Shift to the “Next Normal”
In anticipation of turning the pandemic corner, companies are contemplating the return to the office, or some form of “Next Normal” working model. So how will your FP&A team find optimal ways of working in this new and evolving landscape?
The shift to remote working, new technologies introduced at warp speed, changing consumer behaviours, economic and societal pressures — these emerging factors are forcing organisations across the globe to adjust their operating models, streamline processes and rapidly adopt new technologies. FP&A teams find themselves at the epicentre, both driving wider business transformations and transforming themselves.
There is a growing focus on optimising organisational footprints and service levels across the globe, process simplification, automation, and implementation of new reporting and planning tools. There is also an emphasis on incorporating predictive analytics and self-service aspects in stakeholder decision-making.
The days of having dedicated local FP&A teams with tailored roles are slowly becoming a thing of the past. Instead, more FP&A teams find themselves operating within global or regional ecosystems. Initial skepticism towards this change quickly diminished as the WFH model — accelerated by the pandemic — proved that productivity and synergy could be achieved from anywhere.
Human connection and face-to-face interaction will always carry the highest value when it comes to successful team building and collaboration. However, it is clear that the next normal calls for alternative ways of working and interaction, as both technology and humanity continue to evolve.
I myself have observed the transformation of the FP&A function into the global operating model first-hand. Here, I highlight three elements that are essential in supporting business objectives and overall synergy across teams:
1. COMMON PURPOSE
While each individual plays a different role in the FP&A ecosystem, there are certain goals that are common to the FP&A function as a whole. Aligning the goals within the team and across the FP&A ecosystem early on, and addressing “what”, “why” and “how”, is the foundation. At the same time, checking in along the way is vital in ensuring engagement and synergy across teams.
Alignment across roles and functions is also gaining far greater importance. The hierarchical reporting structures of the past are being abandoned for the sake of greater speed and agility. Globally driven models also inevitably mean greater process standardisation, which can sometimes mean less flexibility and freedom to operate for smaller local teams. Synergy therefore requires alignment on shared purpose and new ways of collaboration across borders, be they geographical or departmental.
2. USING TECHNOLOGY TO ADVANCE COLLABORATION AND NEW WORKING MODELS
For FP&A Teams, investing in and implementing the latest technology for planning and reporting can yield significant efficiency, and increase value generation potential. This can also translate into cost savings, as well as individual growth and job satisfaction. However, the speed at which technology is developing today no longer allows for the luxury of time to perfect every aspect of the tool or the process. To keep up with the evolving technology, we must get comfortable with letting go of perfection and take greater risks in implementing tools, even when they are only 80% ready. This allows for much quicker realisation of efficiencies, while the remaining 20% is worked on in parallel.
There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to new technology and collaborative planning solutions. So, before jumping on the tech wagon, each business should do the cost-benefit analysis and opt for tools and solutions that best fit their business needs, budget, and aspirations.
Creating and maintaining different technology platforms and communication channels is another essential element in fostering team synergy. When corporations suddenly had to switch to the WFH model, teams jumped right into experimenting and exploring new tools and forms of collaboration. File sharing, MS Teams or Zoom video chats, and internal social media channels became new ways to exchange social and business content, while maintaining and often increasing productivity. As the “next normal” journey continues, the new quest will be to remain in tune with changing technology and become even savvier as we shift into hybrid working models.
3. BUILD NEW SKILL AND COMPETENCY
To stay relevant in the finance profession, FP&A leaders and teams must be prepared for the new way of working and adopt skills needed for the FP&A roles of the future. These skills include leveraging data and technology to build meaningful insights, having the courage to challenge the status quo, and telling a compelling story that drives business decisions.
In this environment of heightened uncertainty, businesses are turning to FP&A leaders to help navigate the new normal, plan for different scenarios and advance business decisions. As machines replace manual number crunching and data generation, it is what we do with those numbers that truly matters and brings value. What counts with stakeholders is our speed and agility in interpreting this data into meaningful insights, along with our ability to tell a compelling story and explain why it matters.
There is a plethora of courses, webinars, and other formal trainings for advancing these skills. Still, an excellent place to start is by exploring and applying new technologies on the job with greater intent and priority. Some good strategies to consider are establishing platforms for best-practice sharing within the organisation, and reverse mentoring for tech-shy staff. It is a well-known statistic that more than 70% of learning happens from direct on-the-job experience. So consider taking some risks: assign individuals without previous experience to a new role to learn on the job, or have interactive sessions to discuss common topics and emerging trends with your FP&A community. This not only helps foster individual development, but also builds a common language and mindset.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put extra pressure on everything we do at work and home. Leading our teams with a greater dose of flexibility while focusing on synergy are both equally important and challenging. Keeping a healthy balance is vital, along with remembering that Purpose, Collaboration and Competency do not thrive only in the context of business objectives. Building those three critical elements in the social context is equally valuable in connecting teams and creating the sense that they are part of something larger than just themselves. When teams see the Purpose of their work — be it solving the next financial crisis or joining hands in support of a local community project — watch the Collaboration and Competency grow!