A Generational Shift: The CFO’s Role in Redefining the Future of Work

Finance leaders from Accenture, Cisco, Toyota North America, and Workday shared insights on how they’re thinking about the future of work at a recent event. That includes prioritizing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) efforts and building stronger relationships with employees.

Chief financial officers (CFOs) will increasingly be at the forefront of envisioning and defining the future of work—from making investments in training and technology, to setting organizational and cultural priorities.

In a recent Fortune CFO Collaborative event, executives from Accenture, Cisco, Toyota North America, and Workday tackled topics from envisioning their future workforce to understanding the role data plays in employee-retention strategies; and from the importance of communication to implementing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) priorities.

“The future of work is really everybody’s job,” said Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture. “And so while there’s a finance lens, there’s an HR lens … it really starts with our core values and how we think about our people.”

Sweet said one of her organization’s leadership essentials is caring for its employees, both personally and professionally, adding that she and KC McClure, CFO at Accenture, are both tasked with that goal. “It starts with the business but also making sure that in everything we do, we epitomize our values.” 

The ESG Difference 

Accenture, which hired more than 100,000 people over the past year, recognizes that culture plays an important role in attracting and retaining top talent.

“Team members want to know that they’re adding value, and they want to have tangible recognition that they’re making an impact for the growth of the business.”

Tracey Doi Group Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Toyota Motor North America

For CFOs, investing in culture—as a way to reflect the importance of talent—requires creativity and courage, Sweet said. “CFOs have to bring balance, but they often do have to give the organization the courage and the nudge to do things differently,” she added. “And that definitely has an economic component.”

ESG considerations have grown over the past few years, at perhaps a greater clip during the pandemic. 

ESG efforts are one way to drive business in a manner that’s more attractive to a range of stakeholders. “That’s not just about investors,” she said. “That’s about talent. That’s about our partners who want it.”

McClure pointed to a recent Accenture survey in which 68% of respondents said CFOs are going to lead ESG efforts, and she added that data integrity will be at the heart of the structure and governance necessary for  such efforts to succeed. McClure also credited single global instances of cloud providers, including Workday, for the data integrity those efforts require.

Walking the Walk

“People want to really know that the company they work for has a mission they connect with, has values they connect with—things like social justice,” said Robynne Sisco, co-president and CFO of Workday. “ESG matters more to employees now than it did 10 years ago.”

Sisco sees a commitment to culture as a driving factor in recruiting and retaining top talent—if it’s genuine. “Really living those values all the way up to the top and through the organization is super, super important,” she said. “If you do a good job of that, then it will really help you through changing times like what we’re going through today.”

For Scott Herren, executive vice president and CFO of Cisco, the future of work isn’t a hypothetical thought exercise. It’s unfolding now. While Cisco had already embraced a hybrid approach to work, the pandemic prompted executives to provide evidence that successful career paths were still possible for employees living outside its San Jose, California, headquarters. To ensure the message was clear, Herren volunteered to move to Atlanta.

“Work has changed, and it’s not changing back to how it was before,” Herren said, even as he appreciates the in-person experience. “I do look forward to the day when I can come in [the office], and there’s other people in here again.”

A Matter of Trust

As employees shift to a hybrid work experience, strong communication from the top is imperative, Sisco said.

“When you go through such a significant change, communication is key,” Sisco said. “A lot of what you’re asking your employees to do is trust you: ‘Trust us that we’re going to do the right thing. Trust us we’re going to listen to your feedback and adjust as necessary.’ Having built that trust with your employees through your strong culture over time is what’s going to get you through these challenging times.”

The other crucial component is ensuring there’s a two-way exchange, or feedback loop, Sisco said, adding that Workday recently acquired Peakon, creators of the listening platform Workday Peakon Employee Voice. “That’s really allowed us to understand the sentiment across our employee base, how they’re feeling about certain things, which has become, as all of you know, more difficult since the pandemic, because you don’t have the hallway conversations and the informal chats,” she said.

Herren agreed: “Really understanding your current employee sentiment, not just a once-a-quarter survey, I think will become more and more important to all of us.” 

Herren added that collaboration technology will continue to evolve, much like the evolution of motion pictures. “Scroll forward 100 years later to how movies are now, and it’s a complete immersive experience,” he said.

Investing in Employees

When imagining the future of work, Tracey Doi, group vice president and CFO at Toyota Motor North America, said the demand for talent will only increase.

“People want to really know that the company they work for has a mission they connect with, has values they connect with—things like social justice.”

Robynne Sisco Co-President and Chief Financial Officer Workday

Recognizing that trend, Toyota offers its 32,000 North American employees the opportunity to develop their skills with a pilot program that provides rotations on various projects and teams—a benefit younger workers will appreciate. 

“This generation is a lot less patient to look for the next level, the next rotation,” she said. “So if we can give them an opportunity to try something out, I think that engagement increases.”

Doi said that technology also plays a key role in creating a dynamic workplace. “Because of technology, we’re able to iterate a lot faster with our analytics, and that also increases engagement,” she added. “Team members want to know that they’re adding value, and they want to have tangible recognition that they’re making an impact for the growth of the business.”

Doi said she was proud of Toyota’s investments in tools that will help elevate analytics to the next level, whether it involves optimizing production lines, looking at its sales mix, evaluating workforce costs, or helping to support customers’ experiences. “I think that use of technology to help our customer—but also have the team members see their contribution make a strong impact—helps with retention and attraction,” she said.

Doi sees the deployment of technology as something of a reallocation of resources. As an example, Doi said Toyota’s finance and enterprise strategy teams have used tech “to compress the routine-type work” as well as expand their capability for analytics. 

Herren echoed that sentiment. “What we’re trying to automate is the routine, the rote,” he said. “No one went to business school to go to one data source, grab data, go to another one, dump it all into Excel, massage it, and burp it out into PowerPoint, right? Yet our teams spend so much time doing just that.” Herren added that the role of automation is to increase accuracy and reduce repetitive tasks “so that you have the higher powered, the more interesting things that most people went to school to actually do when they graduate.”

Technology unlocks new opportunities, Sisco said. Analytics, adaptability, problem-solving, and collaboration become more important as employees move up, she said, and so organizations must have programs in place to develop a wide range of necessary skills. “There’s so much that a CFO can do to really look at how to think about talent differently because it can save costs,” McClure said. “And the ability to access talent in a different way post-pandemic is ever more important.”

Strategic managed services can be a “great economic proposition” for finance teams looking to address the skills gap and improve organizational resilience, McClure said. “I’m having more and more of these discussions as it relates to getting everything done in a constrained environment that CFOs need to drive,” she said.

Learn more about the CFO Collaborative events and gain insights from some of the world’s top business leaders, including former CFOs-turned-CEOs, about the evolving CFO role.

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