Becoming A Champion Of Change: How CFOs Can Prepare For What Comes Next

Richard McLean

The digital economy is accelerating the pace of change in business faster than any other major economic event in history. To take advantage of this acceleration, we CFOs need to upskill, learn how to work in a digital world, and take on new challenges and roles to future-proof our careers. How? Through transformation – but not only in the ways you may think.

At SAP, the transformation of our own finance function in recent years has prompted changing roles with added expectations and new skills requirements. The CFOs of our various regions need to balance the dual responsibilities of stewardship and being a business partner, with the additional requirements of becoming champions of change.

Extracting greater value from process efficiency

We’ve focused on increasing process efficiency by transforming the finance function through global shared services and the creation of centers of excellence. Our processes are more efficient, enabling CFOs and the people that report to us to focus on activities that support business growth. There’s a great dividend from becoming more efficient and enabling finance to take on a more expansive and strategic role. But is it enough? Could we be doing more? The answer is yes.

If the objective is for finance to be a more strategic partner to the business, but your people are not proficient in the softer skills that enable them to influence change, how strategic can they be?

We’ve recognized this need at SAP and are doing something about it.

Empowering agents of transformation

Part of my role as CFO is to help the company make better-informed decisions. It is also to make sure my team can have an impact within their zones of influence by enabling them to:

  • Perform deep analysis on a business problem
  • Synthesize the insights gained into a hypothesis
  • Find a creative solution to the problem that challenges status quo thinking
  • Sell that solution to people who make decisions so as to influence a better business outcome

We’re investing in programs to empower our people to be transformation agents and are rolling them out worldwide. We have an internal global finance academy with the type of course material that you would expect to find in any learning institution. Our people can log in, study, and essentially learn how to become better business partners.

We recently held workshops in Australia, India, and Singapore on this concept of transformation-agent training. We are introducing all of our staff in the field to techniques for root cause analysis, hypothesis formation, and articulation to influence business partners and decision makers. The ultimate goal is to help drive better business performance.

Included within the workshops are members of our business partner community and the sales organization. We’re working with them to identify joint business challenges and essentially apply the learning from the workshops to address those challenges in more effective ways.

Scaling the effort for organizations of any size

It takes a programmatic approach to roll out a training effort such as this – and that’s something SAP does very well. But companies of all sizes can pursue similar efforts and scale them in a way that’s appropriate for their business. But the first step is to become more efficient.

Before CFOs can endeavor to pursue truly transformational initiatives, we have to first get our houses in order. That means ensuring sustainable, compliant, and commercially sound business practices. It means developing highly controlled methods to record and collect data, which gives you the all important sources of truth for real-time analysis and reporting. And we need to take time and cost out of the equation by automating and harmonizing processes and by eliminating waste and redundancy. By doing these things, CFOs can take advantage of the accelerating pace of change, stay relevant, and future-proof our careers.

To continue the discussion on how CFOs can lead organizational change and help their organizations reimagine efficiency, read the Forrester report Digital and Automation Enable Finance Operations Efficiency.


Richard McLean

About Richard McLean

Richard McLean, regional CFO for SAP Asia Pacific Japan, oversees all key finance and administrative functions for field and regional headquarters, supporting more than 18,000 employees. He has more than 20 years of experience in senior finance roles with leading global companies across a range of industries, including financial services, investment banking, automotive, and IT. He joined SAP in 2008.