What is the Holy Grail for any leader? For me, it is to create a high-performance team AND to sustain that team over time through high-performance leadership. That is not easy to do, so when we get the chance to learn from someone who has managed to do it really well, we must pay close attention. In this first “FP&A Talks” we’re speaking to Fredrik Hedlund, Senior Vice President and CFO for Global Connect at Nielsen. Fredrik is one of the few senior leaders who has truly invested in creating a high-performance leadership team and it shows. “FP&A Talks” is a new series running on fpa-trends.com featuring senior leaders in Financial Planning & Analysis who share their views on how we can create a world-class FP&A department.
Companies are constantly looking for ways to improve their performance and there’s no doubt it’s easier if different functions work together on finding improvement ideas. It’s clear that certain functions execute the ideas while others support on the sideline and manage the outcomes of the ideas. FP&A is such a support function that typically works at the corporate or HQ level with strategic concepts ideally supporting senior leaders or top management even with driving their agenda. So, how can FP&A teams most effectively help their stakeholders improve performance? The answer is Business Partnering and let us expand on that.
Business partners help drive company performance
As a business partner, the job of the FP&A team is to participate in strategy meetings where different options are discussed to drive the company forward. The FP&A team should help qualify each option so that the best choice can be made. The team should even give a recommendation based on what the analysis of the options shows. Once a decision is made it filters down to the operational units for execution and the FP&A team will keep track of the overall performance. To really drive the performance, however, the FP&A team should stay in close dialogue with the operational units and help the line managers as well as the local finance teams better understand the strategic choices made and how to translate them into execution. In this case, Business Partnering goes both up and down in the company hierarchy where first the FP&A team helps senior management make the right strategic choices and later assists the operational units to understand the choices and translate them into local initiatives. Without this link, there’s a very high likelihood that the translation of strategic choices is misinterpreted and company performance suffers. To visualize how FP&A can use Business Partnering to improve company performance we can look at below flowchart.
This chain of actions can essentially be repeated over and over as a continuous improvement cycle of company performance. It “only” requires that the FP&A team is treated as a trusted partner by both senior management and the operational units.
How is this different from what FP&A has always done?
Surely, there are pockets of excellence here and there where a FP&A team has always been involved in making strategic decisions and translating them to the frontline. However, FP&A has been focused on getting strategic choices handed over to them to forecast the effect of same and prepare a budget that would show the total outcome. Then a message was sent to operational units to hit those budgets and every time they would fall short the line manager would receive an e-mail (not even a phone call) to explain what actions (s)he would take to improve performance. Not a lot of team-work or collaboration is involved here and often the FP&A team would fail to understand why the operational units didn’t just follow the plan! In simple terms, they never understood the plan (and you must wonder if the FP&A team did either) hence no wonder why performance didn’t follow.
One example could be that due to a bad year management decides to tell all units to cut 10% from their spending. No direction is given as to what actions should be taken. No patience is given to non-performance. Perhaps an initiative to cut 10% might not be a strategic action but still, the FP&A team needs to act as a partner to management here and help them make some smarter choices. FP&A should know where there are improvement opportunities both on revenue and costs to reach the same impact as a 10% cut on costs across all units would yield. At the same time, FP&A can easily help translate the strategic action to operational units because they have been deeply involved in the decision. Instead of a one-sentence order to cut 10% FP&A can pass on suggestions as to initiatives the operational units can take to reach the desired results. This will make it easier for everyone to deliver and FP&A is at the center of this.
In conclusion, Business Partnering is what will make not only the FP&A team more successful but more importantly also improve the overall company performance. So, what’s stopping you from getting started right away?
