If you are in charge of an FP&A team and want to implement business partnering, it is essential for you to:
- Be clear and determined about what you want your department to achieve
- Have on board your team members, your superior(s) and your key clients (i.e. function heads)
This article focuses on how to ensure that your team adopts business partnering because long-term it is not feasible to maintain quality of the work if you are trying to do it all by yourself. And quality is what makes partnering stick.
Understanding your team members
When looking at the team, it starts with understanding all of the members individually – what each person wants to accomplish, what topics he/she enjoys working on and what professional interests he or she has. Be ready that some people might not immediately have clear answers to those questions or might not be at ease with talking about them - tailor the approach in a way that makes people comfortable with sharing their thoughts.
The answers will show you how close (or far) you are from the idea of business partnering and will help you prepare for the discussion about that. The purpose of the discussion is to align on what business partnering is and how to ensure that it is implemented within your group.
It is important to have an open conversation and translate the findings into:
- Documented FP&A team vision and mission
- Key principles of the way of working
- Action plans
Having everything in writing will make it easier for sharing among the team and using it for progress tracking. It would also be a practical reminder and a reference point in the induction of future members.
Besides reflecting the vision and the mission, action plans should also address identified concerns and reservations which you and the team might have (i.e. relationship with other departments, lack of suitable skills, manual processes, restricted manpower, conflicting deadlines, etc.). That way, the team will not only have a clear idea about what is expected from them but will also see that they are listened to.
When defining the action plans, manage both your expectations and the expectations of others – keep in mind that not all the situations can be covered upfront and that you cannot achieve everything at the same time. There will be challenges which you and the team will become aware of only once you face them, not before. Strong team culture will help you in those moments, and a successful resolution will depend on how well you can listen, communicate, prioritize, organize and follow through.
Turning the frame into practice
Once everyone agreed on the key principles, the next step is to identify what is required to put them in practice. The success of business partnering starts with your commitment. If you are truly engaged, leading by example will come naturally. Monitor the progress, celebrate success and address cases where either the approach or the outcomes have failed. Be consistent and persistent – although hard at times, keeping the integrity will pay off in the long run.
Yet, although very important as a catalyst of change, commitment from FP&A lead would rarely be enough. For the partnership between FP&A and the other functions in the company to work it is important to have the right infrastructure in place. And this means a necessity to invest. Still, increased investment in FP&A capacity is not always feasible. Understanding the barriers helps to potentially manage the way around. The strategy is different if the red light is driven by budget constraints or internal politics. In any case, FP&A and CFO should agree on the priorities – if resources are limited, it is inevitable to select projects and initiatives which are to come to life.
Change does not happen overnight and sometimes it is easier to continue with the old practices. Sometimes the colleagues from the other departments will not be fulfilling their partnership role. If this happens, you should stand up for your team. Talk with those colleagues or, if required, involve your boss. It is important to demonstrate to your team that you are there to protect them – it is unrealistic to expect them to work hard and constantly deliver if they see others not respecting the agreement.
Learning and improving is part of the process and involves everyone. Continue working on yourself – acquire new skills, keep up to date with the latest trends and developments both within the industry in which the company operates and in the domain of finance. That will contribute to your credibility in front of the team, and you will want and need them to act in a similar way.
Having the right people
Last but not least, in addition to embedding the approach of continuous learning, your commitment should also reflect the emphasis on having the right people on board. It is important and fair to give your current team members a chance as not everyone can easily adopt the new way of working. However, accept that the approach you are advocating for might actually not be appealing to each person. In addressing this, it would sometimes be possible to still find an adequate role within your team or a suitable alternative for a particular individual will be available in another department. But at times it would actually mean that the person is to look for the right opportunity in another company.
The earlier this is identified, the better it is for all parties involved and you could normally ask HR to support the transition. The decision to replace some people in the team might not make you a favorite person. Still, remember that business partnership relies on being trusted, not much on being liked. Quality is what makes a difference and you have better chances of ensuring it with a team of strong FP&A professionals.
The article was first published in Unit 4 Prevero Blog