We’re a technology company, obviously. Getting customers excited about our technology and how it can transform finance and evolve their business is something we love to do. In conversations with thousands of organizations over many years, we’ve noticed some clear signs indicating when a finance team needs to first focus their efforts on how their organization operates. In other words, technology can’t fix a company’s culture.
Company culture may seem like a fluffy term that’s thrown around only by expensive consultants and highly-paid keynote speakers. Whatever you want to call it, it describes the environment in which you work. Better yet, it describes how workers act when the boss isn’t looking. For example, a “bad” culture is one that stifles creativity, rejects change, or hides problems. This eventually leads to unhappy workers, poor output, and angry customers. On the contrary, a “good” culture is one of collaboration, transparency, empowerment, and yes, even fun. It keeps workers motivated to constantly improve, to look for solutions, and to go out of their way to help customers.
The point is that new technology isn’t going to fix a broken process, isn’t going to force workers to embrace change, and isn’t going to magically improve your business once it’s switched on. So before you embark on any new technology-driven project, here are five things to consider.
#1 – Technology can’t define your culture
Part of what defines your culture is how you do things. Maybe speed is critical above all else and you have a “fail fast” culture. Or maybe you work in a culture of continuous improvement, so every process step offers an opportunity for reflection, analysis, and potential optimization. Whatever your culture might be, the technology is there to support it, not define it.
The better approach, assuming you’re happy with your culture, is to let it define how you choose and use new technologies. A fast, nimble culture needs software that can keep up, that has mobile and work anywhere capabilities, and that is accessible anytime. A collaborative culture needs solutions that have robust communication tools, cross-departmental workflow capabilities, and broad reporting and analysis features.
Companies driven by their culture make a concerted effort to hire people who have the right cultural fit over those who have a better resume. The same effort should be made when “interviewing” technology solution providers. You’re going to have to live with and love any technology for years to come. The technology should not only meet your base needs, it should meet them from the same perspective you take, be it speed, excellence, or whatever mantra you choose. Your culture should also mesh with the vendor’s culture, since you’ll likely be working side-by-side with them during deployment but also with their service and support departments over the years. Their culture has to fit with yours for the project to be successful.
#2 – Technology must support your mission
Company mission statements and their creation process tend to be the butt of corporate jokes. But no matter if you’ve spent millions of dollars on big-name consultants to deftly craft your mission statement, or if your company founder has been saying it since day-one, it’s an important way to keep everyone in your organization focused and moving in the same direction.
A mission statement is sort of a company’s compass. When you’re searching for a solution to a challenge or trying to make a decision, the mission statement should be your guide. It lets everyone know where you’re going and where you want to be. A great example is that of Patagonia, which states, “We’re in business to save our home planet.” It’s simple, comprehensive, and crystal clear.
If your organization doesn’t have a mission, consider creating one or at least working with your leadership team to broadly define what you stand for and where you’re heading. Or, create a mission statement for finance to outline the same things for your department. Even a few bullet points are a good place to begin.
Your mission statement can then be used to help guide how you select and use technology. You should also look into the vendor’s mission statement as well. It can shed light on how they do business and where they might be in a few years.
#3 – Better collaboration is imperative
There’s rarely a situation where less collaboration and communication is the answer. The reality is that most organizations yearn for more, faster, and better ways to get teams and people working together. The rise of workplace messaging apps is just one example of how companies are using technology to break down those workplace silos and barriers.
Culture again comes into play here. If a culture of secrecy is how your company operates, technology won’t help break down interdepartmental walls. But if your company thrives on communication or is already working to improve and expand collaboration, then a technology solution can help to accelerate and improve that process.
Technology can enhance and improve an existing culture of collaboration, but it will never help you create one. Working to break down barriers and then ease the collaboration is the better approach.
#4 – Take a phased approach
Your organizational culture undoubtedly has a stated or implied hierarchy. Maybe you’re a sales-driven organization that puts most resources towards helping the sales team. Or maybe you’re driven by R&D or engineering, and most decisions are based on your clever products and your market differentiation. This hierarchy can be embedded in the culture, which then translates to how priorities and expectations are set, how success is defined, and even how technologies are deployed.
Understanding how your culture prioritizes projects can help you build a phased approach to rolling out a new technology solution. For example, prioritizing sales as the first team to see the benefits will incent them to support the project earlier and push other teams to follow. Giving the first quick wins to the sales reps in the field will further help with adoption, internal support, and help managers see the benefits firsthand. But first, you have to understand how this prioritization should work in your organization.
Those quick early wins are also critical to the ongoing success of any technology project. If you think user adoption might be an issue, prioritize the aspects of the project that will give them the most benefits in time saved or frustration avoided. You should also consider both the dollar value and the culturally-significant impact of how project success is measured. Technology can save time, save money, or help you make more money. Whatever is most important to your organization should be prioritized.
#5 – Learn, iterate, improve
We mentioned above the “fail fast” approach to culture. What that term doesn’t capture is the learning and improvement aspects of that approach. To fail fast means to cut your losses when something isn’t working. But that doesn’t mean you just move on and try something else. Failing fast is a learning opportunity so you know what doesn’t work, the mistakes you made, and the things that could have made a difference. Then, as you build the next version of your product, marketing pitch, process, or whatever, you use that knowledge to increase your odds of success.
Every organizational culture has an approach to the concept of failure. The spectrum runs from rewarding those who take risks to firing those who make mistakes. Understanding where your culture lies on that spectrum should guide you in your technology selection. It could be the difference between trying a promising new technology or looking to more proven offerings from vendors with longevity. But your culture should quickly eliminate any technology vendor who lies outside of your comfort zone.
The technology itself should also fit your company’s learn, iterate, and improve mantra. If there’s little room for failure, find a technology where workflows can be completely locked down and rigid, allowing no deviation. If there is more flexibility, then look for technology that offers more options or easy configurations to help mold the application as your needs change.
Let your culture drive the technology
Talking about company culture may seem fluffy and unimportant, but whether or not you have a defined culture, every company does, in fact, have one. It may not be written down but you and your coworkers know what it is.
As you look for any new technology, consider first how you can work that solution into your existing culture. Don’t view it as a silver bullet to change a culture. But if your culture does need a bit of redirection, maybe try working on that first. It might be the best thing for you and your company.
For more information on how modern CFO’s can influence company culture for better business performance check out our latest on-demand webinar.