The article was first published in prevero Blog
In my last blog, we discussed what FP&A Business Partnering is and what you need to focus on to be successful. Now we’ll turn to how to implement the concept in your finance function and more specifically with your FP&A teams. Before we examine some of the implementation options you have it’s important to state that you cannot just send your FP&A team home on a Friday and have them equipped with a new business card on the following Monday with “Business Partner” added to their title. Many finance functions have tried that in the past and none of them — I repeat none of them — have been successful. Being a business partner requires a specific skillset that needs to be added on top of what the FP&A professional is already able to do. Furthermore, specific conditions should be in place to increase the chance of success.
Two main options for implementation
Depending on the current state of your FP&A function you have some choices to make before you start implementing Business Partnering. To simplify, we’ll look at two stages.
- Your FP&A function is basic without state of the art system and is frequently challenged on whether the numbers and analyses it delivers are correct or not.
- Your FP&A function has already seen quite a bit of transformation and already has a cloud-based BI platform and advanced financial models to predict the future. It’s well-known for its financial savviness but doesn’t get out of the office much except when summoned to meetings.
If you’re in stage #1 you’ll find that trying to implement Business Partnering will be an uphill battle. As a business partner trust is your main currency yet if you keep showing up with wrong numbers in dated Excel graphs no one will trust you. Instead, it’s recommended that you look to transform some of the more basic processes and invest in new systems to bring you up-to-date. If you still want to go ahead and implement Business Partnering you need to be very clear when setting expectations with your business stakeholders and accept that your business partners will do a fair bit of reporting, to begin with while you upgrade the other areas of your FP&A function. In stage #2 your stakeholders have plenty of trust in your FP&A team yet they’re not used to being engaged with your team members on their decision-making. Rather they’re used to just receiving their report and making up their own mind. To change that you need to formulate a value proposition to help them create more value and then positively surprise them with your insights. You’ll likely also need to train your financial analysts and FP&A managers in partnering skills and plan for how they can further build their business knowledge.
A role or a mindset?
Another important choice you need to make is whether you will create specific roles titled “FP&A Business Partners” or it’s simply a mindset you’re implementing. We’ll explore the mindset in a later blog post but if you go for creating a new role you also need to be specific about how the role of FP&A Business Partner is different from that of an FP&A manager or a financial analyst. The main difference is that where your old roles deal with reporting and analysis, a business partner role uses the analysis to deliver insights to business stakeholders to influence their decisions and create an impact. In the case of creating a role you also need to be mindful of what people, you put in the roles. I’ve seen it countless times that new roles were created but they got filled with the same people with no real training provided. Don’t expect something different to happen just because it has a new name. Here’s a quick step by step guide to select and develop your business partner team.
- Select the most important attributes of the business partner role like problem-solving, communication, etc.
- Carefully evaluate your people based on the attributes you’ve selected.
- Categorize them into three buckets: fit for purpose, maybe, and not fit for purpose
- Create an action plan for the maybes and find other roles or let go of the not fit for purposes
- Hire new people to fill the holes based on your selected attributes
- Develop or find externally suitable training to accelerate the performance of your new team
In conclusion, you need to analyze the current state of your FP&A function and whether it falls into state #1 or #2 and if state #2 then whether it’s a specific role you want to create or simply the mindset of a business partner. If you create a specific role, then follow the step by step guide to select the right team.
The article was first published in prevero Blog
As finance functions around the world have been transformed to run very efficiently by utilizing Global Shared Service Centers in low-cost locations, companies are starting to demand more effectiveness from the finance function.
Essentially, Finance is now doing things right but not necessarily doing the right things or rather enough right things. Finance is tasked with delivering better Business Intelligence and more importantly better insights to influence decision-making in the right direction and creating an impact on company performance. At the center of this shifting demand is the FP&A function which needs to deliver better analytics but also needs to partner with business stakeholders. While always an analysis function it’s much more challenging to develop meaningful relationships with stakeholders as it requires completely different skills vs. the traditional role of FP&A. To help facilitate this change we will take a closer look at the term “Business Partnering” and explore what it means for the FP&A function.
“Business” and “Partnering”
Let’s then disseminate the two key terms and discuss what they really mean.
