Every CFO wants their business to be fit-for-purpose and a great metaphor to follow is the system promoted by the F45 gym franchise. The system has taken the fitness world by storm. It’s based on a functional, team-based approach, designed to encourage motivation, innovation and results. Finance chiefs can learn from this approach.
Form before function
First, let’s explore the functional aspect, that is, how can CFOs make sure that their business works for them – and their teams – and doesn't take over their lives?
Ray Cummings, Principal at Greenoak Advisory, draws on a sporting analogy to explain how CFOs can build functional businesses.
“Treating your business as a marathon is unsustainable because you can’t keep running forever. Instead, look at the business as a series of sprints, and a bit of jogging, and then some resting in between,” he says.
Kate Blecich, a Director with HLB Mann Judd, says when it comes to building a functional finance team, the CFO should be examining what the team absolutely has to be doing, what they should be doing and what they would like to be doing. “The idea is to blend those in everyday activities.”
Blecich says CFOs must focus on getting the high-impact tasks done, recognise which ones are the low impact tasks and work out what can be delegated. “Bring the team along and realise you don't have to do all of it yourself; you just have to make sure it will get done.”
Motivation the key
Another tenet of the F45 system is the importance of motivation. Cummings’ advice for CFOs to stay motivated is firstly to understand the big picture.
“CFOs have to ask themselves why they go to work; it can’t be because someone else is telling you to, it has to be your personal motivation. That's the big one,” he says.
Part of this, he argues is being proactive rather than reactive. “That's not always easy, but if you're not focusing on the big picture, you can get caught up in the day-to-day detail and putting out fires, which often leads to not achieving what you should be. It’s essential to focus on outcomes rather than getting caught up in that detail.”
When it comes to motivation, Blecich says it’s important to break a goal into its many-faceted parts and celebrate the little milestones along the whole way.
“Then we set ourselves up for success. It’s like Michelle Bridges, with her 12-week body transformation program. Break it down week-by-week, and every week there's something to celebrate.”
Leading an innovative culture
Innovation is another of the core values of the F45 system – there’s a different training program every day. For CFOs, in an environment in which disruption is a fact of life, innovation is also essential. So how can CFOs build innovation into their operations?
Cummings acknowledges that innovation can be tricky in the finance department, which is necessarily ruled by regulations and procedure.
“When it comes to innovation, keep asking yourself and your staff, "Why are we doing this?" The second part is to say to people, or to provide an environment to say, "What do you think?" to get that input. Constantly question what you're doing and how you're doing it,” he advises.
Blecich says leading an innovative culture is about finding a better or more efficient way of doing something that is causing an existing problem.
“A CFO should be regularly checking in with the team and saying, “Hey, where's the pain at this point in time in what we're doing?”, “What’s not happening as quickly as it should or what doesn't feel right, right now?”, “What processes are we stretching to breaking point?”, “How do we actually spend some time reassessing?”.
Building those thinking systems into the business is the best way to lead an innovative culture.
Results are the core of the F45 approach – the whole system is designed to ensure participants see results in their fitness and physique. For CFOs, the main challenge is to communicate results to stakeholders. So what's the best way for CFOs to achieve this?
“In terms of communicating to a range of stakeholders, even where they're financial people, the key is to distil the key messages. It is about making communication as simple as possible. Quite often there are only three or four key points that need to be communicated,” advises Cummings.
Blecich says CFOs require multiple communication channels because people learn in different ways: visually, orally, reading/writing and kinaesthetic.
“Good communication depends on the stakeholder's learning style. People with accounting backgrounds tend to communicate fact and detail. But sometimes it's more about communicating the journey,” she explains.
Creating a productive team
The team aspect of F45 is part of its power: working in a group helps the whole team achieve better results. The same philosophy can be applied to business.
“With the team, make sure that your door is open for feedback. To get everyone's involvement sit down and talk about what's working and what isn't, rather than just plugging away and saying, “Yes, we just need to produce another set of accounts for the board meeting." Actually look at what is working in the business,” says Cummings.
Blecich’s tips for ensuring the finance team is working together will start with the CFO understanding everyone in the team’s perspective and giving everyone the opportunity to feel heard. She says people have different ways of being motivated and CFOs must recognise that and encourage individuals in their team to play to their strengths.
Overall, CFOs who play close attention to ensuring their team operates in a functional matter, who encourage their staff to work together and who are focused on embedding a culture of innovation will build a supportive workplace environment that will deliver real results, which is what all businesses are trying to achieve.
- Functional: make sure everyone in the team’s role is workable and achievable.
- Motivation: is all about celebrating little wins along the way.
- Innovation: look at how you can be doing everyday tasks more effectively.
- Communicating results: don’t just focus on results – take stakeholders along the journey of how results were achieved.
- Working as a team: help staff play to their strengths.