4 Steps to becoming a more valued FP&A professional

4 Steps to becoming a more valued FP&A professional

By Andrew Codd, Founder and Lead Producer The Strength In The Numbers Show

The author Andrew Codd is the producer of the Strength in the Numbers Podcast which interviews real finance practitioners to break down their hard-won lessons and deconstruct their practical methods that work on the job and which you won't typically find in textbooks or exams so that we create more influential finance professionals worldwide who solve meaningful problems for their organisations and in return have fun, rewarding and successful careers in finance.

Andrew Codd's LinkedIn account: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewcodd/

Within any organisation you’ll find some groups of people who are the most well-known and highly valued. Given there are many functions, groups, roles & people within our organisations today how can FP&A become, and be seen to be more valued?

We can find the answer by distinguishing how these organisations distinguish between the people who they consider as vital as opposed to functional. In fact Daniel Priestly in his book Key Person of Influence summarises it well when he notes:

Vitality is more valuable than functionality. You can’t get the results you want without a vital person because they add something a functional person doesn’t have.

The Difference between Functional & Vital

Generally, if you begin to look around Finance organisations today you can quickly start to see the functional areas, they’re the ones being downsized, off-shored or gradually replaced by robotics. In effect they’re easily replaceable, a functional person is one possible solution to the performance of a process; if there’s a cheaper, more efficient or effective way of getting it done, the organisation will assign lesser value to that person. Harsh but true!

How many colleagues do you recall within General Accounting, Payables, Receivables, even some analysts that have been great at what they do but regardless have either been replaced by one of the options above or not backfilled at all? They’re also likely to be the first people to be let go following a merger or business transformation. Functional does the job, but functional is still interchangeable.

On the other hand, you can recognise vital people in these organisation’s, they’re generally the ones who have roles created for them, perhaps crossing more than one function, with objectives expressed in terms of key success factors as opposed to a generic job description. They’re there to deliver specific results as opposed to being aligned with any particular process. A lot of (but not all) FP&A business partners, Commercial FP&A managers, and FP&A directors tend to fall in these categories. The job requisitions for vital people are increasingly the ones that are getting signed off for recruitment, offer relatively higher compensation plus more flexible benefits.

I also suggest there are two useful definitions for vital as they apply to people in organisations:

One definition means ‘hard to replace’ and the other means ‘life-force’. Vital people see themselves as being the ‘hard to replace life-force’ of a project or initiative.

So how do we ensure that we either stay vital or even become considered as vital to our organisations?

Steps to Becoming Vital

STEP 1:

Look around your organisation and identify who you regard as a vital person, what is it about them that you feel makes them so vital?

STEP 2:

Now identify someone who you consider as functional. Similarly, why do you think of them as such?

STEP 3:

Draw a simple T-account, and list out your thoughts to Step 1 on the Credit (Vital) side and do likewise for Step 2 (Functional). Here's my attempt below:

 

WITHIN FINANCE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN
Functional Vital
Turns up to work worn out Shows up everyday energised
Competent when executing a set of prosesses to defined standards Activities aligned to the result or outcome, cares less about the how
Does the job as specified or directed Asks questions about 'why'  we do things this way and is self-directed
Learns to get better at to the processes and they make marginal improvements Understands & anticipates needs of partners & managers 
Sometimes may reactively solve problems Proactively finds problems to solve
Trends to look at the past Helps partners and managers make better decisions about the future
Fearful that someone might come along who can do things better than they can Feel as if they've mastered a specific area and hard to replace them
Keeps-the-score Makes-the-right-score  
Only sees black & white rules & standards, without acknowledging any grey areas Appreciates the intangibles (People, Processes & Technology) and different shades of grey 
Thinks about getting a job done Thinks in terms of Results and increasing Value 
Has narrow network of colleagues Seems to know & get access to the main decision-makers in the organisation
Stays up to date with the standards Has their own unique take on things
Concerned about being downsized / outsourced Concerned about creating value
Associates with people who reaffirm that life is tough Likes to be seen by their contemporaries & likes challenging debate & stimulating ideas
Concerned about any technology could replace the tasks that they know how to complete Sees any new people who show up are potentially new partners, not competitors
Scared to take a holiday as worry about what will happen while they are gone Loves vacations and appreciates as a time to get re-energised and to stimulate ideas
Prefers to take more for themselves, reluctant to acknowledge help of others Demonstrates humility and shares credit with others who helped deliver the outcome
Complains overlooked for promotion Happily engages in retraining themselves and evolving with changing trends
Analyses what has happened Figures out what might happen & advises the best course of action
Comforted by colleagues who don't push them or inspire them to step up  Open to people pushing them and aiming for a new level to play at

 

STEP 4:

Finally, compare and contrast your answers, if you wish to become more valued what could you be doing more of to be considered as vital and increase the credit side of the account. And on the other hand what could you be doing to be less functional and so lower your debits?

 

What do you choose?

Naturally, a useful outcome from drawing these comparisons is that now, having read this article, you can choose to decide whether you want to become a more functional person or a vital person. You can focus on being busy or on getting results. You can choose either to take a stand for the way things are done or the way things could be done. Only you can decide what you choose to do & how you show up, and only you can be the judge of your own decision.

For those of you who want to move more in the vital direction, I strongly encourage you to examine FP&A as a platform as it offers a great opportunity to drive better outcomes for organisations. Valued FP&A professionals are those who help managers by asking thoughtful questions of all the necessary stakeholders, brokering and linking up points, adding a considered commercial overview and financial angle, to ultimately drive better outcomes for them and their businesses.

So what are your recommendations for becoming a more valued FP&A professional?