Collaborative FP&A - An Oxymoron*?

By  Lisa Turberville, Director of operations at Belk

How many of us, when we are asked to a meeting with someone from FP&A, have rolled our eyes, thrown the head back and done a neck roll to relax the shoulders? Why do we have this over whelming feeling of dread when it comes to meeting with that team?

In many organizations, the FP&A team has developed a reputation of being the sheriff in town – “the Sheriff and deputies” or perhaps they are viewed as the watchdog of the company. There is often a strong sense of animosity and dislike from other functional areas.  I think that this comes from business partners feeling that FP&A handcuffs their hands behind their backs keeping them from being able to run the business.

So what is happening in the FP&A world that is causing such hostility?  It rarely comes from planning (budgeting / forecasting), management reporting, or the asset/risk management areas.  It primarily stems from the area of decision support and controls. Quite often the result of business partners being told “NO” one too many times when making a financial request. 

So what can be done to change the perception of the FP&A practitioners? As with most everything, communication can resolve most of the issue and I think that it begins with building strong relationships with the business. The change will not occur overnight, but with a consistent effort from every member of the team, transformation can take place. In my opinion, there are four key areas to help form a better connection.

  • Explain to business partners FP&A role
  • Deliver timely, accurate, consistent reports
  • Add value to the conversations
  • Learn the business

Explaining the role of FP&A may seem like a ridiculous idea. However, think about it.  How many of the business partners were business majors? And if they were, chances are that they just took the finance class because it was required.  There are a number of people who just don’t know the purpose of the group.  Help them understand that the team is there to analyze the vast amount of data and provide to help the company make the best choices so that it can remain a viable entity. 

Well, of course, delivering timely, accurate reports sounds like a no brainer.  Nevertheless, there are times when reports are not correct.  An analyst is inundated with producing reports and fails to review for accuracy or takes too much time in doing so and degrades confidence. In turn, delivering consistently builds rapport with the business partners.  They begin to have faith in the information provided which in turn builds trust with the team.  The business will start seeking out FP&A input because they know that they can rely on the data.

Adding value ties into the consistent delivery. Analysts must take the time and actually look and (get this) analyze the reports that they are producing.  What are the key insights from the data?  What are the actions that need to be taken? There is nothing worse than to receive a report via email or hard copy that has no thoughts attached. This is such an important role of FP&A. When it is coupled with the consistent delivery the confidence from business partners increases.

Finally, FP&A associates need to take the time to learn the business.  It is a two-way street. Not only does the team need to be evangelists about FP&A to the business, but they also have to seek out understanding. Don’t assume that you know all the answers, but listen to what the objectives are, what is working, what are the pain points.  Listen in order to understand and not to answer. When this is done a deeper connection is made and trust continues to grow.

Collaborative FP&A does not have to be an oxymoron*. FP&A teams are a vital part of an organization, but they cannot work alone. It is about partnering with the business and helping people move beyond their individual silo and collaborate to make the company stronger. By building strong relationships and seeking out opportunities to help the business partners, FP&A can start to change points of view.  They need to and can change perceptions that they aren’t there to hinder progress and aren’t the police ready to tie the business’ hands, but just the opposite.  Through detailed analysis and working together more can be done to propel the business forward.


* Oxymoron -expression with contradictory words: a phrase in which two words of contradictory meaning are used together for special effect, e.g. "wise fool" or "legal murder"