The 21st century has...
FP&A Trends – Successful Business Partnering
It can be one of the greatest intangibles in the FP&A world – how do you succeed as a business partner?
Not as tangible as a budget or a monthly dashboard, nor as theoretical / concept-driven as strategic planning and decision support. Business partnering is often heavily determined by the needs and wants of the individual stakeholder, meaning their perception often carries enormous weight.
The business leaders we seek to partner often look to other business leaders for inspiration. One of the most famous leaders of recent times is attributed the following quote:
“Great things in business are not done by one person. They are done by a team of people”
- Steve Jobs
To succeed as a finance business partner, it’s important to be part of lots of teams. Here are four tips to help ensure you get on the teams and once there, add significant value to them.
1. Create a Brand
Think of a successful, well-known company. Within seconds I’m sure you’ll also be thinking about what they do, and what you expect when you want to buy something from them.
Now think that you have to arrange a project meeting and you need a successful person (that you know) in your organisation to attend. Again, within seconds I’m sure you’ll also be thinking about what attributes they will bring to the meeting, and how they will add value to what the project needs to deliver.
Now think of yourself and, if relevant, your team. If other people were thinking of you, what would they think? Would they know what you stand for? Would they know what you will deliver?
If the answer is no, consider creating a value statement. Decide what the core values are that you (and your team) will aspire to while performing your role, and hold yourself accountable to them. It can also be a great team-building exercise if you do this with your team, and will help everyone build and then buy-in to the values that you then want to project to the rest of the organisation.
When was the last time you had a 1-2-1 with a stakeholder that wasn’t specifically related to a project or piece of work?
The answer, with any luck, is at least within the past week.
Knowing what’s going on in the organisation from multiple different perspectives is crucial to being a successful part of the team. Stakeholders in other departments are crucial sources of knowledge and insight that are often overlooked tools in the FP&A world. Luckily, they remain right at your fingertips. Here are some ideas on how to broaden your internal network:
- Schedule time for 1-2-1’s – a very successful CFO in the energy industry once said to me during my time there that one third (yes, 33%) of your time as a business partner should be spent networking. While this can sometimes be difficult in practise, the theory is sound – get to know the people you’re working with. Set yourself a target of time to network - it can be as simple as an hour per day.
- Get involved – volunteer for projects, and ask to attend other department’s team meetings. Not only will you get to find out what’s going on in their world, but you may find others are interested in finding out about your world too. This is a win-win situation!
- Be a mentor/mentee – sometimes scheduling a catch up with a senior stakeholder can be difficult, but you admire the way they work and would like to learn from them. Ask if they would be interested in being a mentor. This can be a great way to gain insight from some brilliant people within your organisation, and builds a strong relationship too. Also, be open to mentoring others for the exact same reasons.
- Avoid email – build yourself a simple hierarchy on communication preferences that works for your circumstances. Mine looks like this: face-to-face, phone, instant message, email. Each has their own time and place, but to business partner effectively and be part of the team, you need to maximise time face-to-face wherever possible
3. Be Part of the Solution
How common is it to hear comments about the traditional role of finance being to “police” the organisation? Do business partners in your organisation talk this way?
Hopefully not, but it’s a common occurrence and one I have had to overcome at each organisation I’ve joined.
This perception often stems from finance being the people in the organisation that say “no”. No to Christmas party expenses. No to investing in that extra resource that will make things easier. No to giving that difficult supplier a bit more time to pay their bills.
The role of the finance business partner needs to evolve from this into something much more solution-oriented and business partner focussed:
1. Understand the need – why is this request being asked? If you’re networking enough, it’s likely that you’ll know already. Have a finger on the pulse of your business partner’s organisation and understand why they might be asking for something
2. Develop the business case – as a finance professional, you understand the process and can weigh up the pros and cons. Use data to help formulate a view on whether you’re making the right decision (as a previous CFO used to say to me all the time: “show me the math!”)
3. Look for an alternative – if it looks like the business can’t support the request, can you support another solution? Can you look for a compromise? Help your stakeholders to get closer to their goal by exploring avenues they may not have considered
4. Explain the context – challenging a decision or a proposal is often difficult. Even when you’ve looked for compromise and made a data-driven decision, some people may be unaware of challenges faced by the wider business if they are only tasked with looking after their own department. It’s important here that you are providing context for your stakeholders. Think about it in terms of prevention and cure – the more prevention you can achieve, the less likely you are to need a cure:
- Regular feedback (prevention) – business-wide performance updates or joining monthly management meetings are a great way to provide an update on the wider business performance. If the business is facing challenges, explain them here so that people have visibility before they come to you with a request
- Direct feedback (cure) – if you have to say “no”, provide the context there and then to help explain your decision
5. Be accountable – always deliver on what was agreed. Nothing builds trust more than this, and nothing builds better relationships than trust.
4. Talk their language
Have you ever joined a business with lots of acronyms?
LOL. Of course. It’s natural to talk in acronyms once you’ve been in an organisation for a while. But when you have conversations with your business partners, make sure that you talk using their acronyms and not yours.
Not everyone knows what the R.O.I. is on their CAPEX, or what the EBITDA is for the YTD performance update.
To truly partner with someone, talk in a language that everyone understands – and don’t be afraid to ask when someone throws an acronym your way that you don’t understand.
What sort of person are you meeting?
Spend some time getting to know what makes your business partner tick. When you think about the type of person you’re talking to, you’ll quickly realise that some people like to talk and some people like to be direct and to the point. Tweak your approach accordingly – who would appreciate being asked about their weekend, and who needs a thirty-second “elevator pitch”?
Business Partnering is not something that happens overnight. It takes time. But when done well you’ll find you are invited on to all the right teams and that your presence adds enormous value to the business. Make the time, plan your approach, and take people on the journey with you. The destination is worth it.