Ep. 155: Jennifer Wolfenbarger - A Complete Look at Business Transformation

Jennifer Wolfenbarger, CMA, Vice President of Finance at Owens Corning, joins Count Me In to talk about business transformation. Business transformation is a term we often hear in finance and accounting, but there are numerous perspectives on the topic. Jennifer is a success driven, high impact and commercially astute executive that has a history of driving value creation, excelling in dynamic, fast paced and demanding environments and one who has a passion for driving continuous improvement. So, in this episode, she discusses her view on transformation, the finance function's role, various benchmarks to consider, and the value of change management. Download and listen now!

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 today you will be listening
to episode 155 of our series.

The speaker on today's podcast
is Jennifer Wolfenbarger.

Jennifer is the vice president
of finance at Owens Corning.

She is a success driven,

high impact and commercially astute
executive that has a history of driving

value creation, excelling in dynamic,
fast paced and demanding environments,

and one who has a passion for
driving continuous improvement.

So it is only appropriate that her
focus for today's episode is on business

transformation. Specifically,

Jennifer addresses the role the
finance function plays in enabling

transformation and the need for
effective change management.

Keep listening to hear more as we
jump over to the conversation now.

So today we're talking about business
transformation and it's a term we're

hearing a lot in finance and
accounting and to get started.

I just wanted to take, get your take on
why is it so important now, especially?

Yeah, I think, is a great
question and, you know,

no matter what industry
you operate in and I've,

I've had the opportunity to operate
in, you know, heavy equipment,

building construction
products, automotive med tech,

and now, and building
construction products.

And no matter what industry you
operate in, it's likely competitive.

And the question is how do
you differentiate yourself
financially from your

competitors?

And what I've found over the course of
my experiences at margin expansion is

super, super critical.

And business transformation
is a key enabler to,

to margin expansion, process improvement,

like LEAN have been around
for decades and typically

drive incremental gains,
which is important,

but transformation is really key to
moving the needle on margin expansion

significantly to the point where, you
know, you're, you're looking at revaluing,

potentially the, the
value of your company,

business transformation is also critical
to, you know, to a business culture,

to be readily adaptable, to capitalize
on opportunities to improve,

whether it be through business growth
or cost transformation, supply chain,

transformation, et cetera, you know,

having a culture of business
transformation where it's,

it's feels as natural
as it possibly can is

a game changer for a company
and really a differentiator.

So when we're looking at the
finance function specifically,

they're going to play a role in
completing the, that transformation.

So how does the finance function play a
role and then what are some of its top

enablers?

Sure, sure. You know,

I see the finance function playing a
number of key roles and oftentimes may

not even feel like they're
really finance roles,

not only in just completing the
transformation, but also really kind of,

even before you, you set
the set, forward on, on,

transformation itself, a key key role.

They play finance plays is an identifying
opportunities for transformation. And,

you know, no matter from my experience,

no matter where you are in,

in terms of organizational
capability and so forth,

there are always opportunities.

And sometimes prioritizing those
opportunities is, is half is,

is a battle in and of itself.

So that's where finance plays a
unique role in identifying and also

helping prioritize what are
what's going to make, you know,

give us the biggest bang for our buck,
the biggest return on investment,

and be key to really moving the
needle from an enterprise perspective.

Then once the transformation
opportunities identified,

finance plays another key role
in establishing governments,

governance structures around how we
measure progress, how we stay on track,

how we stay on scope, through our goals,

scope creep is, is, is quite
common, particularly in
transformation initiatives.

And so it's important that we stay,

that we have guard rails and
governance systems to keep

us on track. And these structures
may not necessarily be financial.

Oftentimes they're not
financial guardrails,

many times they could be
operational or timeline-based,

what have you, but finance
plays a huge role in,

in establishing governance
structures. These,

these structures are really
critical in terms of ensuring how,

how we hold,

the necessary and applicable leaders
that are driving the transformation,

how we hold them accountable and also
highlight early and often where we might

need to course correct, which is,

which is super important to enabling
the success of a transformation.

Some of the top enablers for

completing transformation.

I would say data can't be
underscored data often plays

a big role in,

something that I'll likely talk about
as we get into the podcasts a little

further,

but change management is super
important in any transformation.

And oftentimes that really what
that means is influencing. And,

it might mean getting, getting
key stakeholders on board,

but this is not only what we need to do,

but how we need to do
it from a transformation
perspective. And then I'd say,

lastly, enterprise focus is a key enabler.

This isn't about hitting an isolated goal.

When we're talking about transformation,

this is about really shifting
the needle on our enterprise

performance. And I mentioned
change management that is so easily

overlooked in, in transformation.

And what I've found from my experience,

you need to ensure that you properly
invest in train change management,

because what you're going to find is
that no matter how much data you put out

there and how convincing it is
that we need to take action. And,

and this is how we need to take action,

not everyone in the business
is going to be on board.

And that could be day one
day, two days, day 30.

