Workday's Chief Financial Officer Barbara Larson and Workday's Chief Strategy Officer Pete Schlampp recently spoke with Juliet Grabowski, managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), about the continuously evolving role of finance leaders. This article was originally published by BCG and is reprinted with permission.
Market volatility, changing customer behaviors, and digitization are exerting enormous pressure on businesses to evolve—and the financial function at many companies is at the tip of the spear. Business leaders increasingly look to their CFOs for insights that can drive operational change, guide business strategy, and create value.
In this context, many finance leaders are fundamentally rethinking how they operate. BCG has observed that the most successful of these leaders share some common traits: They amplify their focus on value generation, harness data in new ways, and reinvent the way they cultivate talent in their organizations.
One company that recently navigated this tricky terrain is Workday, a provider of financial management and human capital management solutions. To learn more about the challenges that Workday faced—and to glean insights for others undertaking a similar transition—Juliet Grabowski, a managing director and partner at BCG and the company’s global co-leader for the finance function topic, sat down with Workday’s Chief Financial Officer Barbara Larson and Chief Strategy Officer Pete Schlampp.
Grabowski: Let me start by asking about Workday’s own journey to modernize its finance function. Why did you decide to undertake your transformation?
Larson: We actually don’t use the word “transformation” very much; we think more in terms of continuous innovation. Increasingly, the business is looking to us for insights that can drive operational change and guide business strategy, and this innovation journey enables us to become a partner in value creation. At the same time, we’re always looking for opportunities to reduce friction and automate as much of our processes as possible.
That sounds like an exciting transition but not an easy one.
Larson: It’s both of those things—exciting and challenging. I am definitely seeing the role of the CFO expanding post-pandemic into tactical areas such as procurement and supply chain, strategic areas, and investor relations. CFOs are getting more involved in enterprisewide change and not just transforming finance. On top of that, there’s been a push on ESG [environmental, social, and governance] issues and more thinking about all stakeholders as opposed to thinking only about shareholders.
I agree. It’s more important than ever to be a value-creation partner with the business, and all finance leaders I know are aspiring to that. How have you innovated to enhance your partnership with the business and add value?
Schlampp: One thing to keep in mind is that innovation increasingly depends on collaboration. Last fall, Workday held an event called “Conversations for a Changing World,” where we brought together business leaders. One of the really interesting takeaways was that leaders are thinking much more broadly about the business and the ways that functions can overlap. CFOs are thinking about diversity. CIOs are thinking about how to create a better employee experience to keep talent. And CHROs [chief human resources officers] are talking about personalization and the technology required. It highlights the need for C-suite leaders to work tightly together.