Rachel Stockey and Julie Devonshire FCCA explain how finance professionals can learn from and support innovators by adopting their entrepreneurial mindset
This article was first published in the April 2020 China edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
Entrepreneurship is vital for a flourishing economy, so it’s important to have not only the right environment for encouraging innovation but also one that helps develop the skills that entrepreneurs need.
As part of the ongoing work to support innovative thinking among the students, staff and alumni at King’s College London, a UK university, the King’s Entrepreneurship Institute has researched the skills essential for an entrepreneurial mindset. These are important for innovators but also for the finance professionals who support them. Adopting these values will also help us become more innovative in our careers.
When you are compelling, you have a powerful and irresistible effect on others and can influence and negotiate. You are also able to pitch ideas clearly and concisely, and in a way that will spark a reaction from your audience.
One way to really engage them is to master the art of storytelling. This helps when pitching ideas, allowing people to buy into your journey and vision. When you compel, you enhance your leadership credibility, allowing you to gain the loyalty of others and change their behaviour. It’s an increasingly vital skill for finance professionals.
We disrupt when we question the way things are done – and when we are bold about proposing revolutionary or better ways of thinking and doing, being innovative and challenging the status quo. We must also embrace feedback, recognising it as an opportunity to learn at every stage of the innovation journey.
For finance professionals, this means supporting the creative teams to bring their ideas forward in a professional way.
Start-ups are often dedicated to rapid, continual, iterative learning, and adapt their products and services through testing. This approach is known as the lean start-up methodology.
When you think lean, you abandon the idea that a product should only be launched when it is as close to perfect as possible. Instead, you test early to validate your ideas and then apply your learning to develop iterative upgrades. As a result, you arrive at better solutions faster. Finance professionals need to support their teams in being agile and experimenting, and need to be careful not to stifle creativity.
By getting validation for your ideas, you will prove they are viable and likely to gain traction. Validation also helps eradicate bias and assumptions that you might bring to the innovation process.
Validation requires you to be problem-focused rather than solution-focused. This is because solutions will come more easily if you have done thorough research into the nature of the problem, based on objective questioning and testing of customer needs.
Finance professionals are particularly good at this, as it’s a fundamental part of our training, and you can help others learn validation methodologies and analyse risks in their projects.
There are three elements of resilience in an entrepreneurial context. The first is withstanding setbacks. Having a thick skin will enable you to step out of your comfort zone into your ‘stretch zone’, where you are more likely to achieve personal and professional growth.
The second element is being able to understand and apply a growth mindset. That means taking feedback on board and using it to improve, but having the capacity to objectively assess when it is time to stop pursuing a particular idea.
Finally, it is key to have the confidence and self-awareness to ask for support from your network. Entrepreneurs are often painted as ‘lone individuals battling against the world’. But in reality they tend to have extensive networks of family, friends, investors and peers operating in their co-working spaces.
Finance directors have a duty to support others in their organisation to be resilient. You can use tools to teach people to identify and manage risk and to be able to deal with ‘no’.
To foster innovation and combat ‘group think’, you need to find, develop and grow effective, diverse teams. Entrepreneurs actively seek out diversity of thought and ideas, as well as team members who will challenge each other’s perspectives.
If you work with people who are different from you, you will probably encounter more conflict. But by handling this conflict objectively and professionally, you can make it a force for good that enables the whole team to advance. Cultivate a positive culture within the team where everyone feels included, motivated and valued. Finance professionals who do this will discover that their output improves and that they have more impact.
Get it done
Talk alone does not achieve great results, so if you want to make real progress, you will need to take real action. That means prioritising execution above all else. Finance professionals and entrepreneurs alike should analyse possible actions and identify the most effective option for reaching their desired goal. Then implement the strategy, in a focused way and without delay. Work on overcoming the mental blocks that are stopping you from moving forward. How can you boost your productivity by minimising procrastination and maintaining your accountability, focus and motivation? Be fearless about tackling the tasks that stretch you the most, as these will enable you to make the greatest progress.
A good place to start is to review each of the seven skills to see where your existing strengths lie and identify potential areas for development. Then ask yourself what an entrepreneurial version of you looks like. Then you can work on becoming that person and reaping all the professional benefits that transformation will bring.
Rachel Stockey is head of entrepreneurial skills at the Entrepreneurship Institute, King’s College London, and Julie Devonshire FCCA is the institute’s director. kcl.ac.uk/entrepreneurship.
"Finance professionals need to support their teams in being agile and should be careful not to stifle creativity"