Who says relationship advice has to be limited to glossy magazines in the newsstand rack? After all, developing healthy relationships between FP&A and business partners is critical to improved collaboration, better decision-making, and stronger performance.
Consider the results of an Ernst & Young study that found companies perform better, have stronger employee engagement, and experience higher degrees of productivity if their chief human resource officer (CHRO) and CFO have a strong relationship. In the report, 80% of CFOs and CHROs say improving their working relationship led to measurable improvements in workforce productivity and even company earnings.
Watch the webcast, “CFO Indicator Q4 2015: Collaborative Finance Organizations: The Way Forward in Business Transformation”
Unfortunately, at many organizations, FP&A’s relationship with business partners often suffers from the old Mars-and-Venus dynamic. You can’t seem to see eye to eye. You’re talking a different language. You just don’t get each other.
Yet a new year offers new opportunity for a relationship makeover. In 2017, you can ignite that magic spark that leads to better collaboration and corporate harmony. Here are five common relationship complaints and how you can work to overcome them.
The problem: “We just disagree”
The solution: Develop a single source of truth
Relationships are built on trust. Yet that trust is hard to come by when it seems like you’re always at odds over “the numbers.” The root of the problem is likely siloed data, which leads to lots of sets of numbers and no clear consensus on which are the right ones. In the Adaptive Insights CFO Indicator Q3 2015, 69% of the 435 CFOs surveyed believed that keeping data siloed is “one of the biggest mistakes that most companies make.”
The key to greater harmony is a single source of truth—a common set of numbers that is agreed upon and lives in the cloud as the definitive source of data. A single source of truth can eliminate the multiplication of spreadsheets and conflict over data so FP&A can move beyond the traditional role of fiscal police officers. This enables finance teams to establish a shared language with business partners and refocus the conversation around insights and action instead of debating accountability and accuracy.
The problem: “Do you even hear me?”
The solution: Ask the right questions
OK, it’s look-in-the-mirror time. With a bit of self-reflection, it’s a safe bet that many FP&A pros would agree that often soft skills don’t come as naturally as the analytical ones. Targeted training offers a long-term way to improve communication, writing, and collaborative capabilities. Yet becoming better listeners and asking targeted questions offer a shortcut that can start resetting the conversation between finance and business partners.
“You have to be a good listener,” advised Jeff Epstein, a former CFO of both Oracle and DoubleClick and now a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners in Menlo Park, CA. “And asking open-ended questions is a great way to find out what the needs of your internal customers are.”
Epstein recommends meeting with all key internal customers and asking each of them the same three questions:
- What is the finance team doing well?
- What support do you need?
- What can I personally—and my team generally—do for you?
“What I’ve found is that people love those questions—and they have strong opinions,” Epstein said. “If you go around five or 10 executives that you work with and ask those questions and they each have five ideas, you’ll end up with 50 different ideas of things that are working and not working. That becomes your agenda of how you can be helpful and how you can be more collaborative.”
The problem: “We’re stuck in a rut”
The solution: Move from static to active planning
Today’s workplace relationships are built largely on static planning models relying mostly on Excel. With static planning your process is fairly isolated to finance; it’s more of a finance plan for the business than a full business plan built across the business. Conversely, active planning, possible with cloud finance software, enables real collaboration—involvement and buy-in from business partners.
Sure, spreadsheets have their place. However, spreadsheets are essentially a single-person tool. Spreadsheet planning serves to limit broad engagement, not a problem for a one-person business but an exponentially growing problem for larger and larger businesses.
Active planning offers speed, power, and ease, so finance can shift into a leadership and guiding role instead of being swamped by mundane tasks. Your business partners start seeing you in a whole new light, as someone who comes to the table with fresh ideas, useful new data, and the ability to quickly pivot as the business changes. As the active planning progresses, collaboration can blossom, leading to a more strategic and engaged partnership.
The problem: “It’s always about you”
The solution: Develop a service mentality
There’s a reason that at some organizations, people duck into an office when they see finance coming down the hall. They’ve become conditioned to you asking for information and data to complete budgets and plans, but then not giving much in return. Yet at the strongest organizations, finance possesses a service mentality aimed at adding value by helping business partners do their jobs better and get improved results.
Developing a service mentality involves establishing a new set of habits. You start seeing your job as less about generating reports than helping to solve business problems. You reach out to business partners regularly, not just at the end of the month or the quarter. And you ask if you’re providing partners with what they need to succeed. At some organizations, the finance team gains a more service-focused approach by rotating team members through other departments so they can get a deeper appreciation and understanding of the needs and challenges that exist throughout the organization.
The problem: “It’s the same old same old”
The solution: Recruit fresh points of view
Sometimes a fresh perspective can make all the difference. Finance leaders should look to make strategic hires in which they are adding team members who bring diverse skills and experiences. Future finance practitioners will need to be curious and able to look at data through a number of different lenses. Fewer people will handle the transactional and regulatory work, and the fast track to promotion will lie in true financial planning and analysis.
Departments will also need people with good development skills, as the work will increasingly involve not just analysis but action—creating algorithms that take steps based on certain combinations of data. This new team will need to include: data specialists/scientists, cross-functional experts, business analysts/advisors, and data/analysis visualizers.
In addition to having these new kinds of technical expertise, the future’s finance professionals will need to be strong communicators and collaborators. By expanding your criteria of what makes an effective FP&A pro, you can create a high-performing team with a range of skills and capabilities to benefit the organization.
No doubt building and maintaining strong relationships takes commitment and hard work. Yet, for finance, the effort is worth it. By taking the steps toward better collaboration, you not only create deeper engagement on the FP&A team, but also become true strategic partners to help improve efficiency and drive growth at your business.