“Leading from the back office requires a common goal, something shared, that everyone wants to achieve and sees the benefits of.”

Most people don’t think of leadership originating from the back office, yet there are countless examples of change conceived by Finance Managers to make organisations more efficient and a better place to work.
By definition, leadership is about maximising the efforts of others towards a common goal, and this is exactly what back office worker roles are suited to, perhaps more than any other role in an organisation.

Why the back office?

While back office leaders have the power to assure compliance, they also have the power to enhance performance. They are naturally positioned to be catalysts for change – lead by example – and be critical players in the organisational debate. Back office leaders can use this power to make their organisation a centre of excellence.

Drivers enabling organisational change through the back office:

1. Shared common goal

When considering leadership, an ideal outcome and the direction with which the organisation is moving in is key.
Leading from the back office requires a common goal, something shared, that everyone (eventually) wants to achieve and sees the benefits of.

2. External view

When working from the back office, employees have a different perspective to others working within the organisation. Things look much different from the back office – not the same as when working in operations. This can be both good and bad, but with the correct tools the back office can come out on top.

3. Repository of organisational intelligence

The history of the organisation lives in the back office. That’s where all the information is (or should be). Retrospective data is kept here – past and present results can be compared which will help to shape the future.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela likens leadership to shepherding, in other words, leading from the back. This is what NFP Finance Managers the world over have a chance to do. They are focused on achieving common goals and have a vast amount of important data at their fingertips – back office workers have the knowledge and potential to change organisations for the better. There may not be an award for it, but championing the back office will create better organisations and therefore a stronger NFP sector.

Case study: Nadine’s story – leading from the back office

Nadine, a Finance Manager at a Sydney-based media and arts not-for-profit (NFP), never thought of herself as a leader, but the changes she developed in budget reporting made tangible differences to her team and the organisation as a whole. Nadine had become exasperated by an inefficient system of budget distribution, sign off, and a ‘hands off’ attitude toward budgeting by the Program Managers. She had a vision whereby Finance and Program Managers co-ordinated budgets together. So, she set about giving each Program Manager access to the budgeting system directly so they could adapt and set their own budgets. She didn’t do this in a vacuum – she pre-populated most of the budgets with last year’s data and then modified the income to match expectations and commitments for the coming year. Program Managers could then log in and re-arrange the expense portion of the budget which is what they knew best.
*Article published in Third Sector Magazine (July 2014)