TagBusiness Performance Improvement

Reimagining Risk Management in a Constantly Changing Environment

Deloitte has published an interesting and useful piece, Reimagine Risk: Thrive in your Evolving Ecosystem based on its 2019 survey of risk management. The paper makes some good points, including:

In environments of change, professionals in a range of endeavours often fail to understand risks and their roles in managing them.

A lack of awareness of risks, of people’s roles in controlling them, and of ways to use risk data and new technologies and tools increases the challenges of risk management and undermines the achievement of strategic goals.

Companies that view risk management as among the most important factors for achieving strategic goals tend to achieve higher growth.

Organizations that achieve the greatest gains from risk management show a strong tendency to view the function from a more strategic perspective rather than treating it as a compliance and loss prevention function.

An integrated approach to risk eschews siloed solutions and aims to develop both an enterprise wide view of risk tied to the attainment of key corporate objectives.

In leading organizations, risk management now plays an offensive as well as a defensive role.

Risk management should proactively assist the organization in achieving superior strategy, innovation, and resilience, and not focus solely on avoiding losses and protecting assets.

Risk management’s presence at senior-level meetings increases impact. High-level presence of risk management clearly drives leaders’ confidence in risk data.

Risks are now too dynamic and unpredictable for outdated approaches. Be curious about emerging digital solutions.

Risk management has too much potential as a value-creating function to be viewed as primarily a compliance activity with no direct linkage to the attainment of enterprise objectives.

Deloitte’s 2019 risk management survey

Failure to understand and address enterprise risks holistically is often a result of inadequate processes, skills, systems and tools that effectively support intelligent and informed risk decision-making.

Often, people and organizations are unyielding of change. The natural tendency is to hold on to what we know best and how we have done things in the past.

As a result, instead of continuously scanning the environment for new risks to the business and its strategy we are tempted to believe that the future will turn out to be exactly the same as the past with similar risk exposures.

Effective risk management or decision making is not about building and maintaining a list of risk exposures identified in isolation to the overall strategy and performance of the business.

When organizations approach risk management from a “risks list” perspective, the focus is mostly on what might go wrong as opposed to the risks the organization should take in order to create value and drive business performance.

A business is an ecosystem of connected functions and other stakeholders working together to achieve the organization’s key objectives. The cause-and-effect relationship between the various stakeholders is significant.

Thus, a single decision made by one function or a group of stakeholders can have serious effects on other functions and stakeholders.

Yet despite this direct and indirect relationship between the different business functions and stakeholders, risk management is not always integrated across the enterprise. Risks are managed in silos often culminating in duplication of effort and unproductive use of resources.

Taking a system’s approach to risk thinking and decision-making is key to unlocking value from risk management processes as opposed to embracing a linear thinking approach.

Understand how the various parts of the business interrelate and work together to produce the desired outcomes.

Although compliance and risk management are closely aligned, there is a big difference between the two.

Compliance-related activities ensure the organization is compliant to established rules and regulations, while risk management helps protect organizations from risks that could lead to non-compliance.

Thus, effective risk management is more than a “box ticking” exercise performed solely to satisfy regulators. Though being compliant to prescribed rules and regulations should not be undervalued, in order to inform decision making risk management should be less reactive and more proactive.

In other words, integrate risk into your business and decision support. For example, facilitate periodic risk discussions in order to understand how business functions or units are integrating risk into their business, any opportunities and potential threats to the achievement of their business goals.

To provide effective decision support, the organization must move from a primarily compliance-based and value-protection approach to risk to an approach that also embraces risk-taking for value creation. It’s all about managing the upside and thriving in a constantly changing environment.

Further, in order to optimize results, organizations should avoid paying lip service to risk management and show commitment to intelligent and informed decision making by ensuring that risk management is represented at senior-level meetings to provide business-focused insight.

This does not necessarily mean someone with a CRO designate, as long there is clarity that the individual appointed is responsible for championing the integration of risk into the business, influence strategy and align risk reporting responsibilities.

As risks evolve, the organization must also evolve into an intelligent risk enterprise and ensure adequate processes, people, systems and tools are in place to provide informed decision support to the right people at the right time.

Building Trust in Your Data, Insights and Decisions

Over the years, the adoption of advanced analytics and data visualization tools by enterprises in order to generate key insights that can support quality business performance decisions has considerably evolved.

Nonetheless, not all investments in this arena are producing the desired outcomes.