So it's important that we go through
that we take the time to invest in,

in change management and ensure that
we have everyone that's involved in the

transformation marching
in the same direction.

Of course.

So it's like you're steering a massive
ship and you gotta make sure everybody's

doing all their parts to get where
you're going in a sense. Right.

Exactly. Exactly. I was just going
to add to that, you know, I think,

you know, choosing the folks,

the team members that are part of the
transformation are super important.

You kind of touched on that a little bit,

made me think of that,

about this is that diversity in
terms of an address diversity in

terms of gender ethnicity, it's diversity
of thought is super important as we,

you know, we think about
who we want on, the, the,

the stakeholder, the leadership team of
the transformation is super important,

so that we do challenge one another. And,

and where that change
management plays a big role,

as we all agree that this is the
goal that we have in mind and how we

get there might vary along the way
as we kind of challenge one another.

I think that's, that's
super important too.

So we've talked like it's this
massive ship, it's a big thing.

Like transformation is, is
big and it affects everybody.

And so there's gotta be key benchmarks
and milestones that you have to be aware

of. Can you talk us through
some of those that you,

cause obviously you've gone
through transformation many times.

Sure, sure. You know what
I've seen oftentimes,

and I'm going to start with a
little bit of what I think it is

not an acceptable benchmark.
What I've seen is, is,

and not to name names of, I've seen
actually in previous employers,

previous companies I've worked for that.

We're really keen to benchmark
against themselves. In other words,

picking a previous period and saying,
we want to improve 10%, you know,

based upon our last
five-year Kager or whatever.

And they set targets based on
internal benchmarks and what I

really encourage, and I've encouraged.

The last few transformations
I've been through is,

is encourage the business that think
like an investor in what an investor is

thinking about when they're
looking at a company is, you know,

what is the best look like
for this particular industry?

And it may even include other
industries as well. You know, I,

I picked on LEAN and the automotive
industry is historically been, you know,

the, the benchmark for
manufacturing, automation,

operational improvement, and you could
easily find yourself in a space to say,

well, we're not automotive, so
that's not a realistic target,

but it's a good starting point to
say, well, who's the best at this.

And it may not even be within our industry
and then establishing your targets

based on what you,

what would shift an investor to
value your business higher than it

is today. What's going to
be a key differentiator that
they're going to look at.

So it really is stepping
back and thinking,

putting yourself in the shoes of
an investor and saying, what is it,

what are the, and you may even be
talking to some of your, your key,

key invest investor
stakeholders to say, what,

what is it that you are looking for?

I think that's a good starting point.

This tactic also helps with
change management because
it's really hard to argue,

you know, with wanting to
shift the overall value of
the company moving forward.

We're all at the end of
the day - and I use this

often - we're all, stakeholders
stockholders in the company.

Oftentimes particularly if it's a
public company, we're all stakeholders.

So we all value. We all benefit by,

the company value shifting
in the upward trajectory. So,

that's, that's, that's where,
where I focus, you know,

from a benchmark perspective is shy
away from those internal benchmarks.

Those can be very easy. It's so
easy to get into the trap of, well,

we're so different. And we don't
line up perfectly to our competition.

It doesn't really matter
at the end of the day.

So, you know, you mentioned that at the
end of the day, everybody is kind of,

you know, we're all stakeholders
in the organization that we're in.

And you've mentioned also that change
management is very important and investing

in that,

how do you get the people who are
supposed to be invested the everyday

employees involved to get on
board with that change management?

What are some methods that you've
done to help people along the way?

Because that's a big part
of the transformation.

It is. And that's,

that's where investing
in spending the time in,

in change management is so
important because oftentimes it's,

it's individual in nature and
one leader can't talk to all

the individuals that are,
gonna play a part. So it,

oftentimes I find is it's
top-down and what I've found

works the best is,

is helping individuals that are
going to be key in moving the,

moving the ball forward, helping
them find the connection themselves.

And, it's all about, I read a book
and I'm going to butcher the title,

but it's around purpose. And
I think that's important,

not only in the book was written more
about vision and mission statements,

but it's also the key to any
transformation is finding the purpose.

And that's very individual for, you know,

depending upon what function you're
playing and what role you're playing in a

transformation, finding your
true north, your purpose in,

in that transformation is it goes a
long way. It's, it's super critical.

It's it's table stakes in
terms of, of change management.

And when you get there, now
you have advocates that are,

are going to be peer advocates to others,

in the transformation journey, they're
going to be the salespeople that,

that help, you know,

solve a benefit and the importance
of the transformation. So, yeah.

It's finding your "why" in a sense,
the purpose, finding your "why",

and that gets everybody kind of,

it helps them find their inspiration
to keep going in a sense. Right?

Absolutely. Absolutely.

I'm sure as you go through transformation,
the team faces new situations,

and we just talked about change management
and helping people find their "why",

but also there's new skills
that sometimes we get required.

