Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » Keeping finance teams motivated is a challenge, Ocado Group & Workday FDs say

The pandemic has accelerated the evolution of the finance function as finance leaders focus on tackling the challenge of keeping their teams motivated.

“We’re coming out of lockdown and Covid with a much more enlightened view of the team – what my team are working on and how they approach the work,” said Brian Montgomery, senior director of international finance at Workday.

Speaking at March’s CFO Executive Dialogue, he said the crisis management-like approach Workday took at the beginning of the pandemic, focusing on the “basics” to keep the company safe, soon felt like a “hamster wheel” for the team.

He noted that as employee interest in their roles started to wane, he was encouraged to review his team’s focus.

“Being remote and not having that day-to-day interaction really started to weigh on people after a few months [as well as] without the interest of the additional projects,” Montgomery said. “We have a rule [at Workday] that all of our finance team are working on a meaningful project at any given time. […] We got back quickly to that and made some really big leaps.”

The refocus of the finance team’s objectives encouraged a new wave of people-type skills to be bought to the forefront, highlighting project management and negotiation skills “much more than we’ve seen in the past”, Montgomery added.

Michael Clark, vice president of finance strategy and transformation at Coca Cola European Partners, noted data and analytic skills had also become increasingly important.

However, Clark was keen to stress new skills should not take priority over core financial knowledge, despite the growing role of technology within the finance function. “Finance people are first-rate finance people and not second-rate IT people”, he said.

For the Ocado Group, the finance function had to rave to keep abreast of the company’s growth, Vineta Bajaj, the group’s finance director said. Bajaj explained Ocado had accelerated their transformation of the finance function during the pandemic as demand for their services increased substantially.

However, Bajaj also stressed employees started to “get bored” in their roles which was “amplified by the lack of cross-pollination of finance teams”.

There was a lack of casual conversation between members of the team while remote working which meant the business culture was “slowly getting lost”, she said.

“In Ocado, we have this fantastic culture and that was just going down by the fact we had hired over 100 fantastic colleagues in finance over the last two years because of our growth.”

Keeping staff motivated, connected to the people around them, and creating a sense of belonging in a remote environment is one of the “biggest challenges” for leaders right now, Bajaj added.