Finance Leaders: Is Your Workflow Process Stifling or Driving Innovation?

A team of finance leaders discuss workflow process.

Is your workflow process driving innovation in your finance department? Here's what you need to know.

For many finance departments, workflow process is a fixed activity that gets things done; however, this process may not be evolving fast enough to help your department be more efficient and productive. As Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant and author writes in "Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World," practice makes perfect, but it doesn't make new. As part of a series on must-read books, we're looking at how Grant's ideas on new business approaches can drive transformations.

Finance departments can get caught up in the same day-to-day routine when it comes to budgeting, expense management and billing, depending on established processes that meet the organization's needs. Following the same workflow can prevent you from coming up with new and more effective ways of doing things — or driving real financial transformation. Here are four ways to break out of workflow ruts and encourage your team to be a force for innovation within the finance department and beyond.

1. Encourage the Finance Team to Question the Status Quo

Encourage your team to view rules, systems and processes as simply the current way of doing things. If something seems inefficient, or a new technology emerges that would streamline the financial process, encourage your team to speak up. Investing in creative thinking skills and encouraging people to ask questions should foster real innovation, which could have a significant bottom line impact.

2. Develop Cross-Domain Expertise

Grant writes that originality increases when you broaden your frame of reference. Scientists who had some immersion in the arts, such as playing a musical instrument, were more likely to win a Nobel Prize. While your team may not be going after a peace prize, it can be easy to get stuck in a fixed way of doing things when you only consider it only from the perspective of a single domain. Encourage your team to develop a broader frame of reference by drawing on other domains, which can help them make financial decisions that support wider business goals.

3. Be a Finance Leader Who Drives Innovation

Your actions can be critical to determining whether your organization's workflow process will evolve or stagnate. Grant recommends leaders take several steps to encourage creativity in their organizations. Be willing to take criticism, invite feedback from throughout your team and stage innovation competitions for some of your organization's biggest financial challenges.

4. Change the Way You Hire Finance Talent

The term "cultural fit" is pervasive in the way organizations hire talent. Yet Grant suggests that when you hire for cultural fit, you're more likely to simply continue to hire people who think and solve problems in a similar way. Instead, hire for cultural contribution, or the ability to bring a unique perspective to the table. Bringing on these type of people should further embolden your team to bring up problems that don't have solutions yet and brainstorm potential answers.

Finance departments manage a high volume of routine activities, and it can be easy to get stuck in routine. By investing in creative development and encouraging innovation, it's possible to center finance as a bedrock of innovation and growth within your organization.