How do you encourage members of your
team to take on jobs they weren't

necessarily trained or equipped to do?

Absolutely. I, you know, I
think this is the key here is,

and I've been super privileged to work
for a few different companies that

really valued development. And, you know,

these opportunities to participate in
business transformation are huge from a

development perspective. And I found
in certain circumstances, you know,

if you come into a company that's not,

had a lot of history in
business transformation,

there's not a lot of people that
have that experience. And so finding,

giving folks the opportunity to,

to step up and along with, you know,

it's important to give them a safety net,

and that might be in the form
of a mentor or, you know,

might be formal training.

It might be a regular forum to talk
about where they need help or where

they're hitting roadblocks.

I think it's super critical not to
throw team members into the deep end,

without a life preserver, so to speak,

but these opportunities are huge from a
development opportunity and really the

folks that have had the opportunity to
be a part of business transformation.

And that could be, that could be as,

as simple as implementing a
new data analytics package,

or it could be as big as, you know,

strategic business transformation where
we're taking the business to a new

level, whether it be cost
transformation or growth into a new

segment, and these types of
opportunities don't come around all that

often and it's,

but when you've had the opportunity
to experience it, it's just,

it's huge. From a leadership perspective,

I look back on my own personal
experience. And, you know, when I,

when I was part of my first
business transformation,

I had no experience, you
know, I came in pretty raw,

but what I learned looking
back has really propelled,

where I,

I went in my career from that point
forward and it equipped me with so much

knowledge and lessons learned
and not everything went right.

And, you know, reflecting back on,

on that super important from
a transformation perspective.

But what I learned from those
opportunities was a game changer in my

career and really helped shape
where I've been able to get to in my

current position. So huge, huge
development opportunity, and,

you know, not every,

every individual is going to be is maybe
cut out for business transformation.

It does take some pretty thick
skin, depending upon the,

the lift, but what a
huge opportunity. And,

if there's that ambition,

oftentimes the other pieces are very,

very trainable and that individual is
going to be in a very different spot at

the end of the transformation. So, yeah.

So I would be remiss in talking about
business transformation and not discuss

strategic decision-making because
that's a big part of this.

And so as we kind of
wrap up our conversation,

what's your approach to
strategic decision-making.

Yeah. So it's a big,

that's a pretty big question.

And so where I would kind of start
in terms of strategic decision-making

is, is really properly understanding
and making sure that we,

have a good grip on our strategy
here at the company that I'm

currently part of. We refresh
our strategy every year,

and it may not be a complete
revamp, but being very,

very familiar with your strategy and,

and really leveraging this as a
beacon in terms of decision-making

is super important. And
that could be, you know,

whether it's determining whether or
not we invest in a particular growth

initiative, it starts with strategic fit.

And we much like many other
companies, it's not rocket science.

We do a SWOT analysis and, you know,
strength, weakness, opportunities,

and threats, and understanding that
for your company is super important.

And then how, how did that,

educate or inform the strategy
that you set out is super

important, as a guidepost for
strategic decision-making. And,

you know, I'd say in addition to that,

so that's really kind of the starting
point doing a really good job of

identifying the risks and opportunities
of that particular opportunity is,

is really important as
well. And I recommend,

involving various, I
talked about diversity and,

and when I talk about diversity,
I'm thinking diversity of thought,

getting a few folks in the room that are
going to bring different perspectives

is super important as you're insuring
the decision that you're embarking on

and the direction that you're headed is
a good strategic fit and we've captured

properly.

And we're well-informed on the risks and
opportunities before heading into that

different industries or move at a
different pace as well. So all of that,

that I said sounds like it takes
an awful lot of time and building a

nimbleness around this is super important
because many industries are fast-paced

moving. And if, if we're not
able to make agile decisions,

we could potentially miss the
boat. And, you know, that plays,

I've seen that play heavily into,

let's just say merger and
acquisition decisions. You know,

you find a great gem of a,

an opportunity likely there are five other

organizations that have also
lasered in on that opportunity.

So being agile and really
having a good grip on

a strategic fit and what that
means for your organization,

as well as being able to quickly
move through the risks and

opportunities and, and kind of
stay quarterly holder alignment is,

is super critical.

It's almost like you need the right
people in the right room all the time.

And that kind of goes back to what you
were saying about change management and

making sure that when you're getting
to these points of these decisions,

there's okay.

I need to make sure I have the right
people here to have that diversity of

thought that you were talking about.

Cause everybody's had the same
life decisions, same work,

just work experiences to make sure that
they can bring the right things to the

table, not be afraid to
bring up saying, Hey, Hey,

I went through that same thing
here, and this is my experience,

as opposed to everybody just
kind of being yes, Yes People,

which isn't what you
want in that room, right?

Not at all, not at all. you know,
it's, it's we always say a good, good,

a bit of healthy debate.

And then walking out of the room unified
in terms of the direction that we're

headed is, is our, our goal throughout,
you know, these big decisions.

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