Part of the “Purpose-Driven CFO” series
The creation of the “future-proof business model” or “perfect workplace culture” is a fleeting achievement. The world around us is changing so quickly that these two rails of the corporate DNA must evolve with every internal and external shift, even in the most stable and predictable businesses.
One thing that never changes is a company’s sense of purpose. Many CFOs view purpose through the lens of business strategy, cost reductions, and financial performance. However, I have found that the power of purpose is best realized when it is directed towards helping finance leaders become strategic CFOs capable of running an intelligent finance organization. The focus on purpose helps CFOs to innovate business models, processes, and partnerships that add value that goes beyond the business and the customer.
More potent than profit, purpose guides everything a company does – from designing and producing products to hiring people, contracting suppliers, and engaging with customers. And from my personal experience, CFOs can have a tremendous influence on whether the company can compete with purpose today and, more importantly, well into the future.
Innovating with a model of corporate social responsibility
Throughout years of experience as a CFO, I have guided my organization with a keen awareness of how every choice we make affects people and environments that stretch beyond our direct responsibilities. For instance, selecting a new supplier involves more than promises of the best services for the lowest price. I also want to know that the new partnership will drive job growth for the supplier, decrease our impact on the environment, and resist any exposure to modern slavery, to name just a few criteria.
This approach doesn’t just protect our corporate image. The more we invest in our core beliefs, the better my finance team positions the company to deliver more innovative products.
One example of our finance teams’ influence is their ability to get to the source of a business challenge quickly and find creative, yet dynamic, solutions and frameworks that can help our customers resolve common challenges. As early adopters of SAP finance solutions, we look for the latest best practices in every dimension that will further simplify the business and help us innovate. We also invest in our people by nurturing a learning culture that welcomes outside-in views. More recently, we even worked on initiatives typically owned by other business functions such as promoting workforce diversity and supporting a healthy workplace culture to increase employee engagement.
Based on the financial and human impact of the UN Sustainable Development Goals that my organization documents, SAP business leaders, investors, employees, and other key stakeholders are discussing the critical nature of our corporate social responsibility initiatives. These efforts are not another marketing campaign, feel-good project, or workforce fad. They are investments that promote sustainable operations, behaviors, and mindsets that improve financial performance – in terms of both revenue growth and cost reduction.
Connecting with customers by focusing on what matters most
By leading with purpose, the finance function helps the entire business focus on what matters most to the overall health and competitiveness of our customers. We are helping companies all over the world address economic, social, and environmental challenges while achieving operating profit and revenue growth.
For example, in Latin America, our teams collaborated with Compartamos in its early days as a microlending institution focused on strategic, purpose-driven initiatives that will help eradicate financial exclusion for millions of people. Now that Compartamos is a full-service bank, it is competing against the entire financial services industry. In response, it is energizing its customer-centric focus with a flexible cloud platform. This digital investment is allowing employees to visit communities that are not yet fully digital and help them adopt the technology. The bank can now capture customer information and transactions in real time for efficient interactions and delivery of high-demand services and products.
As our relationship with Compartamos proves, anything we do at SAP is an opportunity for our customers to navigate the world’s most pressing challenges and bring about long-term changes that can transform people’s lives. And this is undoubtedly the case for CFOs and their finance organizations. By making the connection between our financial performance indicators and nonfinancial measures, finance can serve as a key strategic enabler for the business and its customers.