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How to Engender a Performance Culture

Leading-edge CFOs understand that shaping corporate culture is an imperative of their role; indeed, culture is part of their fiduciary responsibility.

If your finance organization still has a ways to go, here are four ideas that can help:

Perform an honest culture and capability assessment. Assess how your finance team is viewed in the organization, and your finance team’s ability to enable behavioral change. Do you have business partners who can help engender a performance culture? If not, how can you help develop those capabilities? Also, how can you help finance employees see their roles differently, and act their way into new behaviors?

Focus on the “critical few.” Set a small number of clear behavior goals rather than many. By concentrating on just a few, you should be able to avoid situations in which people feel overwhelmed and simply do nothing, unsure of where they should focus their efforts.

Build employee pride and commitment. Among survey respondents who said change efforts at their company had proved sustainable, 70 percent credited their employers with leveraging employees’ pride in and emotional commitment to the company as part of those efforts. Look for ways to connect finance workers to a mission that matters to them. Offer frontline employees an opportunity to participate in creating that mission, giving them a personal stake in its future. However, be sure to make the mission tangible and actionable. Lofty goals, no matter how well intended, often end up being words on a page that have no impact.

Demand leadership at the top … including from yourself. Only about half of all employees say their leaders treat culture as a priority on a day-to-day basis. CFOs, in particular, must see themselves as owners of the culture agenda rather than dismissing it as a “soft issue” for the chief human relations officer. But this means CFOs must talk the talk and walk the walk. They must act their way into new behaviors, recognizing the impact they have on the culture of the organization and infusing cultural aspirations in their daily messages by talking about performance, what it means for the business, and how finance contributes to it. Finally, they must hold themselves accountable for achieving their performance goals and supporting the business.

A New Year’s Resolution for CFOs
Culture change is not a shortcut to corporate success, nor is culture-led transformation easy. But developing a strong and positive corporate culture can create an organization that is both receptive to and capable of change. C-suite executives may or may not acknowledge this explicitly, but their employees understand it at a visceral level. More than 80 percent recognize it as critical to business success.

Because CFOs have a broad perspective and deep access into every facet of the enterprise, they have a special responsibility and opportunity to lead the way in shaping corporate culture and driving change. They can do it. The Katzenbach Center’s research suggests it’s time for CFOs to start paying close attention to this opportunity. A worthy New Year’s resolution indeed.

Rutger von Post is a partner with Booz & Company and head of the Katzenbach Center in North America. He specializes in culture transformation and organizational design and effectiveness in the financial-services industry. Deniz Caglar is a partner with Booz, based in Chicago. He has expertise in organization design, corporate function efficiency, shared services, and outsourcing and offshoring. Matt Mani is a partner based in Washington, D.C. He specializes in organizational transformations, cost structure improvement and finance function excellence.

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