Will Buggey

Will Buggey

Finance shared services transformation: 5 leadership notes


Guidance for those managing transformation programmes for finance departments, or anyone leading notable organisational change initiatives.

Professional woman at desk behind laptop talking on phone and holding pen

1. Embrace your recruitment partners

Chances are, you have had mixed experiences with recruitment agencies in the past. It is well-documented that there are operators out there more interested in short term commission than investing in sustainable ongoing relationships. My advice here is simple: when you have found an strategically-focused agency demonstrably focused on the latter rather than the former, drop your guard. The sustainable ongoing relationship I referred to will rely as much on you as it does the agency, and in delivering a successful transformation programme it is likely (see lesson two below) that you will lead them down one or two blind alleys along the way.

2. Be prepared to flex your structure

Inevitably, one of the first tangible outputs of the transformation planning process will have been a ‘to be’ organisation chart. Assuming a geographic move is involved, a large proportion of roles will usually need to be promoted to external candidates. There may be other organisations in the area going through similar change initiatives, or generally competing for similar personnel. My message here is this: if in the course of interviewing you come across excellent individuals who you conclude do not quite slot into your structure, consider reworking it. If a talented candidate is too senior for one level, but not quite ready for the next, is there a role you could ‘beef up’ to bring them in? Similarly, being flexible with more superficial aspects such as job titles may open up sections of the marketplace not previously attracted.

3. Take a risk-based approach

There will always be areas you genuinely can't afford to mess up. Alongside these, though, will be areas that do a good impression of being equally imperative, but are not. Your job here as a leader is to differentiate the two — a task that can be muddied by internal noise if you fail to cut through it in taking an independent, objective view. Once you've ascertained the handful of true bona fide need-to-nail areas, you can focus your leadership accordingly, utilising your best resources and placing greater emphasis on the associated planning, progress tracking, comms etc.

4. Deep dive strategically

It is well known that in leading a big transition programme, you cannot afford to delve into the details of every workstream. Identifying which workstreams merit a piece of your limited capacity for deep diving can be an art rather than a science. Clearly those top-priority areas from lesson three above will stake a claim, but there may be less prominent or obvious areas you should also allocate time for. As an example, I once spent hours personally specifying meticulous telephone system requirements (a task ripe for delegation on the face of it), because I could foresee that if we got this wrong, the impression given to our numerous incoming recruits was going to set us off on the wrong foot standards wise. Occasionally little things are worth big attention.

5. Step back at the right time

In agreeing to lead a transition, especially an ambitious one, you are signing up to a chaotic, high-octane phase. It is inevitable that, for a spell at least, you are the one (heroic!) individual who can keep the plates spinning and the thing on track. Adrenaline ensures you power on throughout, and you of course nail the big ‘crescendo’ milestones along the way. You need, however, to have an exit strategy. The flock of new recruits needs to establish itself, prove itself and take things in its own direction, and you need to assess the wheat from the chaff in that flock (you will have made selection mistakes). Clarity as to what is next for you as an individual helps here: otherwise, be prepared for something of a comedown as you return to some sort of normality...