Does your FP&A team have a seat at the table?

Does your FP&A team have a seat at the table?

By Matt Poleski, CFO, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Region at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co

In my career, I’ve attended many seminars for various support functions, FP&A, Finance, Internal Audit, Human Resources, etc.  What all these seminars have in common is each explains why its function is germane to senior management and needs a seat at the senior management table.   
Each function has strategic insight that can benefit senior management with their unique perspective.  While this is true, there are only so many seats at the table, and each organization functions differently. This is not the 1989 Movie “Field of Dreams” where “if you build it, they will come”. You both have to be good, and senior management has to want your perspective. 
This article details 4 steps on how to create a demand for senior management to want your perspective.

1. Know your organization structure

Once I got a call from a headhunter asking me to take a CFO position that didn’t report to the CEO. It reported to COO. This would tell me that the CFO didn’t have a seat at the table. 

This doesn’t mean one should not take a job if it does not already have a seat at the table. Most of us – start at the bottom and have to work our way up. You can earn your way onto the table by influencing the people that are already there, or even indirectly by influencing the people who influence them.  

Recognize where your position is in the organization’s structure. Figuring out what the role each person at the table has:  who is a decision maker, who is an influencer, who is a devil’s advocate, and who is a silent cricket. A different approach might be needed to make a connection with each personality type at the table.  If you can find one person who is at the table to talk about your ideas, it can create demand for your services.

2. Build advocates through curiosity

Once you know your organizational structure, figure out how to get someone to advocate for your services.  A lot of people get frustrated when the decision makers, don’t see their value and their point of view. Don’t complain, when someone doesn’t see your value, figure out how to connect with that person. Ask lots of questions to spark curiosity and understand why others do see your value.  Furthermore, we need to ask ourselves what we can do for others before we tell them what to do. 

Gary Vaynerchuk in his book, “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook” explains the need to connect as opposed to self-promote. A right hook’s aims to sell and self-promote whereas a jab aims to engage and trigger an emotional response.  Many people are throwing far, far too many right hooks that turn off the people they are trying to impress. Find peers’ pain points through thought-provoking questions and get your peers to see how you can alleviate their pains. After you have connected, then self-promote. A ratio of 3 connection attempts to one self-promotion attempt is a healthy ratio.   

3. Know your numbers and listen to determine what they mean to Senior Management

Marketing a bad product just causes the product to fail faster. As an FP&A professional, be ready to earn respect at the table by knowing your business drivers, key metrics, and trends. 

Just like many politicians, statements made by people in leadership positions often need to be fact checked. Be aware of the facts by analyzing data, but be careful when correcting senior management if data is used incorrectly. Your number 1 priority should be understanding senior’s management strategy, and then determining if the numbers support that strategy. 

Assimilate into the group by agreeing with people more than you disagree.  If you try to shock people, undermining them by contradicting them in front of others, they will likely shock you back.  Do as much constructive criticism as you can in 1 on 1 meetings, after you have provided something of value.  This takes lots of hustle.  People are much more likely to listen when you are helping them.

4. Stay at the table  - Take care of those beneath you

Climbing the ladder is tough.  Staying on the top is harder.  When Lou Holtz, the famous Notre Dame football coach, was initially given the position head coaching position, the former Notre Dame President Father Cavanaugh gave him this meaningful advice. Father Cavanaugh said, "I can give you the title of head coach, but only your team can give you the position of leader."  We will go as far as the people underneath us will take us. Make sure you take the time to lead the people both parallel and underneath you and earn a position as their leader.  

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