. Be your authentic self with consistency and integrity. This is where your credibility as a leader comes from. Demonstrate integrity through fair treatment of the team and model a growth mindset through continuous learning.
  3. Cultivate a culture of supports clarity; an atmosphere of psychological safety helps people voice ideas and challenges in the pursuit of the best outcome for all.

Takeaway #4: Don’t Let the Pursuit of Perfection Stop You

The fourth session looked internally at FP&A practices to build Agile and Resilient Finance. Steve Beam, Expert Partner at Bain & Company, stated that his experience in transformations shows there are many ways to improve to an enhanced future state, but finance often gets bogged down with people striving for the perfect solution to be implemented at the optimal time.

Instead, Beam urges his clients to forget perfection and get started right away. He said that most companies can move from essentially an operations grade of “D” to “B” relatively quickly, and while that is not yet an “A,” it is a huge improvement!

He presented three ways for companies to improve agility: streamline existing processes, add new techniques to existing processes, or reinvent what you do and how you deliver it.

In totality, the event provided valuable insights into what it takes to be agile in today's rapidly changing business environment. By intentionally reviewing what you do, focusing on speed, stability, and flexibility, building resiliency inside your team, and running your FP&A team for maximum agility, you can position your organization for success.

Watch recordings from two sessions selected from the AFP FP&A Series: Getting Agile Right for Finance until April 30.

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