Although significant sums of money, resources and time have been channeled towards data and analytics initiatives, the quality of insights generated, and ultimately the decisions are far from convincing.

Some of the possible reasons for explaining these failures include:

  • A sole focus on technology, and less on processes and people.
  • Misguided belief that the more data you have the better.
  • Lack of or poor organizational alignment and cultural resistance.

Delivering trusted insights is not a simple matter of investing in the right technology alone. Neither will simply collecting and storing large amounts of data lead to better decisions.

For instance, investing in state-of-the-art data analytics and visualization tools at the expense of data quality doesn’t automatically empower you to generate valuable insights that drive business performance.

Or having the right technology and quality data, but poor organizational alignment coupled with intense cultural resistance.

So how can your organization use data and analytics to generate trusted insights, make smarter decisions and impact business performance?

Prior generation of any business insights, trends or activity patterns, it’s imperative to ensure that the performance data to be analyzed is trusted. That is, the data must be fit for purpose, current, accurate, consistent and reliable.

With so much data and information available today, it’s increasingly difficult for decision makers to determine which data points are essential in understanding what drives the business and incorporate these into business decision making.

Resultantly, many organizations end up data hoarding and incurring unnecessary expenses along the process.

To ensure your data is fit for purpose, first and foremost, develop an understanding of the real business questions that the data needs to answer. By asking questions at the very beginning, you will be able to identify and define any problems or issues in their context.

Further, asking relevant questions will help you develop an improved understanding of the present factors, past events, or emerging opportunities driving the need for advanced analytics and data visualization investments in the first place.

Concurrently, asking the wrong questions results in ineffectual resolutions to the wrong business problems.

Generally, people want to kick off their data analysis effort by first collecting data and not asking the relevant questions, establishing the business need and formulating the analysis plan.

But, the quality of the insights and the value of the recommendations delivered are rooted in the quality of the data you start out with.

Data collection should only begin once the purpose and goals of the data analysis are clearly defined. Thus, the more and better questions you ask, the better your insights, recommendations, decisions and ultimately business performance will be.

Data accuracy, consistency and reliability

Ensuring that data used in analysis is accurate, consistent and reliable remains one of the common hurdles hampering analytics initiatives. One of the reasons for this is multiple data sources.

For example, suppose you want to analyze and evaluate the impact of a given marketing campaign on customer experience, in the past to do so you would have managed with data from your CRM system only.

Today, in order to get a 360-degree view of your customers, analyzing CRM data alone is not sufficient. You also need to analyze data from your web analytic system, customer feedback surveys, data warehouses, email, call recordings, social media or production environments.

Thus, you need to bring these disparate data sources together to generate valuable, actionable insights.

Issues arise when the multiple data sources define key business performance terms or metrics (e.g. sales, conversion, margin growth) differently and there is no common definition shared across the business.

This lack of shared understanding of business performance has far reaching implications on your analysis and makes it futile to compare results.

Data collection, followed by data cleansing and validation, are all therefore important. After you have collected the data to be used in the analysis per your analysis plan, it’s important to clean and validate the data to make it useable and accurate. Select a small data sample and compare it with what you expected.

Ensure the data type matches your expectations. Remember the adage: garbage in, garbage out. Even if you have the best of the breed analytics tools to slice and dice information, with poor data quality practices, your insights and decisions will remain unsubstantiated, erroneous and worthless.

For this reason and to ensure the consistency of the data used in your analysis, know and understand the source of every piece of your data, the age of the data, the components of the data, what is not included in the data, when and how often the data is refreshed.

Without data integrity, it is difficult to generate trusted insights and deliver recommendations that decision makers can confidently act on. Also, delivering trusted insights goes beyond merely attaching a colourful report in an email and hitting the send button.

Instead, the insights must be delivered in a digestible and actionable format. That is, communicated in a format that is more readily understood by decision makers in the organization. Poorly communicated insights can result in no action, negating the value of the insights in the first place. Thus, avoid getting bogged down in details.

Knowing is powerful, but acting based on knowledge is what drives smart decisions, creates true value and impacts business performance.

Finance Value Creation Goes Beyond Running the Financial Side of the Business

Advances in technology are helping the finance function reduce operational costs, streamline processes and improve productivity. Thanks to automation, tasks that used to take months to complete are being completed in weeks and those that took weeks to accomplish are getting done in days.

For instance, advanced analytics and robotic process automation are shortening the timelines finance teams require to produce a forecast, perform account reconciliations or close the books.

