Ep. 144: Sarah Hoxie - The People Side of Business Transformation

Sarah Hoxie, Chief Accounting Officer at LSC Communications, overseas all aspects of accounting and leadership of a company-wide operational performance improvement project that is generating significant financial impact and sustainable improvements in operating effectiveness. Sarah joined Count Me In to talk about what business transformation means to her and share some of her experiences. Oftentimes, teams or individuals overlook the foundation of all business transformation projects--the people. Sarah explains how these transformations and role changes can impact the team or organizational culture. Download and listen to hear more about some of the challenges and how to overcome them!

Welcome back to Count Me In,

IMA's podcast about all things affecting
the accounting and finance world.

This is your host Mitch Roshong,

and I'm here to preview
episode 144 of our series.

Today's featured guest
speaker is Sarah Hoxie.

Sarah is the Chief Accounting Officer
at LSC Communications. In this role,

she is responsible for all aspects of
accounting and has overseen various

projects impacting the organization.
Throughout this episode,

Sarah talks about her experience with
business transformation projects and

focuses on the people involved.

Transformations can
greatly affect culture,

and Sarah explains how
to best manage that.

So keep listening as we head
over to the conversation now.

Sarah, thanks so much for
coming on the podcast today.

And our focus today is going to
be around business transformation.

And so just to kind of start off, what
is your take on business transformation?

So in my opinion, you know,
business transformation,

isn't a straight line journey. It's
not a matter of starting at, you know,

"A" and working your way to "C",
and then, and then you're done. It's

really about, you know,

looking at the opportunities that
are out there in the environment,

and adapting to those, whether it's, you
know, social, economic, environmental,

they're all things that
need to be considered.

And as you're on that journey,
incorporating them as, as they change.

You know, in my experience,

it's a lot of business transformation
is about making the business

or making your area of the
company continue to remain,

you know, relevant and I think
the scope can be, you know,

as narrow or as broad
as, as needed, you know,

I think you see a lot of companies
that do business transformation well,

look at all levels of a business and they
never stopped looking for the changes

that are out there.

So when we look at
business transformation,

what approach do you take when
you're leading a transformation?

I think the first thing that I really
focus on is his tone at the top.

I think to get everyone

in a part of the business or even
the whole company engaged in business

transformation, they need to view it
as a priority from the leaders of the,

of the business. And I
think it should, you know,

my approach has been to involve all
levels of the organization, right from,

you know, people that have just joined
the company or your interns, you know,

right through people that are, you
know, more senior in individuals,

and getting their input.

I think they have got to be
helping drive some of the,

the change, help identify,
what the issues are,

what the problems are,

and then work together to
find solutions for them.

I think when you get all
levels of the business,

working behind this
kind of transformation,

it really does drive better solutions.

You've got people that are doing some
of the things on a day-to-day basis

that can see how they can resolve the
issues are they know what the issue is,

and maybe don't know how to resolve
it, but if you get everyone involved,

then all those ideas are coming together
and everyone's working towards them.

I think another key piece of
it is really accountability.

Once you have that tone at
the top set, and, you know,

people are right behind
that, then, you know,

you can start to encourage everyone to
be accountable for the areas they're

getting involved in. From an
accountabilities perspective,

tracking some of the progress on the
areas of transformation is really helpful

as well, because, you know,

if you're three months into
this kind of process and you can

precisely communicate to everyone, the
progress that has been made, you know,

and you're doing that through
being able to track the progress,

it starts to build the momentum
for everyone to really get behind,

the project. But, you
know, it's in, you know,

in the organizations I've been with it's,

the tracking can take over. You
really want something that's simple.

That's not taking time away
from the actual transformation

activity.

It kind of going back to what I was
saying about getting all levels involved.

I think if you're going to get
true business transformation,

you really need to give
people a, you know,

a lot of free reign to come
up with those ideas. You know,

don't set kind of restraints
on projects or ideas

that can be investigated.
And I think that's,

that's where I've had the most success
when you've really given people a,

you know, a free range,

maybe hold up a brainstorming
session to identify

all potential suggestions of how we
can do transformation out there and

then start to investigate
them rather than, you know,

giving very tight restrictions
on what can be proposed.

That's something else
that I've seen work well

is not losing track of
ideas and suggestions that

don't necessarily make sense today,

but may make sense in the future.

Keeping an eye on those is
always helpful because you know,

the world is continually changing and
that that idea or suggestion might be a

great in, you know, two
or three years time.

It almost sounds like you're referring
to like a cultural shift within an

organization, where, you know,

you're changing the tone at the
top and you're listening to ideas,

even writing them down and keeping
them for two to three years,

maybe because that idea
may be different later.

