Part 3. Critical and Committed
I have previously written about 8 qualities which I believe characterize good financial planning and analysis (FP&A) professionals. This article zooms in on two of these – Critical and Committed. There is a strong amplifying link but also tension between the two - this is why I decided to combine them.
What is Critical in the context of financial planning and analysis (FP&A) and how can it be cultivated?
Critical in this context is the ability to think critically before moving to action. It seems obvious to say that one should “think before doing”, but during daily pressures of operations, it can be easily forgotten. The critical thinking here applies to two things: firstly, to the topic in consideration and, secondly, of one’s own view of this.
The 3 things that can help cultivate a more effective critical view would be:
- The ability to dig deeper and peel subsequent layers of the onion when it comes to the topic. It is about establishing which elements of the topic requires going deeper into in order to build the most relevant picture of the subject.
- The ability to understand the motives of different people’s interpretation of the topic (including your own). It is important to understand the possible role of biases that may be driving a position. Biases tend to arise because of 4 things: 1) overabundance of information to process; 2) insufficient meaning; 3) drive to act; 4) making sense of the past.
- The willingness to acknowledge doubt. Doubts about how the problem is being framed, the suitability of the assumptions made or the viability of the solutions being proposed.
Learn some practical ways to address potential gaps in your logical flow of thinking about the topic. Writing things down in the form of flow diagrams and even just questions can help. An interesting read on this is “The Pyramid Principle” by Barbara Minto.
Increase your own learning of some of the most common biases that drive the 4 problems highlighted earlier and apply them in the workplace.
To allow space for doubt you need to make time to reflect and acknowledge these. Write these down, discuss them with others and apply your own critical lens on the underlying cause of the doubt.
Above all, find some people who can act as genuine sounding boards who are able to help stress test and challenge the validity of your critical view.
What is Committed in context of financial planning and analysis (FP&A) and how can it be cultivated?
Commitment here is a commitment to a group or team, not oneself. There are two separate elements to consider. A commitment for own delivery and, secondly, a commitment to support the collective decision and action.
The three elements that can help build effective commitment are:
- Building trust – by delivering on own commitments in a way that is “on time and in full and at expected quality”
- Demonstrating positive support for the collective direction
- Having a learning mindset rather than a fixed mindset
Nothing helps more on the first than being mindful as to what to commit to and by when. Essentially this comes down to enhancing one’s own skills in planning and organizing but also in developing the sense as to what is realistic and what is not. A good tip is that if there is doubt then buy time before committing and use that time to determine the uncertainties and unknowns that would influence the commitment.
A second element is about managing expectations. Nothing destroys trust faster than a non-delivery that brings other people into a problem that could have been avoided. A good FP&A professional needs to have the bravery to bring negative news sooner rather than later. Most stakeholders tend to appreciate honesty earlier especially when it still gives them options.
If doubts still persist about a particular decision, then an FP&A professional needs to dig deeper to understand why the decision was taken. Try hard, by practising with someone objective that doubts do not show when you are having to communicate the group message.
As for the last point, the key is to avoid the risk of “I told you so” in the event that things go wrong. Therefore, focus on what can help the group understand what may not have worked out and why.
Self-Awareness - the key tension between Critical and Committed?
The key tension between these two is one of SELF-AWARENESS. Self-awareness is what will help guide you to making progress down a collective path that may not entirely be to your own liking. It is about using self-awareness to make room to do the right things rather than being right. It acts as a brake to being overly critical because critical demands being critical to oneself and especially motives and intentions.
I hope in this article I have shown why both Critical and Committed are much-needed qualities for good Business Finance / FP&A professionals and what are some ways to continue to stimulate this.
The article was first published in Unit 4 Prevero Blog