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The words “creativity” and “finance” no longer hint at questionable accounting practices. On the contrary, as companies look to their finance teams to help drive strategy for the CEO and across various Lines of Business, finance professionals need to meld the rigor of financial analysis with the ability to see opportunities —and risks — from many different angles.
Cloud finance solutions make it possible to capture, measure and analyze financial data like never before, offering targeted insights across your organization. Yet, to harness the full power of this technology, finance professionals need to get comfortable thinking not just in shades of grey, but in full technicolor. To this end: Organizations don’t just need data scientists, they now need data artists.
Creativity can manifest in everything from how teams work together to how they collaborate with other divisions. It helps boost productivity and can spark ideas that revolutionize an organization. While there is no single playbook for sparking creativity, there are ways to encourage original thinking and spur innovation among your finance team.
- Be creative about hiring: Innovation grows from the ground up, and that means hiring next generation talent. Finance teams should look beyond traditional degrees when bringing in new talent and strive for diversity in age, gender, ethnicity and beyond. Teams that include people with different backgrounds and points of view are less prone to group think and better equipped to uncover novel ideas and solutions. In fact, at Oracle, recruiting people with a wide variety of skills—as well as helping current talent with their professional development–is so important that a HR generalist and a talent development specialist attend the Finance team’s weekly meetings.
- Cross-train your team: At many organizations, the answer for thinking differently is in another division, across the hall. Look for ways to expand your team’s skills and viewpoints beyond the four walls of the finance department. For example,Oracle provides its finance team with rotations into different business units to give them different, yet germane, perspectives on how the company works and to help them understand individual LOB challenges. This cross training breeds creativity in solutions and is a key component of Oracle’s Finance Academy, which focuses on developing the skills that employees need to grow, says Ivgen Guner, Oracle’s SVP of Finance. “We assess each employee every six months and place them in various swim lanes of training to help them become well-rounded,” Guner says.
- Boost ideas, but establish boundaries: An unlimited budget and no constraints would seem the perfect recipe for innovation, but necessity really is the mother of invention. Putting parameters on ideas – as an artist working on a tiny canvas does – can produce the best results. In finance, this means encouraging creativity in solutions, but with defined goals and guiderails. For example, you might dedicate a specific budget for experimentation and new initiatives each quarter, and establish goals and KPIs even for startup-like projects.
- Don’t fear failure: In an era of agile finance teams, according to Oracle Agile Finance Revealed, flexibility, adaptability and a focus on driving change to improve the business are crucial ingredients to success. Implementing real change means having the courage to try new things, and being open to the possibility of failure in the process. This can be a substantial mindshift for finance leaders, who often take a more cautious approach to experimentation and have a visceral reaction to projects that might lose money. However, the right resources–including tapping real-time data and analytics to inform your process and decision making—can help finance teams take calculated risks that pay off more often than not.
- Create a positive feedback loop: It’s not enough for finance teams to encourage new ways of thinking. Leaders need to put forth their own original ideas (even if they may be destined to fail, see above) and reward teams and individuals for having the courage to think differently. Even if an idea isn’t viable at face value, it can be the basis of something bigger. Implement a system for reviewing new initiatives and drawing lessons from the process and results, even if they weren’t what you intended.
Modern finance goes well beyond crunching numbers. Find ways to encourage creativity and you’ll empower your finance team to find better, more strategic answers to your organization’s challenges.