How would you execute like a cultural
shift in an organization to make sure that

the transformation is successful?

When you think about making it stick?

It has to be something that
continually comes up in

everyone's day to day activities.

It's not something that just people
focus on for a month and that it's

never mentioned again. It's, you know,

really keeping it in the
forefront of everyone's mind,

even if it's small, day-to-day
kind of, activities, really,

you know, any chance of, you know,

small meetings as a team or
a larger kind of town halls,

really having it as an agenda
item that people talk about,

that people celebrate.

Some of my teams have had a great
success in that. And, you know,

there's been, you know, recognition
and reward for those kinds of,

activities, which then
starts to drive more,

more change within the organization.

That makes complete sense.

But then how do you avoid people from
falling back into the old habits? Because,

you know, you can, put it in front of
people's faces, but then over time,

you know, it's easy to go backwards.

Yeah. Absolutely true.

And I think it's very easy
when individuals are not

seeing the, kind of the
fruits of their labors, right.

If they don't understand
what impact their projects or

their involvement is having in, driving
change or maybe improving results,

then it's very easy to slip back.

So the more that businesses
and groups can communicate

successes, I think it's easier
to stop them falling back into

the old habits, you know,

and I think it's listening
to all viewpoints

within an organization as well.

People that have been with
organizations a long time,

have a very different viewpoint,
than people who, you know,

have only been with the
company a short period of time.

I think it's making both
of those groups feel like

their thoughts are, and
input is valued. You know,

people that have been with
the organization, you know,
a longer time may think,

oh, we tried this, it didn't work.

and so a lot of it is encouraging
those individuals to, you know,

be more open to trying again, but
also listening to them and say, Hey,

why didn't this work previously
and trying to learn from

those mistakes as well?

Yeah.

It's almost like the people who've been
there a long time have that kind of

jaded view and the people
who are new may have a fresh,

exciting view. And it's
bringing those two together,

finding that in-between to where,

where can we meet in the middle to asking
the right questions of the jaded view

and then asking the right questions of
the person who's never seen it before.

Absolutely. Cause I think you don't
want to just dismiss the, you know,

the views of people that
have been there a long time.

There's a lot to learn from
them, especially from, you know,

not making the same mistakes, but you
know, it is a matter of meeting in the,

in the middle with it and
making sure that, you know,

team leaders are all focused
on it. I think, you know,

it's very easy for an individual
team to fall back in all ways if

the leadership of that team, it doesn't
feel like the project's worthwhile.

So what stage of the
journey would you find,

would you find most businesses today?

Would you say most businesses are today
in the business transformation journey?

I think it depends on a
couple of factors for each

individual company. You know,

I think it's that where they are in the
life cycle of the kind of that company,

the industry, that the leadership,

but I do think COVID-19
is definitely making more

companies focus on transformation,
in order to, you know,

either to survive or continue to
thrive. It's really, you know,

pushing the point and making people,

focus on transformation
maybe earlier than they would

have done. You know, I
will say from experience,

I don't think there should, you know, if,

if leaders are debating
about whether to, you know,

start down a route of
business transformation,

don't delay it, it really is
something. If you're thinking about it,

it's probably something you should
be starting to do today. And I think,

you know, once,

once you start to embed a
business transformation culture

into a company, then it does,
it's something that, you know,

becomes more natural.

It's not something that you
tend to focus on necessarily

specifically. It just starts to come
naturally and, and starts to be, you know,

always part of what everyone does.

So as we wrap up our conversation,

is there anything that you would want
our listeners to kind of take away,

as they're thinking about their
own businesses transformation,

thinking of the future of
finance and accounting,

what does that look like
for them as they look today?

Yeah, probably from a finance
and accounting perspective.

I think there's definitely
a lot that can be done

around taking out the noise
from like the month end,

close process, really focused
on things that are, you know,

very straightforward every
month and looking at ways to

reduce the time spent in those areas,

whether it's making the process
simpler for someone to do, or,

you know, implementing some RPA, to,
to make it, an automated process.

But when you start getting,

finance and accounting
team to thinking that way,

what can they take off
their plates? That's very
straightforward. What can they,

that then gives them time to do
some of the more interesting factor,

you know, aspects of,
accounting and finance,

get involved in more one-off
projects and that really

then helps motivate, and develop
staff. So it's kind of a,

you know, has two great points
there in terms of reducing the time,

spent at month-end close,
as well as you know,

that development and
encouragement that the staff,

as you try and retain them in what
is a very difficult employment

world at the moment, as people try
and retain staff or attract staff.

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