Technology is enabling more to be done with less and the trend is not expected to go away anytime time soon. A couple of years go the staff size of the finance function was big. CFOs were happy to have separate staff handle AP, AR, Payroll, Bank Reconciliations, Management Accounts etc.

Today the size of the finance function has shrunk significantly. Thanks to shared services centers, outsourcing and process automation. Robots have taken over rules-based, repetitive and transactional tasks that were once performed by humans.

Machine learning algorithms are already replicating highly analytical tasks, analyzing large data sets and churning out insights in real time to support decision making. Although the adoption of machine learning and/or AI tools is not yet widespread it’s only a matter of time before the technology becomes a part of our everyday life.

Implications for finance professionals

In order to stay current and move ahead finance teams need to evolve and adapt to the changing environment.

Some of the skills we have acquired in the past and relied on to get us to the next level are no longer sufficient in the current and future environment. As a result, we have to develop a continuous learning mindset. Learn new ways of doing things, unlearn the old habits and continue to relearn.

For instance, being detailed oriented alone used to be sufficient. Not anymore. Today finance professionals are expected to be commercially aware and broad in their thinking.

Decision makers are searching for collaborative business partners who have a deeper understanding of the operational and strategic challenges facing the business. Problem solvers able to enrich the business with insightful analysis and capable of recommending the right solutions. Team players who understand the markets in which the business operates, its products, competitor business and the drivers of performance as a whole.

Build a big picture perspective of the business

If finance is to be recognized as a valuable strategic business partner we need to build a big picture perspective of the business and be able to recognize the role and contribution of each function, individual, process and activity in achieving the objectives of the company. Knowing debits and credits alone will not take us far.

With the business environment constantly changing, we need to shift our focus from historical analysis to forward looking.

Many at times we spend a lot of time producing variance analysis reports that do not drive the right conclusions and actions out of the insights. For example, simply commenting sales for the month are up 5% or operational costs are down by $1MM is not insightful enough to support key decision making.

We need to understand what the numbers mean and the real drivers behind them. For example, did sales increase because of new customers, price increases, improved demand, enhanced marketing efforts, new product lines, entry into new markets, product bundling?

CFOs and their teams need to be doing more than running the financial side of the business – recording revenues and costs. Instead, they should help the business adapt and make insight-driven strategic turns without throwing off alignment between broad strategy and day-to-day execution.

Part of building a bigger picture perspective of the business requires a finance function that is more flexible and collaborative than in the past and knows how to manage its internal working relationships. A finance function that is capable of partnering with operations instead of always pointing out what operations is always doing wrong.

Spending the majority of our time behind our desks preparing financial statements and regulatory compliance reports will not help us become more strategic and commercially aware. We need to get interested in the affairs of the business. Avail ourselves for projects that take us out of our comfort zones. Regularly interact with colleagues outside finance to get a deeper understanding of the drivers of the business, what projects the teams are working on, how they align with the broader strategy, the risks and challenges they are facing and recommend solutions.

If you are used to sitting behind a computer all day, leaving your desk to engage with the business is initially unnerving but the more you do it the more confidence you gather. Evolving priorities require a finance professional with a well-honed ability to communicate, build trust and maintain collaborative relationships with the rest of the business.

Driving business growth versus cost cutting

Too often finance teams are focused on cost cutting activities in order to improve the bottom line instead of identifying alternative ways of driving up top line growth. Today’s global companies are operating in a world of complex supply chains, intense competition, shifting customer expectations, increased regulatory demands, emerging operating models and exposure to significant business risk. Cost reduction alone will not help the business sustain its competitive relevance in this world.

The problem with many cost optimization programmes is that they fail to deliver the expected outcomes. It is not about how much you cut the costs, rather where you channel resources to differentiate, stimulate growth and achieve strategic objectives. Finance needs to look beyond narrowly defined functional or organizational structures when identifying candidates for cost cutting and take a holistic, end-to-end view of costs across the whole organization. This will help separate the strategically-aligned good costs from the non-essential bad costs.

With the adoption of big data and analytical tools becoming mainstream, it’s not too late for finance to play catch up. Transitioning to data analytics starts with putting in place a well-structured data and information management foundation and then combining technology with the right analytics and expertise.

Only then can finance transform data into true, actionable business intelligence (on products, customers, markets, process efficiencies, supply chain, competition and business risk) that drives better informed decision making and business growth.

