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

October 07, 2021 | 14 Minutes

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!

Contact Sarah Hoxie: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-hoxie-38b54133/

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 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. 

Adam: (00:54)
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? 
Sarah: (01:05)
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 "Z", 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. 

Adam: (02:08)
So when we look at business transformation, what approach do you take when you're leading a transformation? 

Sarah: (02:15)
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. 

Adam: (05:47)
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? 

Sarah: (06:07)
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. 

Adam: (07:05)
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. 

Sarah: (07:18)
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? 

Adam: (08:44)
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. 

Sarah: (09:03)
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. 

Adam: (09:35)
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? 

Sarah: (09:45)
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. 

Adam: (11:06)
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? 

Sarah: (11:22)
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. 

Closing: (12:52)
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