The Happy CFO through happy lens

Marco Venturelli3 December 2019
The Happy CFO through happy lens

In these days, when in politics populism is increasingly successful, managers may be tempted to change the way they motivate their teams, moving to a more manipulative communication style, where reality and facts are adapted to the message not viceversa, in order to increase consensus and influence belief. In the picture of the post, I manipulated reality using my face on the body of a world known leader.

 Is it enough to make me a more convincing leader? Do you see The Happy CFO or the image of a different man?

Is ‘making people believe’ enough to be more effective and  have them to agree with the strategies, policies, and goals of their company?

If we want to succeed as Finance leaders, then we should understand the reasons behind why our teams come to believe, or fail to, and then how we can influence a change in their beliefs. As Finance is a fact based, reality based function how a convincing communication and approach can be successful?

 To help me understand more about how to create a motivated Finance team, I took inspirations  from The Carrot Guys: Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton. They put their first ideas down on paper for The Carrot Principle book. The idea for The Carrot Principle came about after the pair conducted extensive research and interviews with various heavy-hitting corporations regarding employee recognition and engagement.

Imprisoned in the cave

When I met Chester Elton in 2013, during a Finance Forum organized by my company, I explained to him that my intent was to help my team to move from a strong Technical Finance competency base towards a more Strategic vision, aligned with the company objectives. Their strong understanding of company’s processes should have helped them to drive also the Operational Efficiency agenda, but until then, I was not very successful in making them changing to the new vision. He opened my eyes, with the Plato’s myth (Freely adapted below from Wikipedia).

“Marco, I guess that your team is still, maybe imprisoned in the Plato’s cave, they have their own knowledge and opinion on how to best run their area of accountability and when you come with different proposals or ideas they react with ‘cognitive dissonance’: a reaction when someone is presented with information that contradicts what they think it is right. Imagine them in a cave, where Finance managers have been imprisoned from birth. These prisoners are chained to daily routines, executing very rigid processes and have the belief that running them efficiently gives the company a great advantage. Systems and processes force them to “gaze at the wall in front of them and not look around at the cave, each other, or themselves. Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway with a low wall, behind which business people walk carrying objects “of businessmen and other living things – the business reality”. The people walk behind the wall so their bodies do not cast shadows for the prisoners to see, but the objects they carry do. The prisoners cannot see any of what is happening behind them, they are only able to see the shadows cast upon the cave wall in front of them (financial reporting, sales data, vendor’s invoices). The Finance manager sees reality only via his/her processes and systems and that is enough. The shadows are reality for the prisoners because they have never seen anything else; they do not realize that what they see are shadows of objects (the business complexity and its opportunities) in front of a fire, much less that these objects are inspired by real things outside the cave”.

Departure from the cave

“Now Marco, suppose that one of the Finance manager is freed from heavy routines, breaks the chains and go outside. This prisoner would look around and see the fire. The light would hurt his eyes and make it difficult for him to see the objects casting the shadows (Business reality). If he were told that what he is seeing is real instead of the other version of reality he sees on the wall, he would not believe it. In his pain, – Chester continues-, the freed prisoner would turn away and run back to what he is accustomed to (that is, the shadows of the carried objects – his/her Technical Finance duties)”. Chester continues: “Suppose… that someone should drag him… by force, up the rough ascent, the steep way up, and never stop until he could drag him out into the light of the sun. The Finance manager would be angry and in pain, and this would only worsen when the radiant light of the sun (business reality and complexity) overwhelms his eyes and blinds him”.

“Slowly, his eyes adjust to the light of the sun. First he can only see shadows. Gradually he can see the reflections of people and things in water and then later see the people and things themselves. Eventually, he is able to look at the stars and moon at night until finally he can look upon the sun itself. He/she now understand business drives, complexity, evaluate competition, sizes opportunities and feels pity for those still in the cave that cannot link their Technical reality to the business one. The freed prisoner now understand how he/she can help better the business and doesn’t want to go back to the cave anymore”

The Carrot Principle: through Happier lens

“My advice, -said Chester- if you want to convince your team to become a Strategic Business Partner and move out from their usual approach is simple and maybe not groundbreaking, but very effective. First of all, you need to Engage them so that they understand how their work benefits the larger organization and have a clear understanding of how they are responsible and accountable for their results. They allow the company to have solid processes in place and sound information base. Being able to share timely and valuable data helps them to see the value of their contributions to their company’s larger mission. Then you have to Enable them. This is the key to make change happen. If the company supports employees with the right tools and training, and leaders spend most of their time coaching and walking the floor to ensure that workers can navigate the demands of their jobs, it creates a work environment that supports productivity and performance. You should share with them the bigger picture, help them to escape from the cave, encourage their contribution. Finally they need to be happy and Energized. Leaders able to maintain feelings of well– being and high level of energy are succeeding the most. Marco be careful: any of the three without the other is good but not sufficient for truly exceptional results. Enabling is the most powerful, though. Many of our employees have more to give, but they feel as if they are working in an environment where their management doesn’t give them the information they need to succeed. If employees feel as if managers are enabling them to thrive on their own, they are more likely to view the entire company through a happier lens”.

The Happy CFO and a Finance ALLIN team

After that great inspiring meeting, I started to change the way I was engaging with the Finance associates in my unit, a Region. It would have been much easier for me to leave them in their cave without Sharing everything. From their perspective, one of the country in the Region, reality might have been different and similar to the cave prisoner, understanding of the whole business reality quite limited. Then I started to share company strategy, Regions plans, minutes of various meetings, slides and presentations from various sources. We all know that information is power, would have been more reassuring for me to hold it, while sharing information freely and in advance, making them understand present and future, allowed them to “open their eyes in the sun”, see things differently, create value and opportunities. Instead of being a remote distant manager, I partnered with my talents breaking hierarchical barriers, opening dialogue and exchange in a free and safe manner, I encouraged them to take ownership of cross European (my unit) projects giving them the resources, the coaching, the visibility, the freedom to influence all the others, well beyond and above their responsibility.Root for each other. Increase level of appreciation and camaraderie, creating program Finance ALLIN that offers learning opportunities from the peers, training support, a shared vision about the way to become Strategic Business Partners.

For The Happy CFO, a happy and motivated Finance team, ALLIN, attached to the company and willing to give extra effort, enabled by a work environment that supports productivity and performance, energized, where social and emotional well being (happiness) are working, is key to run successfully and sustain business. How Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results without manipulating reality while taking advantage of people’ skills is a great journey inspired by Chester Elton’s ALL IN book to whom you should refer for further learning.


Carrot Principle

The ideas explored in their Carrot Principle book can jumpstart productivity, solidify engagement, establish valuable employee retention, and excel in the area of customer satisfaction. These improvements are the cornerstone of a successful business in an office or industry of any size. Their groundbreaking ideas are based around ideals that are practiced by companies at the forefront of business like Disney, KPMG, and Pepsi Bottling Group to name a few. The aggregate data from these 200,000+ interviews prompted the Carrot guys to write further books on leadership, corporate culture, and employee engagement turning the Carrot guys into world renowned best selling business book authors.