Traditional financial reporting does not provide the actionable information the business needs to make more informed strategic decisions. Today, the business needs to leverage both structured data (which resides in enterprise databases) and unstructured data (email, social media, internet) including analytics to generate insightful analysis that can help drive operational and strategic performance.

For example, finance should be able to collaborate with the marketing function, analyze and interpret customer data to understand customer journeys, and help the function design and implement better customer/brand strategies and responses.

Finance cannot expect to drive business growth by continuously doing the same things. It’s not about this is how we have always done things here. Ask yourselves: what is the right way of doing things in today’s disruptive world and what are the expectations of the business?

Why KPIs Alone Do Not Drive Results

No matter how small or big a company is, all companies aspire to achieve superior business performance that beats the odds. Meeting after meeting, they map out a road map for achieving this success. KPIs are brainstormed and a select critical few to focus on defined for monitoring.

Designed to track performance against targets and drive results, KPIs help managers and executives establish whether performance is improving, deteriorating or remaining stagnant. This then allows them to take corrective action where necessary.

The problem we see in many companies today is lack of KPIs ownership and accountability. Yes, they are tracking the right metrics but the process ends there. There is no individual who is responsible for the performance of that metric.

KPIs Need People Ownership and Accountability

KPIs alone do not drive results, they need people ownership and accountability. Ownership is key to ensuring successful adoption of performance management across the organization. Lack of buy-in and engagement makes it difficult for employees to manage their performance.

On the other hand, accountability ensures that individuals, teams and management are held responsible for their performance against specific initiatives. Having said this, you need to empower your employees to drive performance and not micromanage them.

If employees are not given autonomy to manage their performance, in the event of faltering results, they will most often enter into a fight-or-flight mode which by default is counterproductive.

When it is clear who owns the results, management can make follow-ups with responsible individuals or teams, provide visibility of how they are performing and how their performance is impacting the top-level business metrics. This helps create awareness of any performance problems that need addressing at the earliest convenience.

One of the reasons why companies are facing KPIs ownership problems is because of a lack of shared understanding of the meaning of performance measurement. So often, performance measurement is associated with punishment and rewards. Hit the targets and you get rewarded. Miss the targets and you get punished.

This shouldn’t be the case. Rather, performance measurement should act as an improvement tool that propels the organization forward.

A Culture Focused on Performance is Needed

In order to drive company-wide adoption and buy-in, organizations must develop a culture of performance. What do I mean by this? All employees must go through training on “what is performance management?” and how to do it.

This is key to ensuring that everyone speaks the same language concerning KPIs and performance improvement. It is imperative that employees have a shared understanding of how performance is managed and communicated, both at individual and team level, and how this influences overall objectives.

In addition to training opportunities, organizations should also provide tools that enable employees to embrace this culture. The environment should be supportive of this cultural shift, otherwise all efforts will end up being fruitless.

Improving corporate performance starts with individuals and entails a cultural and mental shift. Thus, employees should be able to see the cause-and-effect relationship between their actions, business performance and rewards. One way of creating this awareness involves identifying performance champions within the organization and granting them the responsibility and resources required for transforming the culture.

For example, performance champions play a critical role of continuously reinforcing the right habits in one another so that performance improvement is on their minds all the time. They also help explain the significance and value of using KPIs or metrics of success in their everyday work.

Once individuals and teams have a clearer understanding of the “why” part of KPIs, it completely changes the way they view performance management and also the importance they grant to the process.

Execution is Key to Business Performance Improvement

Although KPIs provide focus and act as a road map for strategic success, we should not ignore the important role people play in this entire process. There is a huge difference between tracking performance and tacking action. Performance management goes beyond monitoring of key metrics.

To be effective and enable better decision making, KPIs need to be evaluated against a target. This helps establish whether the outcome is acceptable or not, at the same time allowing corrective action to be taken.

If there is no pre-defined target to measure actual results against, how can we expect decision makers to take immediate remedial actions? Positive actions and results are a product of consistent, relevant and reliable information being shared across the organization.

Despite more and more data being tracked, reported and communicated in today’s analytics world, many decision makers are still lacking the necessary business insights to improve performance. They are repeatedly receiving insignificant information, which unfortunately, they are unable to act upon to drive business performance.

Once information is consistent, relevant, reliable and communicated throughout the organization, it can be acted upon. It is therefore important to make sure that the information that is being communicated and presented is in a format that is quickly and easily understandable and consumable.

You can have well-defined KPIs but what matters most are not the indicators or how many you have, but what your employees and teams do with these indicators.

© 2019 ERPM Insights

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