Using Workshops to Sell Finance Transformation
T homas F. Ambery, CPA, the finance reengineering team leader at CBS, Inc., in New York City, is in the process of transforming CBSs finance departmentshe wants the finance staff to spend less time on detailed transactions and more time providing managers with value-added financial information. To accomplish this, Ambery knew he would have to spend a lot of time communicating with top management, middle management and support staffs to get them to commit to change. To ensure success, he knew that communication must be frequent, open and two-way. For Ambery and CBS, one solution was setting up workshops led by a finance tranformation team comprised of the employees whose jobs would change under a new system.Forming the team
The first step was to create a team of open-minded individuals representing the divisions we wanted to reengineer, said Ambery. The companys chief financial officer drafted letters to divisional financial management asking for volunteers who were ambitious and had the experience and personality to communicate the goals of the finance transformation. We knew the success of this project was directly proportional to the quality of the team members and the support of the departments. The team comprised 13 members, from middle management to support staff, who were committed full-time to the companys reengineering project.
The team used benchmarking information supplied by a consulting firm to determine where CBS stood in relation to the best practices of other companies. It also used the information to develop a starting point for change and to measure the companys progress. For example, based on performance measuring benchmarking information, the team decided it would monitor not only the number of invoices but also the costs of the process and the productivity of the individuals processing the invoices.
The team then held workshops with middle management and supervisors to help team members better understand the operations of the finance departments. We wanted to know what they were doing on a day-to-day basis and to identify the practices we agreed were noteworthy enough to be incorporated in our vision of the value-added finance department, said Ambery. Most important to Ambery was that staff members were able to give the finance transformation team their own ideas on the practices that needed to change. To sell change effectively, it is best to work with the people whose ideas for change come from firsthand knowledge, said Ambery.
The team compared current processes with best practices and identified opportunities for improvement. Final recommendations were presented to a steering committee that included divisional financial managers and the CFO. We had been meeting with them individually during the entire process to inform them of the details of our vision, said Ambery. The steering committee went over the feedback obtained at the on-site meetings and the recommendations made by the reengineering team.
The team held a second round of workshops to present its ideas to the staff and get their input. During these workshops, the team would learn what issues they would face when they implemented their vision, who would resist the changes and who would embrace them. We spent a lot of time explaining to employees how the changes would help both them and the company as a whole. For example, the employees were excited about the prospect of using a new procurement card for low-dollar purchases without having to always fill out purchase requisitions, said Ambery. The card would free up the purchasing department to concentrate on the high-dollar transactions. Ambery said it was important to focus on the employees who did not have preconceived notions that the changes were either good or bad. We wanted them to understand that the quality of jobs would be far better after the changes were implemented, he said.
After the second round of workshops, the team presented the final results of both rounds of workshops to all of the divisional financial managers, the CFO and the steering committee. Ambery said he had been given a green light on a number of operational changes and that the company already was in the process of implementing them.