Business: Seems obvious that this is about the company you work for and the industry it competes in. Too often though FP&A professionals have been occupied with purely looking at the numbers rather than connecting them to a business context. A trend is a trend regardless if you sell flat screens or ice creams? However, these are two completely different markets and the production, supply chain, marketing etc. all function in different ways. Hence, to build a relationship of trust with your stakeholder irrespective of what function they work in you need to understand what they do. We will explore tips and tricks to learn about the business in a later blog post.
Partnering: To partner with someone you need trust. Without trust, there’s no partnership. That holds true in business as it does in your private life. To establish trust with any given stakeholder you can analyze what elements of the trust equation you need to work on. The elements are Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy less Self-Orientation. Often FP&A professionals find it hard to build intimacy with others yet it’s important to remember that being intimate with someone doesn’t mean being private with them. Rather you can connect on a personal level talking about some experiences you’ve had together or a common interest. Most importantly, you need to know the profile of your stakeholder. Some like small talk whereas others just want you to deliver your recommendation in 30 seconds or less. Once you have figured out how to build a relationship with your main stakeholders all you need to do is to increase your interactions with them be it in a formal meeting or at the coffee machine. We will also explore the tools for how to build partnerships in a later blog post.
It's difficult to be a good business partner if you fall short in either of the two categories and there are no shortcuts really to becoming good at it. It takes hours and hours of work and practice but you got to start somewhere.
Business Partnering in the context of FP&A
FP&A is often a corporate function that delivers analyses to senior management hence tend to work more at a strategic level rather than at the operational or tactical level. That means you need to understand the strategy of your company and challenge strategic decisions. You also need to partner with both senior leaders as well as frontline functions that deliver critical inputs to your planning and analysis. Senior leaders are short on time and leave very little room for errors. Hence, FP&A Business Partnering differs from Finance Business Partnering on the level of the stakeholders to deal with as well as operating at the strategic level. In a later blog, we will look at how the FP&A function use business partnering to improve company performance at the strategic level.
To understand the challenging part about being successful with business partnering in the FP&A function then try and remember the last time you showed up with wrong numbers in your management presentation or made a forecasting error that led to a wrong a decision. We’ve all tried it but never really thought about how much it damaged your partnership with the management team. Had you only had the business understanding to know that your numbers clearly didn’t fit with what happened in the business during the last month or that your forecast clearly wasn’t realistic. Now that you know you can get started on building trustful relationships and help your company improve business performance.
In conclusion, what’s important to know about Business Partnering is that you need to find ways of increasing your business understanding in addition to building relationships with your key stakeholders through establishing trust. By doing this you will be able to leverage your FP&A skills and your FP&A team in a completely different way which will boost value creation in your company.
The article was first published in prevero Blog
What is the Holy Grail for any leader? For me, it is to create a high-performance team AND to sustain that team over time through high-performance leadership. That is not easy to do, so when we get the chance to learn from someone who has managed to do it really well, we must pay close attention.
In this first “FP&A Talks” we’re speaking to Fredrik Hedlund, Senior Vice President and CFO for Global Connect at Nielsen. Fredrik is one of the few senior leaders who has truly invested in creating a high-performance leadership team and it shows. “FP&A Talks” is a new series running on fpa-trends.com featuring senior leaders in Financial Planning & Analysis who share their views on how we can create a world-class FP&A department.
Now let’s see what Fredrik has to say about high-performance in Finance.
How we normally define a high performer in Finance
Q: If I had asked you ten years ago how would you define high performers in your finance function?
High performers would stand out in my organization. They would consistently exceed expectations, need little hand-holding, and generate high-quality work. They would be my go-to people for challenging projects because they get the job done.
Q: Why do you think this is a typical way we think of high performers?
As CFO’s, we are relentlessly pushing to maximize business performance; and our own personal success is linked to hard performance metrics such as revenue growth, margin expansion and cash flow. Therefore, I believe that we naturally associate high performance with “Get Shit Done”.
