After spending 20+ years in FP&A, I have learnt a lot about what to do or not do as a finance business partner. There are probably a lot of tips and learnings you have picked up as you went on your journey as a finance business partner, but you may still be up for some surprises from my list here.
- Take your time – A lot of times finance business partners are eager to prove their value add so they tend to jump right into the issues and hope to solve them. Sometimes it is worth the wait just to be on the sidelines and observe. Play the newbie card if you need to but you are better off observing the culture of the team you support and understand the mandate before suggesting solutions.
- Take sides – As a business partner, do take sides. If you support the sales team, take the side of a salesperson and think as they do. Once you start framing an issue from the lens of your customer, you can better find a solution that is more appropriate for the business. However, you need to frame it within acceptable finance parameters, which means it should be in the best financial interest of the company, in compliance with internal controls and most importantly, ethically and legally sound.
- Engage in politics – As a finance business partner, you need to navigate across the organisation to support the initiative the business is driving. Stay alert on all the discussions across functions to make sure you understand different concerns from different functions, and then engage the functions and provide your insights. As discussed in my other article “How finance can frame better strategy for the business”, FP&A can be strategic and drive actions across functions so your ability to navigate through the politics and organisational challenges will be critical to your success.
- Don’t believe in the numbers – Many times finance business partners rely on data and numbers to make decisions. However, numbers actually do lie. How you interpret and present numbers can bring about very different conclusions. Therefore, as a finance business partner, don’t believe in the numbers you see without understanding how the numbers come about. Challenge the assumptions, challenge the analysis and challenge the conclusion. You may have two sides of the same coin, but you get multiple conclusions when you look at a business situation.
- Don’t always think strategically – Although being strategic is a key objective for being a successful business partner, there are times when you shouldn’t think strategically. For example, when looking at what can be impacting business results, a finance business partner may be better off looking at the basic and mundane processes. Fixing some of these foundational issues can bring better business results than just looking at strategic initiatives.
- Don’t focus on finance acumen – As a finance business partner, you deploy a lot of your financial analysis skills to solve problems. If you look at the steps of resolving issues, the first step is to understand the problems. Unless a finance business partner has a good understanding of the business, he or she might frame the problem inaccurately. Therefore, you need to focus more on developing your business acumen, and not just focus on your financial acumen.
These dos and don’ts are really about getting a finance business partner to transform himself or herself into a business manager with strong financial acumen and not a professional providing financial advice to the business.
The article was first published in Unit 4 Prevero Blog