Your New Operating Model: Creating The Work

Bryan Lapidus

Part 3 of the multi-part “Integrative Intelligence” series exploring the skills necessary for the new operating model of finance

In our last article in this series, we introduced the concept of integrative intelligence: the act of defining work, disseminating it among a collaborative and fluid team, then re-aggregating it to drive decisions. We discussed major factors that are driving this change in your operating model, including trends in management theory, the talent market, and technology that are redefining how work gets done.

In a world awash in data, having the answer is less important than knowing what questions to ask to focus your efforts. Creating the work correctly requires that you align efforts to goals, point the people and bots to the right tasks, and keep everyone in sync (more on that in part four of this series).

The defining element of integrative intelligence is the ability to see both the forest and the trees at the same time. You need to be able to map the mission to the money – your company mission, what drives value for the customer, the strategy, goals, capabilities, and initiatives to deliver that value – and tie all that back to your financial statements. Your challenge is to create a common focus for the team by aligning their efforts on this map of mission-to-money and recognize that the diverse members of your team have different time horizons, report to different bosses, and earn bonuses based on different activities.

Define the outcome, not the work

With the big picture established, the next step is to break this into smaller components. This relies on your ability to seed the business plan into the deliverables and requires your finance and business acumen to know the business, processes, tools, people available, and financial implications of their work.

If you tell them what to do, they will do exactly that. If you tell them what you want to accomplish, they may surprise you by offering an approach different from what you considered, allowing them to bring expertise, tools, or creativity to the table. This is about giving up control in order to maintain power (achieving your objectives) and can be accomplished by:

  • Giving some, but not too much guidance to force them to resolve challenges on their own
  • Setting parameters and constraints, which can force creativity
  • Asking questions and encouraging the team to ask questions

Important caveat: This does not apply in a highly controlled process, such as automation or regulatory requirements. In these instances, the entire process gets reviewed, vetted, and potentially updated through a change-control process.

Have a growth mindset

By defining the outcome, you must be ready for results that you did not expect. Suspend your notions of how things must run to allow others to innovate, and consider that someone else can do it differently or better. This does not mean that you “give up” your ideas; it is important to have a point of view to judge whether the new way is better.

The extended teams bring a huge learning opportunity to you and your organization. Take this as an opportunity to get smart on the different tools and techniques, push for knowledge transfer where possible, and at a minimum, stay current on market trends brought in from external sources. Create a culture of learning and challenging ideas. Remember that leaders don’t need to have all the answers; they need teams who can find the answers.

Build with modularity and optionality

Giving up control and being open to learning require that you may need to pivot from your plan in the same way a re-forecast can spur a new direction. Creating work in small, discrete units allows for focus on that unit (a “sprint” in agile lingo) and then provides natural points of transition should new information be introduced – something is working or not working. In finance terms, this embeds an option to expand or withdraw resources at set gating times, which increases the value of the work.

Plan in scenarios

Planning in scenarios builds this modular thinking. If we assume that we are in a “VUCA” world characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, then pinpoint forecasting will always miss the mark, and plans can become outdated. An alternative is scenario planning, which creates sensitivity to environmental changes – for example, “if regulations change,” or “if XYZ company enters our market.” This supports agile methods at the project level, as well as a management philosophy for the entire organization, and creates optionality for business decisions and the valuation process.

Hone your (project) management skills

The logical extension of working through other people is to manage the extended team for success. Especially for non-employees, explaining the big picture will help them understand the role they play. One way to get everyone on the same page is to literally create the page. A project charter is a common tool and should include the following elements that everyone can see and refer to:

  • The purpose of the project
  • Specific goals and milestones as part of a shared roadmap for the team
  • Specific objectives and metrics that define success
  • Members of the team, and their roles
  • What is in and out of scope

Part of project management is the cadence of operations, which may include the following:

  • Explaining how the group communicates and stores information (email, text, tools, shared file drive, collaborative tools, etc.)
  • Scheduling daily/weekly scrums or to-do meetings, where everyone attends to hear what other team members are working on and how their own work relates
  • Holding monthly/quarterly reflective and learning meetings
  • Creating and maintaining scorecards and dashboards
  • Explaining how decisions are made, including “decision rights,” such as who has authority to make what decisions (by fiscal amount, market versus technical, etc.).

Consider the concept of “disagree but commit” to allow people a voice to dissent to a decision, but then to expect their support for the decision afterward. The goal is to avoid paralysis by discussion and behavior that undermines decisions after they are made.

Once the work is set up correctly, it becomes easier for the people on your fluid, shifting team to come into the workflow and contribute. The next article in this series discusses best practices for your new team, including the bots who sit next door.

Interested in learning more about integrative intelligence? Download AFP’s FP&A guide, underwritten by Microsoft.


Bryan Lapidus

About Bryan Lapidus

Bryan Lapidus is the director of the FP&A Practice at the Association for Financial Professionals. He has more than 20 years of experience in the corporate FP&A and treasury space at organizations like American Express, Fannie Mae, and private equity-owned companies. At AFP, he is the staff subject-matter expert on FP&A, which includes designing content to meet the needs of the profession and helping keep members current on developing topics. Bryan also manages the FP&A Advisory Council that acts as a voice to align AFP with the needs of the profession.