With so much emphasis currently being placed on the ability to create opportunity and innovate amidst complexity, finance teams and departments often find themselves operating at breakneck speed. Despite the fast pace and the necessity for innovation, it's as important as ever to step back for a moment and practise cultivating an ethical and uplifting workplace culture.
According to Mandy Morgan, chief executive of Akim Business Solutions in South Africa, finance professionals in all areas of business, and especially in leadership positions, have an obligation to their companies and teams to lead by example, "never compromising on what is right and what is wrong".
Often, however, these professionals are placed in extremely difficult situations whereby their ethical values may be tested, and their decisions directly influence the future trajectory of the entire organisation.
"Finance professionals are often perceived to hold the 'keys to the safe' when it comes to making discretionary decisions on how an organisation directs resources," said Guy Addison, director at South Africa-based Addison Incorporated, and that can often lead to conflict with other people's priorities.
Yet Addison believes that some form of friction within teams is healthy and noted that finance professionals need to understand and appreciate their unique position within an organisation.
With this in mind, how can finance professionals become culture champions and promote ethical, productive, and positive workplace values? Morgan and Addison suggested the following:
Always create open lines of communication between yourself and your team, advised Morgan. These don't need to be formal arrangements — just telling your team regularly that you are there and willing to listen makes it easier for team members to approach you with difficult decisions. "If a leader is unapproachable, their team won't be willing to have those difficult discussions ... which could prevent bad choices," she said.
Be willing to stand alone
Taking the line of least resistance may work in the short term, but more often than not, finance professionals need to be courageous, according to Addison. In his view, finance professionals need to be willing to stand alone on matters of sound ethics and professional responsibility. The tone from the top should encourage professionals to feel confident in taking a naturally sceptical stance.
Recognise and reward excellence
When a team member excels, recognise their achievement and acknowledge the work they have done. "This encourages team members to keep positive and to want to repeat their good performance," Morgan said. "Nothing is more demoralising than not receiving recognition for good performance ... or, even worse, someone else getting the recognition."
Mentors are important for all professionals in the workplace, Addison said. Finance professionals should seek out finance professionals who have deep experience in their discipline. "In that trusting relationship, be courageous and willing to engage in meaningful discussions around the work environment," he advised.
Keep conversations positive
Research has supported the idea that positive thinking breeds success, and Morgan reiterated that "positivity creates positivity".
"There is plenty to be negative about, but trying to channel conversations in a positive direction uplifts the team," she explained. "There is always something positive. Remember the small things ... compliments, encouragement, well wishes, and even small gestures like a chocolate, a team lunch, etc. All these things cost little but have a big impact on team morale."
Trust your instincts
"In the early parts of one's career, you have a high technical competence in relation to managerial competence," Addison noted. As you progress, this shifts, and you learn to trust your gut about situations. "Throughout your career, be willing and open to listening to your gut feel about situations and make sure that you don't give up until you have found the answers," he said. "Finance professionals are often focused on their technical skills, but their leadership and relational skills determine how successful they will be once they join the workforce."
"Everyone can bring their own contribution to the professional scepticism process," added Peter Steel, vice-president—Professional Standards and Conduct at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. "Teamwork is a powerful tool to ensure robustness of the process — those more junior in the organisation may have access to the detailed transactions, whilst the more senior members of the team may be looking at the bigger picture."
- "New Code of Ethics Is True to CIMA's Core Principles", FM magazine, October 2019
- "The Shifting Shape of Ethics", FM magazine, 24 October 2018
- "Driving Ethical Behaviour in a Global Organisation", FM magazine, 21 August 2019
Jessica Hubbard is a freelance writer based in South Africa. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.