by Antony Parker, AECOM
One important skill finance professionals are never taught during their formal education is the power of personal engagement with operations and using these relationships to deliver bottom line value. There is too much focus on models, processes, procedures and systems without regard to the fact that all these have to be developed, operated and interpreted by people.
I never cease to be amazed by the number of job ads that contain the title “Business Partner” without the candidate or employer knowing what the term means or understanding the behaviors and competencies associated with effective business partnering. Many organizations also fail to understand the powerful linkage between partnering and organization performance. They simply see business partnering as an attempt to convince themselves that by following latest trends the organization will achieve success.
What is Business Partnering?
Getting beyond the clichés , Finance business partnering can be broadly defined as “the alignment of the finance function with business operations in order to acquire business knowledge and influence decision making”. It recognizes that the true value of a finance professional has shifted away from the “what happened in the business” to “what should happen” and “how to execute change”.
In its most pure form, the finance business partner will have a dual reporting relationship, directly in to the finance function and indirectly to the business . In a more general sense business partnering is about real-time information gathering and decision-making that crosses formal organizational structures.
A typical partnering function has two high level objectives:
The latter objective emphasizes the personal qualities required of the finance professional. This includes the power to influence , their gravitas and command amongst members of the business, and the ability to carefully manage multiple stakeholders.
How to be a great Business Partner
There are a number of aspects to being a great business partner. From my experience they include the following:
Business Partnering and the link to Corporate Performance
Business partnering is not an end in itself, but a means to driving improved financial performance. The main benefits of a well designed and executed business partnering function include:
More accurate and timely decision-making:
Breaking down the line management silos of a business that often cause dysfunctional decision-making and sub optimal financial performance:
Business Partnering in Practice
A few years ago, I joined an organization that had a globalized client base, but was local in its approach to business finance /engagement. It could be described as being “old school” where the business produced a profit & loss, and made all the decisions.
Timesheets were regularly submitted late; the quality of business analysis poor, but most of all the interaction between the finance department and the business was virtually non existent. As one business leader remarked to me on my first day, finance was the “dark side” of the company.
The first observation about this silo structure was the profound and obvious impact these behaviors were having on business performance.
In order to change things, I formalized a business partnering program that involved:
These factors forced the business to clean up their data quality issues and drive accountability in updating systems in real-time. The weekly meetings shifted the focus to the future and drove reciprocal accountability between business and finance. The “them and us” had become “we”, which is what business partnering is all about.
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