What are some of the typical side-effects to high performance
Q: Do you think this kind of high performance is sustainable over time?
I don’t think it’s possible to perform at peak level all the time, day-in and day-out; and I don’t think it’s a healthy way to approach work. However, I do believe that it is possible for all of us to be our best when we absolutely need to. Just look at how athletes prepare for competitions and how they prioritize recovery afterwards to get ready for the next event.
Q: Often when I ask finance associates to add more value to the business by focusing more on business partnering, they say they don’t have time. Do you think it is a lack of time or energy?
Well, time is a limited resource but personal energy is renewable. We need to learn to manage our ENERGY. That’s the key to achieving sustainable high performance.
How to make high-performance sustainable
Q: How does this relate to what you have experienced at Nielsen? What did you do to turn things around?
Here is my story: My leadership team and I went through a roller coaster few years of driving change across more than 40 countries in Europe. We went from being a private equity-owned company to a public company. You name the type of change, structural, regulatory, people, we were proud of what we accomplished. But we were also totally exhausted by the end of 2012. I started noticing cracks in the leadership ranks. Sure, we were a high performing team but my leaders were running out of gas. Some were having problems at home, others were making silly mistakes, and all of them were reluctant to take on new change initiatives. The stress was real. Our high performance was not SUSTAINABLE. We needed to change the way we went about our day. Every day.
We all know that people are always the most important asset. But we hadn’t been feeding, fueling and fostering that asset in a way that felt right. So we made changes. I contacted a company called Tignum and signed up for help for myself and my leadership team.
We went into the Tignum program with some core goals. Some selfishly good for the company (boost stamina and resilience), but at the same time, good for the individuals and our finance team in Europe. Here’s what we hoped would happen:
- Our productivity would increase
- Our work-life balance would change for the better and our quality of life would improve.
- We needed better habits. We ate badly. We worked all hours. We had no off switch, collectively or individually.
We went to boot camp and joined the program. It started with tests. Medical and fitness tests. Lots of them. We ended up with report cards on our bodies that were brutally honest. We spent the next two days focusing on: Mindset, nutrition, movement, and recovery. Each learning step was based on a foundation of scientific support but was done in a way that made it accessible and manageable. I felt like we could make substantial changes to our habits, including eating better, moving more and finding moments of downtime to recharge our batteries.
Post-program, my breakfast of a cappuccino and croissant turned into a breakfast of green tea, bifidus yogurt and a homemade mix of nuts, which included chia seeds and goji berries. In the office, I now walk up and down three flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator; I move regularly during calls instead of sitting down; I frequently snack on nuts; and I drink plenty of water. Once a day, I take a 15-minute power nap – YES, a power nap during work hours! Usually, after lunch, I drink an espresso that will give a caffeine boost just as I wake up from my nap.
After six months, Tignum re-tested us. Our numbers were good - big improvements!
What a truly high-performing finance organization can achieve
Q: Imagine everyone in Finance living by at least some of these principles how do you think it would change the function?
The finance function would become stronger: More resilient, more energetic, more engaged.
Q: How has it changed the finance function at Nielsen and what results have you seen?
We have been preaching to our teams about the benefits of our new habits. The impact has been significant: Our turnover is minuscule, our Gallup Employee Engagement Survey result across 100 countries reached a high last year, and I truly believe that we have turned the corner to become a SUSTAINABLE high performing team.
Q: What parting thoughts would you like to leave finance professionals out there struggling with making ends meet with?
I would start with prioritizing recovery: First, set a goal of getting one more hour of sleep each night. Second, track your sleep every night to ensure that you are moving towards your goal (what you measure, you can improve). Third, build short recovery breaks into your daily routine. These are simple first steps towards achieving sustainable high performance. Then start exploring the other three areas: Mindset, nutrition and movement.
