The Speed Of Now Has Never Been Faster – And People Skills Never More Essential

Matthias Heiden

The new year always hits me like a hammer. Even though the rhythm is always the same, the pace of each year seems faster than ever.

The business doesn’t care too much about the year-end processes of CFOs; we have closing, audit, and review processes to complete, but we’re in immediate demand at the start of the year. For instance, since performance in 2015 impacts the 2016 budgets (as discussed in my last blog), CFOs need to refine the budgets so the business is focusing on the proper targets for the coming year. It’s striking how difficult it is every year to land in Q1, strike the right balance, and keep up the pace.

A number of factors drive this ceaselessly increasing speed, and I’m sure other parts of the business feel it as well. Expectations are higher and the demands harder to meet. With the increased transparency available, the capital markets are ever more anxious to get information more quickly and benchmark performance against other companies. It’s all happening in parallel to the responsibilities that come with the new year.

The region I work in, Middle and Eastern Europe, faces significant challenges – currency fluctuations, sanctions with Russia and political changes in Poland, the refugee crisis and its impact on the economy – and there are many more. All of these uncertainties increase the volatility that already exists.

The need for CFOs to support the team

This is making a major impact on the workforce – an emergence of the need for human interaction and human management at the same time. People say technology can do many things. I believe that’s certainly true, but technology can’t replace the need to be physical and visible, to provide the leadership to help people deal with change and its increasing velocity. This is why I’ve been on airplanes time and again since this year began.

People throughout organizations are voicing the need for personal exchange and guidance, to be reassured, to gain acknowledgment that they’re not alone in this experience. They know the changing role of finance, and they want to have a senior manager who can help them deal with the changes, on an emotional and operational level. They desire a strong leadership role from finance.

While you as CFO can’t do everything alone, you must be part of the change management. As CFO, you need to support the team and help lead the change processes in the direction you’re going, selling the vision and helping your team become involved at every stage. This is a growing leadership challenge.

As I conclude my first year as CFO for Middle and Eastern Europe at SAP, I’m discovering that my experiences have reinforced what I’d previously learned: that the CFO needs to stay as close to the business as possible, with the greatest business acumen possible, because there will always be challenges and surprises.

2015 turned out to be a terrific year. One result of our business performance is that we won “Region of the Year 2015,” an enormous honor at SAP. I learned about the enormous stamina and endurance required of the team, which remained committed to closing business opportunities to the very end. We stayed close to our customers and open to discussions about their concerns, and we did a really good job as a team addressing those concerns.

I learned that while not everything was perfect, that wasn’t really so important. If you were to ask colleagues in the other regions, they’d likely give the same answer. And they’d also agree: The velocity of business continues to grow, and each year eclipses the years before. Hang on – it’s quite a ride!

To learn more about how finance executives can empower themselves with the right tools and play a vital role in business innovation and value chain, review the SAP finance content hub, which offers additional research and valuable insights.


Matthias Heiden

About Matthias Heiden

Dr. Matthias Heiden, senior vice president, regional CFO, Middle and Eastern Europe (MEE), is responsible for the field finance organization of MEE. In this role, he supports the organization in managing P&L, continuously driving strategic finance transformation initiatives initiated by Corporate Finance together with the other regional CFOs. This team helps improve business-related processes and supports the Market Unit CFOs in their role as business facilitator and transformation agent.