The CFO’s Critical Role in Driving Corporate Culture

In today’s highly competitive business environment, corporate culture must be a top priority, as a poor culture can ultimately lead to poor performance. But the CHRO and other traditionally people-focused leaders aren’t the only ones who can drive this aspect of the business. As CFOs, our actions have an enormous impact on corporate culture, and how well we handle that responsibility directly impacts the overall organization.

Traditionally, the head of finance focused on the numbers and the head of HR stood for the people. I think most of my peers would agree that’s an archaic leadership approach in today’s knowledge-based economy, with people and finances being so closely intertwined.  At Workday, two-thirds of our costs are related to people, and our global workforce’s collective brain trust is our biggest asset.

With this in mind, here are some key areas where forward-thinking CFOs can play a significant role in driving corporate culture:

Always evaluate the potential impact on people. When it comes to financial guidance, I consider it my job to think not just about the impact on the bottom line, or how investors might react to a financial decision, but also how these decisions may impact our employees and the environment in which they work every day. This mindset also results in a far more productive collaboration with our Chief People Officer Ashley Goldsmith than the traditional clash that can happen between finance and HR leaders when it comes to budget decisions. In addition, when providing input on decisions related to how we grow our companies, I think CFOs share responsibility in thinking about how our choices will influence the culture, whether it’s the benefits programs we choose or where to locate a new regional office.

By partnering more closely with other leaders, we can foster a sense of collaboration and openness that reverberates throughout the workforce.

Lead a team that delivers positive experiences. Like all leaders, CFOs can influence culture through how they engage their own teams and foster an environment that people want to be part of. Yet the CFO also has a responsibility to positively impact companywide culture by establishing a finance organization that’s easy to work with and provides great service to its internal stakeholders. It’s imperative we have in place systems and processes that are flexible and friendly, and make everyday actions like filing an expense report a breeze rather than a chore. While it’s our responsibility to ensure we have the right levels of control around processes, we should also have policies that empower our employees and show we trust them. All of this combines to cultivate a positive culture that removes barriers and lets employees spend their time innovating for the business.

Engage employees across the business. Also consider the different parts of the business that many CFOs now touch and how that impacts culture. For me that might entail sitting alongside our product development team to provide feedback on proposed new features for finance, or working closely with sales to help educate a prospective customer on Workday and our products, or discussing our finance goals in a town hall-style webcast shared across the company. By partnering more closely with other company leaders, and even key stakeholders outside of the company, we can foster a sense of collaboration and openness that reverberates throughout the workforce.

As CFOs, it’s true that we’re ultimately responsible for the numbers. But we also have a huge opportunity—and a responsibility—to help create a culture that inspires everyone to do their very best and work together to achieve common goals.

Photo credit: Workday development team outing, by Prentice Wongvibulsin.