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

December 02, 2021 | 21 Minutes

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!

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!

Contact Jennifer Wolfenbarger, CMA: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennifer-wolfenbarger-cma-5534ab1/

Mitch: (00:05)
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.

Adam: (01:05)
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?

Jennifer: (01:16)
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.

Adam: (02:46)
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?

Jennifer: (02:57)
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.

Adam: (06:47)
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,

Jennifer: (06:56)
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.

Adam: (07:46)
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.

Jennifer: (08:03)
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.

Adam: (10:45)
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.

Jennifer: (11:11)
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.

Adam: (12:38)
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?

Jennifer: (12:48)
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Adam: (12:51)
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?

Jennifer: (13:08)
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.

Adam: (16:01)
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.

Jennifer: (16:14)
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.

Adam: (18:57)
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?

Jennifer: (19:29)
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.

Closing: (19:47)
This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.