8 Ways to Boost Your Finance Function’s Innovation Quotient

Is innovation a strength of your employees? If it is, you’re part of a select group of companies, recent research suggests.

In the Robert Half Management Resources survey, 31 percent of chief financial officers said they consider their staff members very innovative. Most CFOs felt their staff are generally adept in this area but also noted room for improvement.

Following are eight tips to foster a creative work environment and ensure innovation is a strength of your team.

1. Build an idea-friendly culture.

Make innovation a staple of your corporate culture, starting with the hiring process. When staff members at all levels feel empowered and actively participate in solving the company’s challenges, they have an emotional stake in the firm’s success and tend to be more creative.

The survey results also suggest firms recognize this need and are taking a number of steps to foster innovation. For example, the majority of CFOs said their companies provide their employees additional training and offer rewards for successful new ideas.

2. Break down bureaucratic barriers.

In a previous Robert Half survey, nearly one in four CFOs cited too much bureaucracy as the greatest obstacle to innovation at their organization. Look for ways to streamline processes. In addition to slowing down the creative process, red tape can demoralize staff and inhibit the flow of new ideas.

3. Make sure finance has a voice – and the organization listens.

Your accounting and finance staff enjoy a unique perspective. Make sure they’re able to use it to contribute across the organization. For example, accounting and finance professionals can use their business analytics skills to spot organizational inefficiencies and identify new areas for growth.

“(Research) from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) finds that management accountants, led by the CFO, play a vital and growing role in driving advancements at some of the world’s most innovative companies,” noted CGMA Magazine. “In those businesses, the CFO and finance team are deeply embedded in the process of innovation and have a clear framework to let new ideas take shape.”

4. Brainstorm constructively.

When discussing new ideas, let them flow at breakneck speeds. The time to critique and then perfect them will come later. Ask staff to build on colleagues’ ideas – not tear them down – and ensure collaboration rules over competition.

5. Encourage breaks.

When employees are consistently overworked, there likely will be more “uh-oh” than “a-ha!” moments. Make sure staff aren’t so buried in their to-do lists they don’t have time for creative thinking.

6. Set the right example.

Your team will take their cue from you, so make sure you’re regularly proposing fresh ideas. Monitor current business and industry trends and best practices, and share your findings with staff.

Don’t be afraid to mix things up, and give personnel the freedom to do the same. Listen to music, watch a funny video, talk to people from other parts of the company – anything to break you out of your routine and provide a fresh outlook on issues affecting your department and firm.

7. Tap an outside perspective.

For an infusion of new ideas, consider engaging an external expert. Consultants offer independent opinions without being hindered by internal politics or having to do something a certain way because that's how it's always been done.

Companies also benefit from the wisdom these professionals have cultivated through success and in different environments. “Consultants,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half, “can be engaged to bring specialized skill sets and insights shaped by best practices learned from diverse experiences, companies and industries.”

8. Say “thank you.”

Letting people know you appreciate their work will both motivate them and reinforce the type of creative thinking you expect from staff members. Note the fruits of employee suggestions. Even thoughtful proposals that couldn’t be implemented or were transformed along the way should be praised.

What steps do you take to keep your company’s innovation engine running?

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Photo credit: Idea, by Joey Gannon, some rights reserved