Transforming financial leadership – improving through improvisation

March 12, 2013 at 15:56

When I tell people what my job is there can be a tendency for their eyes to glaze over a bit, and I can see them imagining a fairly routine (possibly dull) working life.  However  minutes into the conversation I’ve usually got their full attention and lots of questions when  I tell them that I work with fantastic people who are passionate about their causes and who want to make charities as a whole function better, to be more efficient, to make better choices and above all to  make a difference.  So why is it that finance professionals continue to be stereotyped as be-suited bean counters, more at home with a spreadsheet than strategic development?

Well for a start that stereotype has been with finance professionals for many years. You don’t change it overnight, and sometimes the behaviours that you display play to that stereotype –  but  it’s not actually your fault! It’s not that you actively go out to perpetuate the myth but rather that your training and performance rewards have typically been for your traditional, and very valuable, analytical and investigative skills – and not for your creativity and innovation.  After all, the words “creative” and “accounting” bring an entirely different mental image to mind!

Two years ago I started looking for something that could transform how finance professionals think about themselves and how they can shape others’ views of them.  For something which could equip finance professionals to change their back story and break out of the stereotypes. I’ve worked with you for most of my career, and I genuinely think that some of the most creative, innovative and strategic people I’ve met are finance professionals.

I was looking for training, or a course, that would enable finance professionals to challenge their status quo, explore new routes to problem solving, develop their skills as team leaders who can bring out the best in their team and their colleagues – and enable them to re-frame the way they see themselves.  Such a course did not exist – but I did come across an innovative approach to developing skills, that uses the technique of improvisation.

Now before you think that my thespian aspirations are at risk of hijacking work let me say that I am being deadly serious.  I think improv may be the answer to transforming how finance professionals are seen and see themselves.

Improv is not about having no rules, it’s not about having to be funny or make people laugh – it’s about being adaptive, resourceful and collaborative.  It’s about building on what you have and exercising freedom within structure.  It’s about dealing with the unexpected, being able to experiment and recalibrate, to inquire and explore.  It’s about harnessing others’ energies, ideas and actions.

Together with a great lady called Belina Raffy, CFG has co-created a one day course which introduces you to these skills and their relevance to the workplace – enabling you to build your own tool kit of practical things you can do immediately, and fresh ways of thinking to apply to problem solving and strategic development.

I’ve been using the skills I’ve picked up from the improvisers to help change how CFG does business.  And I can tell you that I believe the team is more content, more productive and more resilient as time has gone on as a result.  I’ve also  introduced my trustees to it with good results.

I believe one of the major issues that we have in office environments is that we see work and play as opposites.  Play is the thing you do when you’re not working.  But actually I think we need to be more willing to let our minds play whilst working.  To be open-minded, to interact with our colleagues and to have more fun whilst we work – it can unleash creativity.  Think about it. How often have you left work with the solution to a problem just out of reach? You’ve walked the dog, gone to the gym or met a friend for coffee –and while your mind is ‘at play’ – the answer arrives as a flash of inspiration, in a moment of clarity.

You may have seen our marketing for Prepare for Change – the course we developed with Belina Raffy.  I can’t tell you how much I believe in this programme and how great the feedback is from those who have attended.  You might enter a cynic but I am sure you will exit a convert.  So my challenge to you is this – let’s work together to change the stereo type. Give this programme a try. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Like Brendan Smith at Choice Support who said that he could apply the learning in more ways than he could write on the form and liked the “interactive nature [which] challenged [him] to truly participate and gain”.

CFG’s next Prepare for Change course will take place in London on 28 May. To find out more or book a place please click here.