From the Office of the CFO: How Can Finance Leaders Reduce Transformation Burnout?

May 29, 2024

6 min read

Picture of Adriana Carpenter

Adriana Carpenter

From the Office of the CFO: How Can Finance Leaders Reduce Transformation Burnout?


Emburse's CFO, Adriana Carpenter, talks about how team leads can maintain their own wellbeing during times of change

    I recently wrote about how finance teams are becoming increasingly prone to change fatigue, and how finance leaders can minimize the impacts of this in their departments.

    Being the champion of change, while also navigating the day-to-day, can be challenging. While it’s critical to minimize the negative impacts of change fatigue on our teams, self-care is also essential, to ensure we’re able to be effective leaders.

    Finance leaders are increasingly responsible for driving digital transformation across their teams. However, because the finance department reports on the outcomes of the business, these goals can’t be accomplished within finance alone. It’s incumbent on the leader to get cross-functional buy-in and support to execute these types of initiatives.

    At the same time that the finance leader is pushing for these types of transformations and gathering cross-functional support, they also need to galvanize their team and understand how these initiatives may impact the team's day-to-day work. This ensures the finance leader isn’t carrying down change fatigue to their team.

    Learn more: From the Office of the CFO: Three Ways to Minimize Change Fatigue in Finance Teams

    Symptoms of change fatigue

    Three possible symptoms of change fatigue among finance leaders are:

    • Many change initiatives can last for weeks or even months and occupy a significant amount of a leader’s time and focus. As a result, it’s often the case that they can’t keep up with the change projects while also ensuring the finance team is delivering ongoing financial reporting. This can lead to delays and/or errors in routine reporting.
    • The leader doesn’t communicate often enough with their team or the other members of the organization’s leadership. They have too many things on their plate and are unable to prioritize meeting with their teams - either on daily activities or the overall progress of the change initiative.
    • Employees often look to their leadership for guidance and support and will sense and feed off the level of energy that their leaders give out. Because of this knock-on effect, leaders suffering from change fatigue often have teams that feel that and the finance teams under them become unmotivated and demoralized. Companies may see turnover at the team level as a result, because they are sensing the fatigue from the top.

    How I’ve managed change

    Emburse has been going through its own transformation as we implement systems and processes to integrate a dozen companies that came together through multiple rounds of acquisitions over several years. We experienced all of the typical hurdles you encounter with these types of large-scale projects, particularly inconsistent data and processes across the companies that needed to be addressed.

    As the finance leader overseeing the project, I had to get alignment among major stakeholders on how to synthesize the data across all companies. We started the initiative by deploying best-in-class processes and then worked with process owners to educate them and determine if and how we would need to customize those processes to give us the best outcome.

    While all of this was happening, we had to keep the current manual processes going and continue regular financial reporting. Given the scope of the project, there naturally were challenges securing buy-in and getting stakeholders to agree, as well as the overall execution of the project. I found that as issues and challenges piled up and the volume of work increased, fatigue did begin to creep in. When this happened, the first thing to be deprioritized was regular communications, because that took a lot of time. When you’re running around fighting fires all day, it doesn't leave sufficient time to address this, and this risks causing more issues on the initiatives.

    To remedy this, I brought in help from around the company, especially other executive leaders. I shared responsibility for the project with our CTO, designated individuals to drive the change management/communication processes, and brought in temporary help for my team as they were also overwhelmed. This allowed my core team members to focus on building the new processes, while the temporary team could complete the day-to-day work.

    Avoiding and minimizing change fatigue

    Some of the ways that I’ve avoided suffering from change fatigue include:

    • Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize: It’s very important to weigh all of the “asks” and understand what is the true value of each one. This enables me and my team to pull forward projects that will give us value with the smallest effort so that we can gain momentum. Getting some easy and quick wins is great for maintaining morale.
    • Get help from others: When I’ve tackled large digital transformation projects, I’ve always made sure that I have my IT team - as well as cross-functional owners of data and operational systems - as key stakeholders in the project. This ensures that as the CFO, I’m not driving the initiative on my own.
    • Bring the team along: I always remind myself that many hands make light work. The more I involve my team and have them own and be accountable for these outcomes, the more likely that the change projects will be successful. With every success comes the insight and skills to make the next project a little easier. 
    • Make sure you’re also prioritizing your personal commitments: Finance leaders have to honor what is important to them, otherwise, it will lead to burnout, guilt, resentment, and exhaustion toward the thing that is holding them back—work. As critical as the work is, I always make sure I continue to make time for myself and my family.