Fascinating story from Fredrik. This is a completely different way of creating a high-performing team (at least one that’s sustainable over time). There are lots of lessons learned for all of us!
This was the first episode of “FP&A Talks”. I hope you enjoyed as much as I did!
FP&A professionals know their trade very well when it comes to the technical skills used to plan, forecast, and execute the strategy of a company. However, to truly influence the strategic directions they need to be able to influence their stakeholders. This is best done by forming a partnership with them through Business Partnering. To do this, certain skills and tools are needed that are not common to FP&A professionals. Sure, many of them know how to present numbers or discuss the implications of their forecast but can they communicate well with their stakeholders? Do they know how to build trust? And do they meet their stakeholders face-to-face or do they stick to emails? To build a true partnership you need to know the communication style of your stakeholders and how to make them trust you. How do you that then?
The Partnering Tools
To be clear, you cannot build a partnership with anyone without meeting with them in person. That goes for your personal life, your professional life and the life of an FP&A professional. To build your partnership you need to think about how to meet your stakeholders. You probably have formal meetings with them where you can try to make an impression but often you won’t be the only attendee, hence, it will give you very limited time to form the partnership. You need other interactions to stand a fighting chance of creating a meaningful partnership. Those could be but not limited to.
- A regular 1-1 with your stakeholder to talk about how (s)he sees your deliverables and what you can do to help even more
- Casual conversations at the coffee machine or in the elevator going up and down. Granted it’s difficult to plan these but at least you can have a plan for what to do when they happen
- Ad-hoc meetings where you bring new and interesting insights to your stakeholders that positively surprise them
Next up, when you’ve got yourself some good encounters with your stakeholders is to know how to communicate with them. Some people like it short and sweet so you need to know your 30 seconds’ pitch. Others like to talk about what goes on in their personal life like their last holiday or what they did over the weekend. The third kind of people wants you to go through your whole thought process before they will either accept or reject what you have to say. Naturally, you have a preference yourself as well but if you don’t know the preference of your stakeholders you will go wrong more than half the time. Once you know the communication style of your stakeholders you need to build trust. This is simple yet difficult to do consistently. You deliver what you say you deliver. Never overpromise and underdeliver. You deliver when you say you deliver. Don’t miss deadlines. You care about your stakeholders and find ways of connecting with them on a personal level. If it’s strictly business they probably won’t trust you. Finally, you make it about your stakeholder and not about yourself. Deliver on these and you have yourself a partnership.
Now it’s time to create your action plan for how to build a partnership with your most important stakeholders.
- Think back on the previous interactions you’ve had with them to figure out if you need to create more interactions in the future or just use the ones you have better.
- Analyze your interactions with your stakeholders to figure out what style of communication the use a) the short and sweet, b) the personal one or c) the one where they need to know your every reasoning for making your proposal
- Consider how you have delivered on your promises to your stakeholders in the past. Do they think you’re credible and reliable? Are you always making it about business and little about anything else? And are you making it about solving your stakeholders’ problems or more about shining yourself? Getting this last point right will make or break a successful partnership.
It’s as easy as 1-2-3
In conclusion, you first you figure out where and how to meet with your stakeholder. Second, you identify their style of communication. Finally, you build trust through delivering on your promises and getting to know your stakeholder. Follow this simple recipe and you will be much more effective as an FP&A professional to influence the strategic agenda of your company.
The article was first published in Prevero Blog.
FP&A professionals know their trade very well when it comes to the technical skills used to plan, forecast, and execute the strategy of a company. However, to truly influence the strategic directions they need to be able to influence their stakeholders.
Business Partnering is what will make not only the FP&A team more successful but more importantly also improve the overall company performance. So, what’s stopping you from getting started right away?
Being a business partner requires a specific skillset. Furthermore, specific conditions should be in place to increase the chance of success. In the article, Anders Liu-Lindberg describes two main option for the implementation of the concept of FP&A Business Partnering.