As the former Chief Financial Officer of hotel and gaming company National Leisure and Gaming, Karen Chaston knows about the importance of being creative.
Chaston says that for any company to maximise its returns, it is important to build a workplace where there is a constant exchange of ideas, from all employees, including the CFO and everyone in the finance team.
“This involves finding the right formula for your company and culture that ensures your employees are just as passionate, if not more so, than you about the success of the business," she says.
In a global, competitive, technological business environment, it may help for businesses to invest in their employees so they have the time, energy and desire to solve problems by discovering and combining ideas, insights and methods in new ways.
“Far greater priority should be given to management education and to policies for improving the capacity of companies to innovate," says Chaston.
“The benefits of innovation are much more than increasing corporate profits; it is more about creating a better experience for everyone in the workplace," she adds.
How to develop creativity
Chaston says one experience in her working life in particular demonstrated how to encourage creativity as a CFO.
“I was a mid-level manager at another leisure business when the company went into receivership. During the first month, the receivers had individual meetings with all 400 staff members. The first question they asked was: if this was your company, what procedure or thing would you change or put in place to save money?"
“The people working at ground level always know how to do things more efficiently. The main issue is that they are rarely asked for their input," she adds.
By using the staff's ideas, the receivers immediately cut expenses by 30 per cent and added a couple of new revenue streams.
“This always stuck with me, and as I rose up the corporate ladder, I always delved into why things were done a certain way. I never accept 'we have always done it this way' as an answer," says Chaston.
“It's through this process we come up with new ways of doing things," she adds.
According to Chaston, it's important for CFOs to understand that people support what they create. She says that the more you focus on involving everyone in the workplace, the happier, motivated and healthier employees are. This produces an environment in which creativity flourishes.
Mark Gustowski is the acting CEO of Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA). CEA is an incubator for creative businesses, and Gustowski spends his time helping startups to be strategically creative.
“We're seeing more and more corporate innovation taking place through engagement with startups and more agile organisations," he says.
Gustowski's 15-strong team is surrounded by more than 100 founders of creative startups, so innovative thinking is in the organisation's blood.
“We make sure our team go to things like hackathons, workshops and seminars around creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship," he says. "It's all about thinking outside the box. You can only be absorbed by creativity if you immerse yourself in it."
CEA also builds international connections to encourage its startups to think differently. For instance, it works with Virgin StartUp, the arm of the Virgin empire that supports emerging businesses.
Gustowski says it's important to stay connected to creative networks. CEA does this by being closely involved in initiatives such as the Creative Business Cup, which is an international startup pitching competition in Copenhagen. CFOs and Finance Executives can make connections with similar projects, to help them embed a culture of creativity in their teams.
Using external networks and programs can enable finance functions to embrace creativity as an essential part of their day-to-day activities. For instance, CFOs could host or participate in startup weekends hosted by bodies such as CEA. Teaming up with schools and learning institutions is another way to inject fresh ideas into the finance team.
“Great corporate innovation takes place when CFOs and finance groups open themselves up to considering what disruption is available to bring into their organisations. Startups and young people can bring in those fresh ideas," says Gustowski.
“These are great ways corporates and CFOs can start to think about how they engage with different groups and become more agile. By becoming more creative they start to attract better applicants to their organisations as well," he adds.
Many industries are being disrupted by digital technologies, which means it's now more important than ever for CFOs to exercise their creative muscles in their businesses.
“Disruption is here and we're seeing the rise of creative people," says Gustowski. "The creatives are going to start to define how the economy moves forward."
In this environment, CFOs can benefit from becoming more involved in the startup world and embracing the opportunity created by today's disruptive technologies.
- Challenge the 'we've always done it that way' mindset.
- Build connections with external creative networks and educational bodies to drive creative thinking.
- Build processes into the business so creativity is encouraged.