The 21st century has...
Want to be a better FP&A Business Partner… Speak their language
Back in 2004 I spent a large portion of time overseas travelling around France. I would often find when talking to a “local” the first question I would ask was:
“Do you speak English?”
Most times, the response I got was a short, sharp “No!”
At other times, when I was conscious of where I was, I would try “Parlez vous Anglais?”
More often than not, the response to this was “Mmmm, a little”, and perhaps a gesture that they would be happy to help me because I had made an effort to speak their language.
Spending more time in the country I found myself picking up more phrases and words of the language, and the more I learned and spoke of their language, the more I understood and became more effective with the locals.
Being an FP&A Business Partner to non-finance people is just like this. Sales, Marketing, Supply Chain, IT…..they all speak their own language, and if you are not attune to it, you will not be as effective as you need to be. And if you are not effective, you are going to find it difficult to “live in their country”.
You also need to be able to understand the world from their point of view. Accounting Standards, Debits and Credits and even the art of arithmetic are all things we as Accountants find familiar, and sometimes easy. It doesn’t mean Marketing does, it doesn’t mean sales does.
They couldn’t care less that a new lease standard is going to be introduced in a few year’s time. They couldn’t care that your balance sheet is going to change significantly. They probably don’t even know what a Balance Sheet is (seriously they probably don’t!). And nor should they, that is Finances job.
Sales and Marketing are interested in things that are going to improve the top line. How can we sell more, grow customers, realise better prices, develop new segments, etc. That is what you need to be talking to them about. They have lots of ideas and experience, get beside them and know what they know. Go to a customer meeting, talk to your businesses target market, and learn to speak their language.
I.T. want to talk to you about “your project”, and BI envrionments and their new whizz bang toy they have found. They want to scope everything and work with certainty. They don’t understand the difference between capex and opex and the accounting standards that govern it. In their mind, they can capitalise anything and defer it to when they want to expense it. You need to find a way to translate your knowledge of estimate based accounting standards into something that makes sense for them. You need to speak their language.
Supply chain and Operations are great at building efficiencies and cost improvement and lean processes. They are constantly under pressure to reduce costs. So help them with this. What drives their costs, what is variable, what is fixed. What costs reduce quality and what costs increase quality. Sometimes investing some money can reduce things by a larger amount in other areas. Use the extensive business knowledge you have developed through your CA and CPA training to help them improve things that they haven’t even thought of. And speak their language.
As an FP&A Business Partner you have a unique position in an organisation to interpret some complex rules and regulations and access to a lot of information others don’t see or cannot understand. But if this is not what helps your partner, you will never do yourself justice as a leader in an organisation. And you certainly won’t be adding any value. So spend time with your business partners, learn their function and above all learn to speak their language.