OneFinance and the OneFinance North Star

August 31, 2023

A note from Steve Murphy

What’s the difference between the OneFinance initiative and the North Star? How do we fit in?

These were two of the most frequently asked questions in the Compass Conversations. Thank you for asking! Let’s start by rephrasing the question to, “What’s the difference between the OneFinance North Star and the OneFinance program?”

The OneFinance North Star (a.k.a. the North Star) is the most important and overarching term:

To enable Yale’s mission, simplify and standardize financial services in order to make life easier where everyone has a role in building a strong culture of financial integrity, insight and stewardship of Yale resources.

The North Star “is a symbol, a beacon, representing a constant direction we are all aligning to in Finance.” That’s a direct quote from the Compass Conversations, too, and I couldn’t say it any better than this group did. Well done!

Here’s some more background context for you. The OneFinance North Star was created on February 15, 2022, at an Operations Leadership workshop hosted by Jack Callahan to define the high-level goals for what would later become the three Operations Key Initiatives. The OneFinance North Star was created by a group of university leaders brainstorming that day to describe what we want to accomplish as a university to strengthen financial management and internal controls – particularly in the aftermath of the Emergency Medicine fraud. We recognized that a goal described as “Strengthening Internal Controls” would appeal to some financial professionals but would not resonate with non-financial professionals, including, importantly, faculty. We wanted to use plain language that would resonate with anyone. The brainstorming group, as I recall, was Arnim Dontes, Shannon Smith, Susannah Gobbi, Doug Bebbington, Dana Lipnickas, Lisa Varni, Brian Rebeschi, and me. Here’s a glimpse into the brainstorming in progress that day.

The OneFinance North Star is the direction we are all headed in Finance. It applies to the work of every person in Finance. Yes, it was created in the context of the OneFinance program (also referred to as an “initiative”), but after working with it during FY23 as the North Star for the program, the SLT and I realized that it is also the right North Star for the entire Finance organization, not just the OneFinance program. So, with that in mind, we rephrased last year’s “internal control” goal and replaced it with the OneFinance North Star statement for FY24. 

The OneFinance program is a multi-year project (or really a set of projects, a.k.a. a “program”) that is co-sponsored by Arnim, Shannon, and me. It is co-led by Lisa Varni and Brian Rebeschi, two senior financial leaders – one from the Controller’s Office, the other from the School of Medicine. We use the OneFinance program to organize and move forward on large projects that require considerable cross-departmental resources and collaboration inside and outside central Finance. These projects typically require a significant amount of change management as part of the implementation of the project’s deliverables. The finance function at Yale is highly decentralized, where schools and departments operate with a lot of autonomy. That makes implementing standardized processes very challenging. Many of you experience this in your day-to-day work, e.g., in the high level of variation and rework in many of our financial processes. In order to actually standardize processes, we need to focus heavily on change management – which includes community engagement, communications, training, and helping people learn new ways of working. That’s not easy. We need a focused effort and a project resourced in a way to help us navigate these complex organizational, political, and operational issues.

A simple way of thinking about the OneFinance program is that it is a large collection of projects. Whereas the North Star is important for everyone to contribute to, not everyone is working on the program at any given time. That’s understandable because, as the Finance organization, we have a lot of important work to do each day besides projects. In fact, the large majority of our most important work happens by delivering the day-to-day services that keep the university operating – literally! That said, it’s still important for everyone to understand what’s happening on the OneFinance program, so we’ll provide updates along the way. You can expect to hear updates at Town Halls or other venues and read regularly written articles in Business Update. 

One final note about the term OneFinance. We chose this name carefully for the North Star and the program because it’s a recognition that in order to move toward our shared beacon, the North Star, we need to work on creating a more unified campus-wide finance function, one that is less fragmented and disconnected than it can often feel like today. That’s also why the program co-sponsors and co-leaders come from both the central Finance division and the School of Medicine, where roughly half of the financial professionals at Yale work. So that’s the difference between the OneFinance North Star (a constant direction we’re all aligning to in Finance) and the OneFinance program (a large multi-year set of projects).

Are you doing something to help advance us toward the North Star? How are you enabling Yale’s mission by simplifying and standardizing processes? Everyone has a role in building a culture of integrity, insight, and stewardship. I know some of you are moving us in the direction of our shared beacon already, and I’d love to hear about it! Don’t hesitate to contact me by email, Zoom, in the hallway, walking in from the garage…. on a Town Hall Ten Minute topic (hint, hint), or any other way.

In closing, I hope you found this article helpful, and if you would like any additional information, please let me know.

Steve Murphy
Vice President for Finance and Chief Financial Officer